Honors English, Period 6
18 March 2019
The Road Less Traveled
Cormac McCarthy’s The Road is the hard-hitting truth to the fantastic apocalyptic adventures in Hollywood that everyone believes. The jarring simplicity of the plot and what it entails paints a deeper more saturated image of what lies beneath the facade of humanity. Encountering hordes of murderers, marauders, cannibals, and slavers along their journey a boy and his father, as they are never given names, must fight to keep their values intact while surviving in a world that has been stripped bare of the morality they hold so dear. This relationship and the world in which McCarthy makes it exist exposes what is truly valued and necessary is not the materialistic but the concepts that give meaning to the journey. The major theme of the novel is that the struggle to destroy such concepts ends up as the destruction of the image but not the real thing; and the battle to maintain them provides a sustenance that is commonly forgotten.
McCarthy’s writing throughout The Road is meant to be symbolic in its imagery and metaphorical in its meaning. The use of these layered devices demonstrates that an idea of evil is present and unwanted throughout the novel; however the separation of evil and good is confused in a world where murder and cannibalism have become commonplace. Even the father, whom we are shown to have survived the unknown circumstances leading to this dreary apocalypse, realizes this argument within himself. This internal struggle yields McCarthy’s sledgehammer wisdom in the man’s lessons to his son with lines akin to: , “There is no God and we are his prophets” and “There is nothing to live by no good no bad yet we do with our own morality” (McCarthy 118 & 137). These harsh words show the headache of morality in a time when it’s guidance is necessary. A careful line is walked when the idea that no boundary, no restraint of good and evil is applicable anymore if it ever was, but these restraints are necessary for meaning less one sheds them and instinct take over. So the father and his son remain shackled in their beliefs that belonged to a world destroyed keeping their faith that survival depends on the mentality they have preserved.
The idea of good is also discussed and valued in the Father and Son’s discussions when encountering difficult situations on The Road. When they pass charred bodies that line the streets and the boy questions the father about what has occured the father shields his son from their disfigurement and tells him to always “Keep a little fire burning; however small, however hidden” (McCarthy 98). This fire is what the man and his boy call the benevolence inside a person. It is exactly this fire that sets the duo apart from the scavengers and bullies of the new world and what gives them a purpose in each other and their bond. This bond is referenced throughout the journey and is shown as the father's compulsion for carrying on with a journey he long would have ended. We see this connection in the beginning events where “they set out along the blacktop in the gunmetal light, shuffling through the ash, each the other’s world entire” (McCarthy 52). This relationship and the wisdom that is shared through it make plain the purity of the teachings in such a grayed and burnt world. With the scavenging of a past world for items of comfort and food to help survive the present dark times it is the humanity captured within the father and son that is the most rare item.
With the human guidelines of what is right and wrong to do in the sake of survival slowly deteriorating to the destruction of fellow survivors McCarthy’s grey toned world is a realistic portrait of what is potentially to come. With values of materialism over humanity seen in the horrid scenes of theft, cannibalism, and enslavement the Odyssey like journey of the boy and his father take them through the root causes of their destroyed world. The apocalypse event i given no name and no evidence but from what we see on the journey the destruction of society is society itself and those that remain either walk the path of good or descend into the madness of being untethered from any past reality and its morals. With humanity being both the antagonist and protagonist the mental strength and morales possessed by the boy and his father are the only true good, the only “flame in the dark”, that can be seen in a path lined with monsters that have taken human form (McCarthy 187).