“Are we still the good guys?”
-The Road (McCarthy, 75)
It almost pains me to say that I can’t find anything wrong with Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. His style is a gorgeous combination of fragmented, callous descriptions and simplistic, spine-chilling language. The Road takes place in a post-apocalyptic future when a man (whose name is not stated) and his son (also nameless) are struggling to survive. Wherever they travel, there’s a thin layer of ash blanketed across the landscape, constantly reminding the reader of an unsolved mystery. The lingering question, besides what will happen to the protagonists, is what happened to the world? While McCarthy provides a plethora of descriptions (mostly involving worn houses and dead trees), he tip-toes around revealing too much. He hints that the sun and moon are hidden behind a layer of something (what I assume is ash), but he never explicitly states it. That’s another reason he’s truly great: he always “shows.”
One of McCarthy’s more brilliant lines (in my opinion, at least), is , “The falling snow curtained them about” (McCarthy, 92). When I read this sentence, the visual, which was already fine tuned in my head, suddenly sharpened and illuminated a fantastic scene of snow swirling around the two, veiling them from the rest of the world, and vice-versa. And I could see them hugging their elbows, hanging their heads to protect them from the wind. It’s one simple line, but it’s the verb that makes the sentence. With this one, simple line, he’s able to “show” so much, while “telling” so little.
The only times he states something and, “tells,” is in regards to the little boy’s fear and the father’s constant anxiety to keep the two alive. Even the father’s anxiety isn’t explicitly stated, but the little boy constantly voices his fear. It seems to reflect his innocence, when “I’m scared,” is all that really matters.
At the beginning, McCarthy sprinkles hints of these terrifying antagonists, ones who I’ve barely seen. They seem like ordinary men (the father shoots one at a point), yet the narrator portrays them in monstrous ways. McCarthy seems to pose a question here: Are we all monsters when survival requires it? Will we all give into our own pleasures and struggle to keep only ourselves alive? Yet, the father’s love for his son seems to indicate otherwise. Even after he shoots one of the antagonists and abandons a dying man on the side of the road, he focuses all his attention on keeping his son safe. The contrast between his eternal love and the desolate surroundings creates a beautiful clash and ignites a match which burns brighter as the story continues. Sometimes, though, I find myself wondering if the father is doing right for the little boy. Was abandoning that man really the “right” thing to do? What exactly is right in this situation? And suddenly, the little boys words echo in my head: “Are we still the good guys?” (McCarthy, 75). Such a simple phrase, yet power reigns in each word. In my opinion, this notion is one of the most prevalent themes throughout. And McCarthy conveys it with just six words. So ladies and gentlemen, please stand up and give McCarthy a round of applause–he deserves it!
McCarthy, Cormac. The Road. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2006.