In The Road, Cormac McCarthy unveils a bleak notion of humanity’s dark side, similar in many ways to the brutality that developed in José Saramago’s Blindness; but whereas the blindness of Saramago’s novel is milky-white, in McCarthy’s brutal world the view is as dark as coal and ash: Night dark beyond darkness and the days more gray each one than what had gone before. Like the onset of some cold glaucoma dimming away the world (p. 3). Ash is everywhere, the vestiges of a once vibrant world, destroyed in an apocalyptic event. The cause of the event is never revealed: it is the aftermath that we are immersed into as we follow an unnamed father and son along their nightmarish journey along the road to the sea (the novel takes no prisoners: there is no escape, and no relief for the reader).
Food is scarce (there seems to be no living things other than humans), and cannibalism is rampant. Groups of bestialized humans roam the road, hunting for human livestock. This is the backdrop for the story’s relationship between a father and his son, who are survivors with little hope of redemption (no names are shared in the story: the only time a character shares a name, it is false: names are trappings from a different world). The father explains to his son that they are the good-guys (the civilized, the ‘carriers of fire’), but the son witnesses his father’s descent: the man has begun to lose his sense of humanity because his son must be protected at all costs. Their relationship —expressed in sparse conversations — is complex; filled with faith, love, desperation, codependence, and a tenuous grip on hope.
The father’s stifled memories of the time before the disaster are poignant: …he would begin to sob uncontrollably but it was not about death. He wasnt sure what it was about but he thought it was about beauty or about goodness. Things that he’d no longer any way to think about at all (p. 129 – 130). [McCarthy, for the most part, shuns punctuation].
We should appreciate this world and hold it dear; The Road is a disturbing, cautionary tale; and, as such, it succeeds wonderfully. It is a quick read, seemingly simple, but it hooks the reader, and evokes an astonishing, emotional response.