The feat of human survival lies precariously on the edge in Cormac McCarthy’s The Road (2006). A boy and a man venture into a barren landscape forgotten by humanity, ready to face the unknown dangers that lurk in the shadows. We know little of how McCarthy’s dismal world came to be, but we can only assume it is due to the cascading effects of the climate crisis. Cities have become ravaged by the force of nature and what remains of humanity is scattered across a land shaped by fear and suffering. Food is scarce. Tensions are high. It’s unmistakably a gut wrenching read, yet a flicker of hope lies within the powerful bond between a man and a boy.
The driving force of this novel is the raw paternal love of a man who is insanely desperate to keep his son, the only shred of normality left in his life, alive. It’s impossible to think that childhood innocence could be retained in a world so chaotic, yet the boy’s wholehearted kindness is a warmth that radiates continuously throughout the novel. Their relationship is what moulds the novel together, tugging on our heartstrings as we go on this journey with them.
Although the characters are unnamed and we gain only a sliver of insight into their emotions, the narrative mainly flourishes through their actions. McCarthy lends his detached writing style to heighten the harshness of his frightening dystopian world, seemingly alike how we as humans detach ourselves from the dismal reality that climate change could cause. If you can trudge through the repetitive cycles of human survival in this story, the end result will be immensely sobering. For a short book, the poignant messages are revealed effortlessly.
Everything about McCarthy’s novel mirrors the American Dream in a garish way. A land once filled with hope and opportunities has been twisted beyond recognition. The boy and man echo the steps of this American vision, clinging onto memories of the past in the hope they will drag them forward and through the hauntingly cold wilderness. Although their destination is not fixed, a hint of hope is enough for them to grasp onto in the face of extreme desperation and move forward.
By Niamh Hall.