McCarthy’s The Road’ tells sad story of father and son

Written By Chandni Shah, For The Globe

Photo courtesy of Creative Commons

One thing my high school English teacher always asked was, “how does language make meaning?” How can an author change the way we think about the world that we live in with words? Whether it be poetry, an article, a good book or even the lyrics to a song, they all have the potential to alter our minds and how we perceive the sphere of society.

A book that reshapes perception is “The Road” by Cormac McCarthy, winning the Pulitzer Prize back in 2007, following the story of a young boy and his father as they travel through a post-apocalyptic America. Nothing is left of the world except for ash and dust, and the pair struggle to survive in a barren world, only having each other to rely on and the road that they follow. Although the novel isn’t banned, it’s been challenged because of its questionable features including cannibalism and violence.

There is an intriguing ambiguity to the novel because it is never actually stated how the apocalypse happened and the two main characters don’t have names, leaving it up to the reader to make their own interpretations about how the world ended. The reader is forced to ask themselves what the people in the book did to get to this point, if they are able to stop it from happening in their lifetime and what they would do if they were in the boy and the father’s position.

With this new, barren world comes a new kind of people, they scour the remains of the land looking for survivors — for food. The cannibalists hunt down their own kind, they have lost all sense of morals and have succumbed to their ravaging hunger. The boy and his father vow to never turn into those people and would rather kill themselves than be their victims. These violent aspects of the novel push people away from reading it because they know that one day if our generation doesn’t change its habits, we may live in this world.

Some have called the book “poorly written” and have said that McCarthy is a bad writer because he doesn’t use proper punctuation and tends to write fragmented sentences throughout the entirety of the novel. This could be another reason as to why the book has been challenged in the past, but there is another way to look at McCarthy’s choice of style. In a world where there are no laws, why would proper writing be an exception to that? These things such as grammar and other concepts or objects that don’t exist anymore are what McCarthy calls an “idiom shorn of its referents.” When something is destroyed and we can no longer remember its name, it ceases to be part of our reality. Thus, the rules of English writing have ceased to exist in the father and son’s world and by writing the novel that way McCarthy can convey this idea.

“The Road” changes the way we look at language, and that even a seemingly simple change to the way someone writes can possess a deeper meaning. Ultimately, McCarthy forces us to look at the way we live today with new eyes — no one wants our world to become a land of ash as it is in the novel, but it could turn to that sooner than we think. If it does, we will be in a place of “borrowed time and borrowed world and borrowed eyes with which to sorrow it.”