Saturday, 26 May 2012

Apocalypse in Cormac McCarthy's The Road

In Cormac McCarthy's post-apocalyptic tale The Road a boy and a man walk alone through burned America. They don't have names; they could be anybody and nobody in the same time. The world as we know it is destroyed. The sky is gray, the snow is gray, the whole world has turned gray. McCarthy doesn't give an explanation for what had caused this devastation. We as the readers must accept the result - it has happened and it has destroyed what used to be America.

Among the few living soles are a man and his young son. They don't have anyone but each other. They travel through burned America with their destination the coast. They don't know what, if anything, awaits them there, but it gives them hope and strength to continue. The road ahead of them is dangerous. The only remaining people have turned into beasts. Humanity has been destroyed along with the world. Compassion, feeling, and sentiments have disappeared. Man has returned to his animal nature. People kill people. People eat people. People steal from other people in order to make it through the day.

In this post-apocalyptic world, it is difficult to feel sentiment. In fact, McCarthy's novel is the last thing but hopeful and sentimental. The details with which he describes the setting and the insanity are at times brutal and disturbing. And yet, the man shepherds his son with such gentleness and such love, which becomes even greater in the absence of food, shelter, and safeness. However difficult it must be for the man to understand how and why this is happening, it is million times much harder for a young and innocent boy to do so. The rare and short conversations between the two alleviate the rather depressing setting McCarthy has build. The man has abandoned his humanity when it comes to daily survival. He is prepared to kill, if he has to, but to provide himself and his boy with yet another day to live. However, he absolutely transforms when he talks to his son. The little boy is still taught to differentiate between the good guys and the bad guys and he still believes they carry the fire. This tender relationship between father and son is the only nice thing left in the world. And the man is set to keep both of them alive and in the same time keep his son a human.

Not much happens throughout the novel. The Road is much less about action and much more about feeling. When the world comes to its end, it becomes difficult to even remember the past. It seems rather remote in the dangerous day-to-day hunt for survival. Yet, the man keeps alive the memory of his wife, who chose death over battle. Giving birth to their son just days after the world collapsed, she couldn't face the battle and chose the easy way around. Daily, the man is faced with the absurdity and hopelessness of a destroyed world, but at night his dreams turn to happier times, which for him is difficult to imagine that ever existed. However, the future is scarier than reality. What if the world never recovers? What if it stays gray always? What if the hunt of survival never ends? What if whatever awaits them at the coast is not there?

Throughout this journey, the man and the boy are each other's pillar. The man provides for the body survival; the boy for the mind survival. The man would have given a million of times if it wasn't for the little creature which he was set to protect. In that sense, McCarthy's disturbing world is opposed to a small world of love, compassion, and sacrifice.

The Road offers no escape or comfort in the hope for the better future. However, its brutal wisdom about human nature faced with apocalypse is more powerful and infatuating than any reassurance can ever be.


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  3. This is not a cheery, happy, frothy and light read. It is cold and hard and painful. But there is joy in it. Be ecstatic it is only a story, that tonight you sleep in a bed in a house, with food, water, and your dog on the hearth. Be aware of and happy that you are reading this expertly rendered, magnificently crafted work of highly evocative prose, and look forward to the next one, whatever the subject.