Introduction to The Road

The Road is a 2006 novel by Cormac McCarthy, in which a father and son struggle to survive in a post-apocalyptic world. In the wake of an unspecified apocalyptic disaster, the world has been plunged into chaos and brutality. Food is scarce, and many survivors have turned to cannibalism in order to feed themselves. As the son and his father travel across this wasteland, they encounter untold acts of savagery and cruelty, and they rely on one another to maintain their moral convictions. The Road went on to receive the 2007 Pulitzer Prize for fiction, and it was later adapted into a multi-award-winning film in 2009.

Though the landscape of The Road is bleak and desolate, the novel is widely regarded as one of McCarthy’s most optimistic works. This is attributed to the strong bond between the father and son, which McCarthy admitted was largely inspired by his relationship with his own young son. Even in the seemingly hopeless circumstances he finds himself in, the father still attempts to remember the world as it once was. At its heart, the novel is about survival; however, physical survival is in many ways secondary to the preservation of civilized morality. Kindness, compassion, and generosity are difficult to find on the road the duo travels, but it is their love for one another that allows them to remain spiritually strong in the face of starvation and hopelessness.

A Brief Biography of Cormac McCarthy

Cormac McCarthy (born 1933) is one of the most acclaimed American novelists of the late-twentieth and early-twenty-first centuries. Raised in Tennessee, McCarthy served in the US Air Force and attended the University of Tennessee before dropping out to pursue writing. Supported by grant money, he produced his first two novels and traveled in Europe before settling again in Tennessee. He gained greater recognition in the 1970s, especially with his 1979 novel Suttree. In the early 1980s, McCarthy moved to Texas and began to compose novels set in the American Southwest. He achieved a critical breakthrough with Blood Meridian (1985), a violent and ornately styled historical novel that draws on religious themes and allusions. His subsequent work continued to draw on Southwestern settings but adopted a sparer style, as exemplified by All the Pretty Horses (1992). Important later works include No Country for Old Men (2005) and The Road (2006), the latter of which depicts a postapocalyptic United States.

Despite the changes in McCarthy’s style over the decades, many of his thematic concerns have remained constant. His work explored the inevitability and consequences of violence in human life, the impulse to survive, and the reality of death. Many of his novels have historical settings, though some of his later works have taken place in the present or even the future.

Frequently Asked Questions about The Road

The Road

For a long time the man in The Road carries his wallet in the pocket of his pants. In fact, he carried it with him for such a long time that the narrator notes that the billfold "wore a...

Latest answer posted November 26, 2021, 12:01 pm (UTC)

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The Road

As the man and the boy journey through a hellish, apocalyptical landscape, their goal is to reach the coast, where there is hope that something different exists. When they finally make the final...

Latest answer posted November 27, 2021, 1:31 pm (UTC)

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The Road

There are numerous reasons that the man and the boy decide to leave the bounty and relative safety of the bunker. The man explains to the boy that the bunker is dangerous. If the two remain in one...

Latest answer posted November 25, 2021, 1:34 pm (UTC)

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The Road

The woman appears in the penultimate paragraph of The Road. She is obviously a maternal figure, offering the boy affection; however, she serves a spiritual function as well. She tries teaching the...

Latest answer posted November 24, 2021, 11:51 am (UTC)

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The Road

The man and the boy realize one evening that they are being followed and decide to hide and wait for their pursuers to pass. After hiding their cart in some woods and then hiding themselves among...

Latest answer posted November 26, 2021, 2:15 pm (UTC)

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The Road

The man is symbolic of the values held by pre-apocalyptic civilization, particularly hope and decency. While many have abandoned these values to become thieves, slave-holders, or cannibals, the man...

Latest answer posted November 27, 2021, 11:28 am (UTC)

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The Road

The man in Cormac McCarthy's novel The Road is most likely sick with tuberculosis or some kind of lung disease, for he has a bad cough that gets worse and worse as the story progresses, and often...

Latest answer posted November 27, 2021, 6:18 pm (UTC)

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The Road

The lightning man is a person who was struck by lightning. The man and the son encounter him on the road during their journey. The lightning man is a horror to look at: his hair is singed, and his...

Latest answer posted November 27, 2021, 11:41 am (UTC)

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The Road

In The Road, the man and the boy encounter a dog during their travels, which has somehow managed to survive this long. Though both the man and his son are starving, the man promises his son that...

Latest answer posted November 24, 2021, 12:23 pm (UTC)

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The Road

When the man finds the flare gun, which he calls a flare pistol, he shows it to the boy and explains how the burst of light shooting in the air can signal others. The boy is intrigued at the idea...

Latest answer posted November 27, 2021, 11:58 am (UTC)

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The Road

In a grim scene in the novel, the man and the boy enter a house in search of food. The man sees a steel padlocked door and manages to pry it open. When they go down the steps, the man and the boy...

Latest answer posted November 26, 2021, 12:05 pm (UTC)

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The Road

The man and the boy meet Ely on their travels and share some food with him. He is important because he represents the typical hopelessness, fear, and isolation of this desolate new world. He makes...

Latest answer posted November 25, 2021, 12:33 pm (UTC)

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The Road

People’s thumbs are cut off in The Road for punishment. When the boy and his dad come across the thief and the cart, the thief has no fingers on his right hand. Presumably, this means that the...

Latest answer posted November 25, 2021, 7:17 pm (UTC)

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The Road

The man remembers the trout three times in his travels. Each time they are a symbol of life and therefore of the transcendent in this bleak, dead world. The first time, the man has come to a now...

Latest answer posted November 24, 2021, 12:37 pm (UTC)

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The Road

The father contracts a devastating cough by the end of the novel. It impacts his ability to scavenge, hunt, or travel, forcing the boy to take on the protector and provider role his father had...

Latest answer posted November 25, 2021, 11:35 am (UTC)

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The Road

The man's wife dies before the start of the novel, committing suicide to escape the brutality of the postapocalyptic world. She believed that, at the very least, she would be a distraction to her...

Latest answer posted November 25, 2021, 11:24 am (UTC)

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The Road

Cormac McCarthy dedicates the novel to his son, John Francis McCarthy, so to some extent, his narrator could be said to be writing to him, but in reality McCarthy's narrator is writing to the...

Latest answer posted November 26, 2021, 12:28 pm (UTC)

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The Road

McCarthy uses a spare, stark style in The Road, which one critic has called "terse, unsentimental, bleak." The novel begins in media res, or the middle of the action, and the narration does little...

Latest answer posted November 24, 2021, 12:01 pm (UTC)

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The Road

The narrator never specifies exactly what caused the apocalypse in Cormac McCarthy’s novel The Road. Despite the lack of clarity, readers can use context clues to infer what might have caused the...

Latest answer posted November 26, 2021, 3:57 pm (UTC)

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The Road

At the end of The Road, the father and son essentially reverse the roles they had assumed throughout the novel. The father becomes dependent due to an injury, and the son takes on the dual roles of...

Latest answer posted November 24, 2021, 11:34 am (UTC)

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Summary