How do you respond to the view that the story in ‘The Road’ is weakened because so much of the characters’ history is untold?
Cormac McCarthy, in The Road, creates tension through his style of writing but at the same time, the reader is , perhaps, confused and enquiring. It is possible, therefore, to present an argument for or against the statement that the story is weakened by a lack of historical information as the reader's perception is what shapes the development of the characters. The past is still real for the father, but the son has no past - other than this world in which they exist. The past hampers the father's ability to care for his son and he fights it constantly. ""you forget what you want to remember and you remember what you want to forget."
Expectations are important. Readers are used to reading about cataclysmic events and the focus is always on the event; be it a natural disaster, earthquake, etc or fire, or war and so on, centralized around a certain city or country. The focus is on how to manage and then live afterwards. The focus of this novel is several years later. Still no sign of civilization as we know it, no westernized governments jumping in to help. This allows the reader to make other assumptions. A worldwide phenomena?
The intention appears to have been to create intrigue and maintain it throughout by not revealing too much of the past. The references to it then become very dramatic - hopefully - in the reader's mind as he or she wonders how life without a can of Coke, for example, would be like. It also emphasizes the extent of the devastation and how long the man and his son have been "carrying the fire." The devotion and togetherness of the boy and his father are so significant and the fact that the mother committed suicide strengthen the plot, in spite of having no basis for comparison.
A reader who is unimpressed as he reads on , by not being able to glean any further information about the catastrophe, could miss the whole point of this novel. The boy and his father survive now and no amount of historical facts will help them along the route. McCarthy is well-known for his style of writing being minimal and The Road is no exception. He wants to ensure that the focus is on the two main characters now, not why they are there or who is responsible or whether they can contribute to understanding the past. That is the basic idea. There is no explanation; nothing makes sense. The world, stripped of all it's worldly goods, in its most simplistic state, is essentially the same because there are "good guys" and bad guys. Ironically, whilst everything has changed, it all remains the same. It's just the details that are different. History repeats itself whether you know what that history is or you don't because "there is no other dream nor other waking world and there is no other tale to tell."
Perhaps the best way to respond to that particular sentiment is to argue that the specific history of the characters is irrelevant when it comes to McCarthy's themes. The setting of a post-apocalyptic world suggests a universal event-- something that will inevitably happen to society-- and plays on the that common fear. The sublime effect produced from this setting is one of McCarthy's main goals within the story. The fact that the man and the boy do not have names also contributes to the intended theme and emotions. Names and personal histories do not matter, because McCarthy's aim is to create an atmosphere within his story that questions human behavior in a desperate situation, such as the breakdown of modern society.