Student Question

What are the literary devices and their purposes in the first two pages of "The Road"?

Quick answer:

The first two pages introduce the man and the boy, both of whom are strangers to each other, and to us. However, we can glean some details about them from these pages. The man has a beard, is tall and skinny, and wears a hat. He carries with him a stick to aid in walking. He also does not have any shoes on his feet. The boy looks about four years old but is actually six years old. He is small in stature and has "long dark hair." He wears gray pants, a gray shirt, and a red cap. They are traveling along a road that they do not recognize because all landmarks have been destroyed (by fire) during the apocalypse.

Expert Answers

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The first two pages of Cormac McCarthy's The Road, as an introduction to the story of the man and the boy, also introduce us to the minimalist style that characterizes the novel. The characters are never named and are only referred to as the man and the boy or by the pronouns "he" and "him," which we see from the very first sentence.

Another feature of the writing style that we see in the first two pages is repetition. This repetition works to create and reiterate the mood of the novel, which reflects the state of the world in which it is set. For example, McCarthy repeats the words "dark," "darkness," and "gray," which all point to the post-apocalyptic setting. These words are contrasted with the repetition of the word "light" as the man waits for the approaching sunrise. However, in this world, even the sun does not provide much brightness to the gloomy atmosphere.

The first couple of pages also include similes. McCarthy describes the approaching darkness each night as "Like the onset of some cold glaucoma dimming away the world." This implies that the problem is with the viewer and not with the world around him, which is actually the case. One of the paragraphs on the first two pages is a fairly detailed account of the man's dream, which includes simile and imagery and is also symbolic. In the man's dream, he is led by the boy into a cave. He and the boy are described as "Like pilgrims in a fable" (a simile), which makes it seem like the experience is not quite real. Imagery is used to describe "the black and ancient lake." The lake houses is depicted as a monster, whose eyes are described with a simile comparing them to "the eggs of spiders." After the dream is described, the man looks around the landscape, so McCarthy uses more imagery to describe the scene, characterized by "ash."

Overall, the first two pages introduce us to the two characters, the setting, and McCarthy's writing style through his use of repetition, imagery, and figurative language.

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