What are the key moments in The Road by Cormac McCarthy that illustrate its literary genre?
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Cormac McCarthy does not pretend that The Road and its themes are unique. The essence of the storyline, the aftermath of an event so horrific that life is reduced to nothing more than survival, against an inhumane, savage mankind and the most terrible odds like "the onset of some cold glaucoma dimming away the world," has been done before.
The Road, and post-apocalyptic America, is often viewed as a science-fiction novel, as the elements are there. It is set in the future and the futuristic nature is further confirmed as we see the man think of his circumstances and come to the realization that "to the boy himself he was an alien, a being from a planet that no longer existed." However, the "aliens" are real people who have descended into absolute savagery and anarchy.
Essentially, a man and a boy are duty-bound to make every effort to survive, understand the distinction between "good guys" and "bad guys" and, in terms of the boy's obsession with "carrying the fire," which is central to the story, never give up because "This is what the good guys do. They keep trying. They don't give up." This also places The Road in a dystopian genre which is similar to, and some say a sub-genre of, science fiction.
Some of the events and visual images are very disturbing, a child roasting on a spit, meaningless violence, people missing body parts being held captive so that cannibals can continue eating them later, all allow this novel to fit into a horror genre. However, the horror is not the intention of the novel, but the survival is and the potential for the boy to have some kind of future is strong by the end.
The man's wife can no longer face her reality and "my only hope is for eternal nothingness and I hope it with all my heart." She commits suicide, revealing the dystopia as she feels as if this is hell on earth and there is no future for them- "You talk about taking a stand but there is no stand to take."
The man is haunted by his memories and "You forget what you want to remember and you remember what you want to forget." He tries not to even dream because "the right dreams for a man in peril were dreams of peril and all else was the call of languor and of death." Any element of reality that still exists for the man is destroyed when, on arriving at his childhood home, he reminisces and "pushed open the closet door half expecting to find his childhood things. Raw cold daylight fell through from the roof. Gray as his heart." These examples also reveal the fantasy element of the novel, underlined by the horror, the dystopia and the futuristic reality.
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