What happens in The Road?

In The Road, a man and his son are forced to fend for themselves after a cataclysmic event. All forms of life except human predators, dogs, and fungi are wiped out. When the man dies, his son joins a group of survivors.

The Road summary key points:

  • A man and his son are heading to the east coast to escape the Appalachian winter.

  • The man is fighting to stay alive in order to care for his son.

  • The boy is the last beacon of hope in an unnatural and brutal world.

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Introduction

The Road, winner of the 2007 Pulitzer Prize, is Cormac McCarthy’s most accessible novel, one which immediately gained a foothold in book clubs and on school reading lists across America. It also joins All the Pretty Horses and Blood Meridian as one of McCarthy’s most critically acclaimed novels, though a departure from his usual western settings and themes. In a rare interview, McCarthy told Oprah Winfrey that his four-year-old son John practically cowrote the book: “I suppose it is a love story to my son.”

Set sometime in the future after a global catastrophe, The Road chronicles a father and a son—maybe the last of the “good guys”—as they tread along a forsaken patch of highway peopled by marauders and cannibals. The novel can be read in a variety of ways.The Road is perhaps the most chilling commentary of the post-9/11 world.The post-apocalyptic setting plays upon the public’s fear of terrorism, pandemics, genocide, and weapons of mass destruction.Other readers hear the poetic passages of desolation and think of Dante’s descent into hell or T. S. Eliot’s The Waste Land. Michael Chabon, in his essay “Dark Adventure,” says the novel is both horror and epic adventure, that McCarthy deftly blends the Southern Gothic of William Faulkner and the extreme naturalism of Jack London. Still others see McCarthy continuing to wrestle with the existence of God, as the character Ely tells the father, “There is no God and we are his prophets.” The novel certainly plays upon a parent’s worst fears, but because its father-son relationship is crafted so tenderly, the overall effect is, ironically, anything but morbid.

The Road is McCarthy at the height of his powers. The father and son’s journey to “carry the fire” is not only a testament to McCarthy’s love for his son but his faith in humanity.

Summary

Cormac McCarthy, winner of a 2007 Pulitzer Prize for his novel The Road, has created a story filled with some of the most horrendous acts human beings could ever commit. But it also demonstrates a bond between father and son that not even the near destruction of the world can tear apart. Only death could come close to accomplishing that, and even death fails.

In a storytelling style that is stripped as bare as the novel’s setting, McCarthy recounts the journey of an unnamed man and boy, in an undefined location, who search among the debris in the aftermath of some cataclysmic event for morsels of food and warmth. Though their lungs are tortured by the thick ash that discolors and taints the air, and their unshod feet are blistered and almost frozen, they trudge forever forward, always hoping for something better, something similar to the past. They rarely find it. And they dare not linger, because other wanderers, likewise cold and hungry, will inevitably come upon them, fighting for the tidbits that the man and boy have found.

In stark contrast to the devastated surroundings stands the man and boy’s unshaken devotion to one another. In a landscape where nothing blooms, their love flourishes and grows deeper, even as they wonder all the while which one of them will die first. They keep three things in mind as they move south toward a dream of warmth: they must find food, they must find clean water, and they must continually hide.

There are marauding groups of cannibals who look upon the man and boy as they themselves once looked upon livestock: as meat. The lone bullet in the man’s gun is saved for the boy, who has been instructed on how to kill...

(The entire section is 2,891 words.)