The Road by Cormac McCarthy
“He pushed the cart and both he and the boy carried knapsacks. In the knapsacks were essential things in case they had to abandon the cart and make a run for it. Clamped to the handle of the cart was a chrome motorcycle mirror that he used to watch the road behind them. he shifted the pack higher on his shoulders and looked out over the wasted country. The road was empty. Below in the little valley the still grey serpentine of a river. Motionless and precise. Along the shore a burden of dead reeds. Are you okay? He said. The boy nodded. They set out along the blacktop in the gunmetal light, shuffling through the ash, each the other’s world entire.”
- ‘He’, the man, and ‘the boy’ are nameless. why? Does their anonymity change the way we feel about the characters? Can we still care about them without names? Do they still have an identity without a name? At the moment they don’t have names, but you get the feeling they might possibly be father and son. He obviously cares about the boy, they are both heading off together with the cart not in different directions, so I feel they know each other and want to be together. I feel they have an identify, they both have knapsacks, not a bag or a satchel, they are knapsacks, the journey has been thought through together.
- How can we tell they’re in danger? Are they fleeing danger or do they expect to encounter it along the way? What sort of danger? Human? Animal? Elemental? You can sense they are in danger as it is mentioned they may have to abandon the cart and make a run for it, which makes you feel they could get chased are attacked. They also use a mirror in order to see what might follow them. I think they are both fleeing danger and are expecting to encounter something on the way, there are tell tale signs that something has happened like the ‘wasted country’, ‘dead reeds’ and ‘the ash’, feels like something bad has happened. I don’t think animal, perhaps alien, something that is able to destroy land and objects in its way.
- The chrome motorcycle mirror tells us the time is roughly contemporary. so what’s happened to the rest of the recognizable contemporary world? Or is the story set in the future? Post-apocalypse maybe? It seems to have been set back in time maybe I’m thinking 1940’s after the world war II perhaps, with the motorcycle’s that had the big mirrors and for them to be pushing a cart, perhaps that’s because they live in the countryside, and the knapsacks, again an old-fashioned description.
- They are alone: ‘The road was empty’. Where is everyone? Why are they scared if no one is around? Because no one is around? Because someone might be around? My feeling is they have seen things happen that have scared them, the fact they may have to make a run for it suggests something could be following them or bombs are being dropped. There are roads so people have been before them and built them. I think they are scared because there is no-one there right now but there is every possibility something or someone is coming.
- There’s been some sort of disaster: ‘wasted country … dead reeds … shuffling through the ash … what sort of disaster might it be? It might have been a war, where bombs have been dropped, as mentioned before perhaps during the early 1940’s or if its alien related you can imagine big machines destroying the land with fire.
- They’re on a journey with everything they own. Where are they going? Where have they come from? You get the image they are leaving their home, they’ve packed essentials from their home, they’ve taken their cart from their home. They must be heading to safety, wherever that might be, following the river that will perhaps lead them to freedom.
- The road is mentioned three times in these few lines. It is also the title of the book. What does it symbolize? It symbolizes their route to freedom and hopefully safety. Man has built a road to take them somewhere, they are up high with a valley below and a river to follow, but the road must lead to somewhere.
- Can you spot any poetic devices in this short passage? What effect do they have? I spotted two metaphor’s I think, ‘grey serpentine of a river’ and gunmetal light’. They make you imagine a snake like river possibly dangerous or medieval looking and the gunmetal light again I’m thinking a war reference to a gun and possibly the light being grey and dull and again dangerous.
- What other stylistic language choices does McCarthy make and why? Why might he not punctuate speech? He doesn’t name the two characters or describe their appearances, but he is able to make you believe the two know each other and care about each other, both are scared. I am not sure why the speech isn’t punctuated, this is not the norm for writing a book and I would therefore need to research further to find out why. eNotes I have come across this website that gives their version of why the author hasn’t used punctuation throughout the book. “By not including punctuation and other grammatical structures, Cormac McCarthy creates a narrative that is starkly bare, stripped to nothingness like the novel’s setting. By choosing this style for his writing, McCarthy is employing an additional vehicle, besides the content he presents, by which to communicate to the reader the emptiness of the world after the cataclysmic event that for all intents and purposes destroyed it”. by dymatsuoka, eNotes, accessed October 17, 2018 https://www.enotes.com/homework-help/why-cormac-mccarthy-does-not-add-punctuation-other-37763It has made me think is this a really clever author that grabs the reader’s attention because of the lack of punctuation or is bad not to follow the ‘rules’ of English Language.
- What features give us a sense of where we are? It is obvious they are on a road, high up as there is a valley below, perhaps in the countryside due to the cart and looking out over ‘the wasted country’. How does McCarthy create a post-apocalyptic world? He creates it by describing ‘the wasted country’ and ‘a shore of dead reeds’, and also ‘shuffling through the ash’ makes you think there has been an apocalyptic event. Would the impact be the same if he were to remove the man and the boy? You might not get the sense of fear and urgency to leave the scene look carefully at the imagery, for example the grey ‘serpentine of the river’ and ‘the gunmetal light’. What is it about the choice of metaphor that creates a sense of danger? The danger of the serpentine of the river would seem that the snake is dangerous as it’s slithering through the valley poisoning anything in its way. The gunmetal light is referring to a war weapon and a darkness instead of a bright light giving a sense of fear. What does the serpentine symbolize? Think biblical perhaps. I think it represents a dangerous route to follow, that it might poison anything in its way. What effect will biblical and religious imagery, themes and symbols have in this genere of writing? It will bring in ‘Time’ theme of death and mortality and good verses evil.
- What’s the prose style like? Very easy to read, flows easily. Are the sentences long or short? Short. Are they rhythmic or choppy or stark? I would say they are quite stark, as they are quite severe sentences and sharp. What impact does this have? It makes you read faster and creates fear and the need to read on to find out if they escape or not. Is the language complex or simple? Simple. Often the more dramatic or dark a piece is, the more simple and stripped back the prose. Why might this be? To create atmosphere quickly and make the reader want to read on by creating a sense of fear. What would be the effect of more flowing, colourful and detailed prose? It would create a different atmosphere, it would be happy and dreamlike.
- How does it all make you feel? It makes me want to read the book and the film, I want to find out what happens to the boy and man, do they escape, where are they, where is the mother, what is chasing them, how did this all happen. it makes me fearful for them and sad as to what has happened to them and possibly their family and home. I am questioning what type of book is it, horror or thriller, is it historical and is it a happy or sad ending. I want to learn more about the author’s style of writing and his lack of punctuation, I’d like to learn more about other books he has written it has made me feel intrigued about his style of writing.
On reflection, I really enjoyed this exercise. At first when I read the text, I could tell it was something I would want to read further about, just by the style of the writing and the tension it caused. Having now done a ‘close reading’ of it, I am even more excited to read it in full and to find out what happened to them and to also find out more about the author. I found two really interesting websites that I think will be very handy, especially the eNotes one that reviews books. It certainly made me think how much there is to be found in just one paragraph let alone a whole book. Very interesting and very clever, thoroughly enjoying contemporary writing projects.