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Many of the themes of this novel have a dual meaning: they emerge from the novel's setting, but also symbolically illustrate the novel's deeper significance. The landscape that the Man and Boy are walking through is barren, devoid of plants, cold and dark. Nearly every action taken by them is a response to some obstacle or condition of the landscape, but it is very difficult to improve their situation. For example, they cannot build a fire because if the flames or smoke were seen, they could be victimized. They can't stay in a seemingly safe place because they could end up trapped there. These physical features of their surroundings (cold, dark, emptiness) also function as thematic elements to describe the state of humanity and the desperation, brutality and lack of empathy that have overtaken everyone who has survived the cataclysm.
Another major theme is that of movement. The need to constantly keep moving forward is a necessity of their survival; but also symbolizes the journey of life towards death. On some level this novel is about everyone's life journey and the suffering we must endure, and the comfort that can be found in caring for others; but it also explores the depravity and cruelty that humans visit upon one another and the road of the title is not just a path to a destination but an obstacle course fraught with risk and danger.
The most prominent motif, or recurring theme in "The Road" is death, followed by survival. Considering that the book deals with total destruction of the world and society, both physically and morally, the father's quest to keep his son alive and protected is at the heart of the story. They encounter death, devastation and a breakdown of the social order of society at every turn.
Death is everywhere in this book as the father and son struggle to survive in the desolate wasteland that exists after the devastation.
"The novel is made up of several hundred isolated moments, scraps of dialogue and flashes of action. Here's a typical one that could appear anywhere in the book:"
"The land was gullied and eroded and barren. The bones of dead creatures sprawled in the washes. Middens of anonymous trash. Farmhouses in the fields scoured of their paint and the clapboards spooned and sprung from the wallstuds. All of it shadowless and without feature. The road descended through a jungle of dead kudzu." (McCarthy)
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