In book, The Road,  by Cormac McCarthy, what is the significance of the road? 

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In McCarthy's novel, the road itself can be interpreted as either a hopeful and life-affirming symbol or a dark, nihilistic symbol. The ambiguity surrounding the meaning of the main characters' journey is central to the sense of fear that pervades the novel.

An optimistic reader could interpret the road as...

Unlock
This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Start your 48-Hour Free Trial

In McCarthy's novel, the road itself can be interpreted as either a hopeful and life-affirming symbol or a dark, nihilistic symbol. The ambiguity surrounding the meaning of the main characters' journey is central to the sense of fear that pervades the novel.

An optimistic reader could interpret the road as symbolic of the strength of the human spirit. The road is one of the only things to survive the apocalyptic event, and the main characters' journey down this road continues throughout the novel despite all the setbacks and pain they experience. In fact, all the survivors in the country are drawn to this road and move up and down its length, continuing to exist as best they can even though most of the world has been destroyed. The perseverance it takes to travel the road day after day, hoping for something better at its end, is a testament to the strength of the human spirit.

However, the road can also be seen as a symbol of the pointlessness of human beings' struggle to make their lives meaningful. The road is long and difficult, yet it leads to nowhere. The father and son make tremendous efforts to reach the end of the road alive, yet when they finally arrive, there is nothing at the end to provide any comfort or hope. The father dies, and the son is taken off by strangers who may or may not be friendly. In keeping with the dark tone of the rest of McCarthy's novel, the road itself does not provide the characters any relief or ultimate reward. If the road is symbolic of humans' journey, it points to a deeply nihilistic attitude toward life.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In Cormac McCarthy's The Road, the road is significant as an ambiguous idea. In using it as the title of the book, McCarthy introduces the uncertainty upon which the entire novel rests. The road itself is simply that: a road or, more specifically, any road that the characters find themselves on. In the story, the two characters travel along many unnamed roads while trying to make their way south to what they hope will be a warmer climate. Further, the reader doesn't understand why the characters are traveling the road in the first place, beyond their desire to stay warm to survive. The reader also doesn't know what "road" led them to where they are when the novel begins, meaning what caused the world to become the way that it is; we only know that some sort of apocalyptic disaster has taken place. There is very little backstory given of the two characters, and even less for the roving bands of cannibals that they encounter or hide from throughout the novel. There is no concrete history to the story. We are never even given the names of the two characters, nor do we know the name of the man who takes the boy under his protection at the end of the novel.

In naming his novel The Road, Cormac McCarthy promises his reader exactly what he delivers. The story isn't what lies at the end; the story is the road itself. Nothing is promised beyond that. Just as McCarthy's two main characters are unable to anticipate what may lie ahead, or what the end result of their struggle will be, so too must the reader accept that the point is not where the road leads to, but rather the point is what happens on the road, during the journey, itself.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

This is a good question. 

The road has many meanings. In light of this, let me mention a few of them. 

First, the road is the journey that the father and son has to take to seek out civilization. 

Second, the road is also a symbol of hope. As the father and son make the journey, they face incredible obstacles. This post-apocalyptic world is dark and unforgiving. So, as long as there is a road, there is hope for something better. It is way to their destination. 

Finally, the road is also a symbol of their lives. Each person has a road to traverse. These two characters show great resilience in their journey along their road. 

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team