The Road by Cormac McCarthy traces the steps of a father and son (the mother commits suicide) as they search for safety after an apocalyptic event. It opens as the man wakes from a dream where a creature with "dead eyes" is uninterested in them who are "like pilgrims in a fable swallowed up and lost among the inward parts of some granitic beast." The reader is introduced to the desperate situation right away. There is no explanation as to how they came to be in this predicament. The dream and the reality are almost the same and "you forget what you want to remember and you remember what you want to forget." The days are all the same.
When the man dreams of his wife - his "pale bride" - he is cautious as he knows he must survive for his son's sake. He expects his dreams to be "dreams of peril" because how could anyone dream peaceful, satisfying dreams. He forces himself to wake from dreams of bliss and blue skies, trusting nothing as "all else was the call of languor and of death." He cannot escape daydreams, especially of his wife but must be harsh and recognize the memory: " Freeze this frame. Now call down your dark and your cold and be damned." The reader is gripped by his determination.
Death is personified and out to trick him with colorful dreams - "How else would death call you?" The reality turns "to ash instantly." Dreams cannot be trusted and the dream where the man cares for his sick wife is not to be believed-"there is no other dream nor other waking world and there is no other tale to tell." The reader is held in suspense by the description of his dreams and his fight to stay alert for his son's sake.
The boy's dreams haunt him and he seeks to understand them but there is no explanation. The boy recalls his home but it is a scary dream of a wind-up penguin. The memory of his home should be a happy one but the reader can tell that the boy was probably too young to remember much and now when he dreams of the penguin, it is chasing him without being wound up. The boy's life of running and hiding and always being afraid is the only one he knows.
The reader feels sympathy and the fact that the wife, despite his begging, will not help him. He recalls her despair. She says,"I dont dream at all" and she refuses to help him search for something that she feels does not exist.
As they continue, they are in constant danger and the father is vigilant although sometimes he lets his guard down. One of his recurring dreams is of his son on "a cooling board" and this thought ensures he stays awake "for fear the dream would return" as he recognizes his own despair.
The reader has now become engrossed in the man's life of "borrowed time and borrowed world and borrowed eyes," feeling the pain. There are dreams that he does not wish to wake from "rich dreams" and the reader can feel the intensity and relief- even momentary- that these dreams bring. The reader is also relieved.
The boy's dreams continue to highlight his fears and in them, he cries. The man needs to reassure him that there are "good guys." The boy is somehow reassured by the fact that his dreams are "bad" dreams as his father says "good dreams" are "not a good sign."
Even the man's own dreams "brighten." Although wistful, he is not so angry and, despite his own impending death, he wants to be sure that the boy's dreams do not overtake reality because "when your dreams are of some world that never was or some world that never will be...then you'll have given up."