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'The Road' by Cormac McCarthy
Transcript of 'The Road' by Cormac McCarthy
A father and his son walk alone through a post-apocalyptic wasteland. There is little life left on earth. It is cold enough to crack stones, and, when the snow falls it is gray. The sky is dark. Their destination is the warmer south, although they don't know what, if anything, awaits them there. They have nothing to protect themselves from the harsh elements of nature or the dangerous cannibals prowling the roads. All they have left is a shopping cart with scavenged food - and each other.
A. Examining the methods and techniques a novelist uses in the construction of their story can deepen the reader’s insight into the themes of their work.
B. In Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, the author’s voice is a distinct presence that stays with the reader and defines the reading experience. By crafting both his characters and his text to metaphorically highlight his themes, the author is able to transform his story into an exploration of morality and the choice to finding meaning where there may be none.
C. McCarthy is able to achieve this in various ways. First, the author’s uses the relationship and interplay between the Man, the Boy and the Woman to metaphorically enact the greater message of the story. Secondly, the use of descriptive language to embody the landscape creates an impacting setting that shapes the experience of the reader. Lastly, the author’s use of a minimalist writing style amplifies his themes and deepens the emotional impact of the novel.
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Throughout the novel, Cormac McCarthy explores the theme of humanity’s struggle to reconcile hope and morality when all good seems lost. These themes are brought to life through the interplay and relations between the Man, the Boy and the Woman, which begin to explore the idea of hope as a choice. As the women turns to self-destruction, she is exemplifying that maintaining or abandoning hope is conscious, purposeful choice. “As for me my only hope is for eternal nothingness and I hope it with all my heart.” (McCarthy, pg.57). This quote is presenting the Woman’s thoughts as to she has no reason to carry on and can go no further. This supports the idea that hope is choice.
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Unlike the Woman, the Man has a strong, profound hope for the life of his son, which is his driving motivation. The Man tries but is unsuccessful in passing this drive for life onto his wife. “When your dreams are of some world that never was or of some world that never will be and you are happy again then you will have given up. Do you understand? And you can't give up. I won't let you.” (McCarthy, pg.183). The Man’s plea to his wife for her survival is clearly demonstrating his strong motivation to carry on. The Man is still clinging on to the inner hope inside that women has clearly pushed aside and proves that hope is a choice. The contrasts of the motivations of the characters, and their interactions with each other, reflects the idea that hope is a choice and furthermore reflects that the motivation in the Man is driven towards a light of morality and meaning.
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McCarthy’s use of descriptive language embodies the landscape as a significant feature of the text. This technique is used to illuminate the themes of the text and bring together the underlying message of morality and meaning to the reader. From the first page of the novel, McCarthy’s text is saturated with detailed and powerful descriptive language about the world that the characters are embedded in, creating a well-defined atmosphere of despair and hopelessness that acts as a backdrop for the thematic journey of the characters."He walked out in the gray light and stood and he saw for a brief moment the absolute truth of the world. The cold relentless circling of the intestate earth. Darkness implacable. The blind dogs of the sun in their running. The crushing black vacuum of the universe. And somewhere two hunted animals trembling like groundfoxes in their cover. Borrowed time and borrowed world and borrowed eyes with which to sorrow it." (McCarthy, pg.110). The visceral, deeply descriptive language – “darkness implacable”, “crushing black vaccum of the universe” – acts as atmospheric framing that helps the reader emotionally understand the bleakness of the world of the characters. Furthermore, the setting acts as a mirror for the experience of the characters – “hunted animals trembling” – exposing the powerlessness of humanity.
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Additionally, McCarthy’s descriptive language also acts as a metaphor for his themes: McCarthy’s “dead”, colourless world, stripped to it’s bare bones by destruction, offers no external source of meaning or beauty to the characters, mirroring how they - and all of humanity – must to create their own meaning and purpose, rather than find it in the external world. “ When it was light enough to use the binoculars he glassed the valley below. Everything paling away into the murk. The soft ash blowing in loose swirls over the blacktop. He studied what he could see. The segments of road down there among dead trees. Looking for anything of color. Any movement. Any trace of standing smoke. He lowered the glasses and pulled down the cotton mask from his face and wiped his nose on the back of his wrist and then glassed the country again. Then he just sat there holding the binoculars and watching the ashen daylight congeal over the land. He knew that the child was his warrant. He said: If he is not the word of God God never spoke.” (McCarthy, pg.5). This quote is stating that the Man believes that The Boy is holy – maybe the only thing holy left in the world. This provides The Man with purpose: if he can protect The Boy, he's doing something good. His motivation to protect his son, provides him with the strength to keep going.The author’s use of descriptive language to build an atmospheric setting that reflects and mirrors the journey of his characters, and is an essential element of his communication of his themes to the reader.
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Cormac McCarthy uses his style of writing and structural use of the text to uniquely amplify the themes and emotions to the reader. These themes take the reader throughout the novel on a path of morality and to find meaning in a world that is left empty when everything is stripped away. The minimalist yet descriptive writing style along with the unique elements of his writing such as no use of quotation marks, and alternating abruptly short and meandering sentences that sometimes seem incomplete, provide the reader with an in depth perspective on the characters.
“We're going to be okay, aren't we Papa?
Yes. We are.
And nothing bad is going to happen to us.
Because we're carrying the fire.
Yes. Because we're carrying the fire.”(McCarthy, pg.83). McCarthy’s structure of the conversation intrigues the reader but also makes the elegance of the words he uses emphasized and powerful, inviting the reader to consider their full meaning. Throughout the novel, the Man and the Boy refer to ‘Carrying the fire’ on several occasions. By using this writing style the author ensures the reader is driven to reflect on the meaning and importance of phrases and words, such as how the fire refers to the drive and determination within the characters.
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The authors use of other elements other than his unique writing style such as paradox, metaphors, etc., add greater substance and depth to the text as well. The text is allowed to unfold as a source of meaning and contemplation for the reader beyond simply being a vehicle for storytelling. By using these devices along with his minimalist style, McCarthy is able to establish a whole different outlook in distinct sentences and phrases. “Nobody wants to be here and nobody wants to leave.” (McCarthy, pg.169). These words spoken by Ely convey a meaning of struggle between life and death. The Man in the novel acknowledges and doubts the reason for continuing but the fear of leaving is powerful and so is the motivation towards morality and meaning for his son. McCarthy is able to disguise this powerful concept through the minimalist writing style and structure of text. The author’s distinct writing style is an essential element of the effectiveness of his story, inviting the reader to search for meaning in a way that reflects the struggle of the Man and Boy, and shaping the readers reaction to the novel.
'The Road' by Cormac McCarthy
Multimedia Essay by Dawson Hill
A. In Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, the author’s use of literary devices and distinct style is an inseparable element of the reader’s experience of the story.
B. By building his characters, his settings, and his use of text in a purposeful, metaphorical manner, the story within the novel is illuminated to the reader in a deep and emotionally powerful way, allowing the reader to search beyond the storytelling of the novel and uncover the theme of humanity’s search for meaning.
C. McCarthy’s use of language and literary devices in his text is a powerful example of how deep, thoughtful, and multilayered writing can allow a simple story to embody complex, much bigger themes, and create an unforgettable and lasting impact on the reader.
McCarthy, Cormac. The Road. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2006. Print.
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