I have questions for an essay on "The Road" by Cormac McCarthy.
McCarthy doesn't make explicit what kind of catastrophe has ruined the earth & destroyed human civilization, but what might be suggested by the many descriptions of a scorched landscape covered in ash?
What is implied by the father's statement that "On this road there are no godspoke men. They are gone & I am left & they have taken with them the world"?
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I believe that the circumstances that led to the scorched earth in The Road were from a nuclear attack, a war that was launched and so successful that most of the population has been eliminated. The devastation of the bombing which was engaged in by more than one nation served to destroy most of the world, most of the people on earth have been incinerated.
The world that is left behind has no social order, there is no law that keeps order in this new land, survival is dictated by whatever behavior works for the individual who has managed to stay alive through the devastation.
The annihilation of the human race is one aspect of the story, but the critical point that McCarthy makes through the man and his son's travels is that morality doesn't exist, there is a wild primitive element to the new world that they inhabit.
You come to wonder whether the boy and his father were in fact lucky to have survived the war, the destruction. Their lives are a constant struggle, it is a world turned upside down by a lack of resources, no shelter is safe, there is no food, no way to create a stable setting to rebuilt your destroyed life.
The only thing that the man knows is that he and his son must keep traveling so as to escape the roving bands of thieves and murderers who now dominate the landscape. In their efforts to survive the boy and his father also steal, but they do so without inflicting harm to anyone. The father wants to protect the boy, because children have now become a choice selection on the menu where there are no more animals to cook and eat.
The society that McCarthy presents in The Road has devolved to the point of pre-civilization. McCarthy brings civilization to a halt in his book, bringing the reader, with 21st century knowledge into a world where cannibalism is openly practiced. This is similar to other pre-civilization societies who had little access to food sources and ate their own.
"Around 43,000 years ago, the Neanderthals were turning to cannibalism—even brain-eating—. Discoveries of fossil remains suggest that these prehistoric humans looked entirely different from their northern counterparts. The Osteology of this species clearly suggests signs of dismemberment and skinning."
I think what McCarthy is trying to tell the reader is that if society stays on the track that it is on, with ever increasing global hostility and more and more nations developing nuclear weapons, that our future might in fact bring us back to the past, the distant past. The most frightening aspect of the book is that although the father and son have been sling shotted into the past, they have memories of a civilized society of laws and traditions, happy lives that now seem like a dream, their new life is a nightmare.
We certainly don't have the exact details of what happened in this world; however, how many details do we really need to understand the situation? Obviously, wars between nations wiped out the land and most of the people on it. Most likely, it was a nuclear holocaust, where nukes were detonated on a massive scale. In order for the world to have gotten to that point, the bad in the world had to be more than the good; the evil had to overwhelm the good, enough to let the people in charge be willing to cause near human extinction in their war. This point is reiterated in the quote that you have above: a lot of the people left are not men that are good--they are evil. They are men with no sense of God, and when you leave God out of the equation, a moral compass and any sense of what is right and wrong go also. The people left are willing to bear children just to eat them; they are willing to murder, kill, hunt, and cannibalize anyone that comes into their paths, just like whoever was nuking each other was willing to kill anyone who threatened or opposed them. In this way, the type of people that are left, even though fighting hand-to-hand for daily survival, are much like whoever it was that made the decisions behind the massive bombings that wiped out people. They would do anything to survive. But, is survival worth it at such a price? That is just one question that is addressed in this novel; and the boy's mother obviously thought the answer to that was no. Life was not worth living for her anymore; survival was not worth the struggle.
When the "godspoke" men were not heard anymore, or perished, then the evil had full reign on the earth. The remaining people let what happened occur, which led to such barbarism in the survivors afterwards. When there was no one willing to stand up for decency, good, right, morals, and bravery, the world as mankind knew it disappeared in ashes, first in the bombs, and then in the life after the bombs. The man, trying to protect his son, and keep his son from the life of those evil people that are around him, is one of the few that are left that are willing to survive to live a life filled with goodness.
I hope that those thoughts help; good luck!
Read David Kushner's article before deciding that it had to be nuclear devastation. It is more likely a celestial object striking the earth, or even excessive volcanic activity. Many scientists are now arguing that the last mass extinction was more likely volcanic activity. Nuclear war brings with it a whole set of other problems not depicted in The Road. In addition, many areas of the world would be relatively untouched--unlike the scenario described in On the Beach. How the earth is only important in terms of survival. I think the implication is that no place is untouched.
As far as godspoke men is concerned, the people that are left are strictly in survival mode, and ignore morality. Once you cross into a Hobbsian world like this anything can and will happen.
It could mean, I am just an ordinary guy. Not perfect. Not especially good. Have no belief in higher things. I am just trying to get us through to something better than this.
What caused the catastrophe? I think it could be a massive volcanic explosion. Something on the scale of Yellowstone erupting.
His wife kills herself using a flake of obsidian. A natural glass created in volcanic eruptions. Why obsidian? Why not a knife, just ordinary glass, or any other material or means.
The volcanic source and black density of obsidian sits well with the atmosphere of the book.
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