How do scenes of violence in The Road contribute to the meaning of the novel as a whole? Please include 3-4 quotes that show the significance of these scenes.

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Violence in The Road is very important.  It not only establishes the challenges that the boy and the father must face together.  It also helps to demonstrate the power of love both of them have, highlighting it as the only possible force of restoration in a world that is one of condemnation.  When McCarthy describes this world, violence is a critical element in explaining why the world is so barren of hope:  "The screams of the murdered. By day the dead impaled on spikes along the road. What had they done? He thought that in the history of the world it might even be that there was more punishment than crime but he took small comfort from it."  The very idea of a scene where the sounds of those who die at the hands of violence, those "screams," haunt the landscape of the world is significant.  It is the setting through which the man and his son must traverse. In this instance, violence defines the world.  They must battle with only loyalty and love towards one another as an emotional sanctuary.

Another instance in which violence is significant is in how McCarthy shows its lingering effect.  Violence is not merely the condition around the boy and his father.  It permeates their relationships.  This is seen in the scene between the man and his wife, the boy's mother.  She speaks of a world where violence has become an internalized part of life, and as something that cannot be repelled:

No, I'm speaking the truth. Sooner or later they will catch us and they will kill us. They will rape me. They'll rape him. They are going to rape us and kill us and eat us and you wont face it. [. . .]. We used to talk about death, she said. We dont anymore. Why is that?...It's because it's here. There's nothing left to talk about. 

McCarthy speaks to the horrors of violence.  The worst part about violence is not its presence in the world.  Rather, violence is at its worst when it lingers in our emotional relationships.  The woman speaks from a position where violence is unavoidable not only because of its existence in the outside world, but rather in how it has settled into their own relationship.  The fact that "there's nothing left to talk about" is reflective of the all consuming effect of violence.  This moves violence from a physical reality to an emotional one, a condition that has a powerful effect in how individuals relate to one another. Through this scene, McCarthy suggests that violence is important because of its lingering effect in both our world and our hearts.

McCarthy might be suggesting that violence is a means through which we understand the world.  If we succumb to it and lack the means to repel it, we die. This is evident in McCarthy's description of the mother's/ wife's suicide:

She was gone and the coldness of it was her final gift. She would do it with a flake of obsidian. He'd taught her himself. Sharper than steel. The edge an atom thick. And she was right. There was no argument. The hundred nights they'd sat up debating the pros and cons of self destruction with the earnestness of philosophers chained to a madhouse wall.

When the wife commits suicide, it is clear that the external condition of the world has been internalized.  This scene demonstrates the need to perceive violence as something that demands individuals to make a conscious choice in how they view being in the world.  Either individuals take a stand against violence and demonstrate the restorative will to repel it or it will take a toll on them.  

McCarthy uses violence as a means to explore emotional nuances in his characters.  The significance of violence in the novel enables the themes of emotional resilience and restoration to emerge in a world that is devoid of it.

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