The Road by Cormac McCarthy Essay

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The Road is a post-apocalyptic novel written by an outstanding American author Cormac McCarthy in 2006. It depicts the world destroyed by a global disaster, horrible activities of survived people, violence, and the unexpected love of the father and his son who travel across the country to the sea. This is the story of lost humanity and the offensive side of human nature, on the one hand, and self-sacrifice, compassion, and hope, on the other hand (Hillier, 2015). In this work, The Road will be reviewed with the provided summary, the description of the main characters and themes of the novel, and personal opinion.

Summary of the Novel

An unexpected cataclysm, probably a nuclear war, destroys cities and causes the death of people, animals, and plants. The main characters, a father and son, try to cross the former territory of the United States on foot and reach the sea to survive the winter (Beathan, 2019). They are suffering from diseases and hunger, and they avoid other people as they can appear to be gangsters or marauders. The pair has a supermarket cart to carry their supplies and a revolver with only two bullets for defense. The father and son visit the town and the house of the father’s childhood. When the weather is turning colder, they meet a group of marauders. One of them threatens the boy, and the father has to shoot the marauder down; escaping from the gang, they abandon their cart.

In the ruins of the town, the main characters meet another boy who flees from them. Afterward, they enter the territory of a powerful gang, and they notice the army of equipped bandits with slaves and supplies. When the pair are searching for food, they discover crippled people locked in the cellar of an ancient manor. The father realizes that they are in the house of cannibals and quickly takes his son away. Later they discover an invaluable storage bunker with food and other supplies. After several days of regaining strength, they continue their route with a new cart and provisions. They encounter a ninety-year-old man who is very unfriendly, frightened, and suspicious of other survivors. The boy insists on sharing food and staying with him for a short time, and the older man unwillingly speaks about himself. Afterward, the father and son observe three passing men and a heavily pregnant woman. Soon, they find an abandoned camp with the remains of an eaten newborn child. The main characters begin to starve until they discover another hiding place containing supplies.

The father and son finally reach the sea, where the man investigates a boat driven ashore and discovers supplies and a signal flare pistol. The son catches a chill, and while the father is nursing him, somebody steals their cart. Later they find a man with the carriage, and the father forces him to give it back and deliver all his clothes and shoes as well. They continue their journey, understanding that the naked thief will freeze to death.

In a coastal town, the father gets injured by an arrow from a local man. The father shoots him with a signal pistol in return. Despite the man’s attempts to stitch up a wound from an arrow and move on, his condition is worsening. Finally, he apprehends he cannot continue their way and asks his son to leave him and proceed with his journey alone. The father dies in his sleep, and the son stays with him for several days. Afterward, the boy encounters a benevolent man with a wife and two siblings. The man manages to earn the boy’s trust, and the family takes him under protection.

Main Characters of the Novel

The main characters of The Road are a father and his son, whose names are unknown. The father is a courageous and self-sacrificing man, but he is suffering from a severe disease and coughing with blood. Despite his condition, he dedicates his life to save his son after the apocalypse. He is continuously searching for supplies and nursing the boy. He instructs the son in how to use a weapon against marauders, assuring him they are good people who will die “Sometime. Not now” (McCarthy, 2010, p. 7). The boy spends his entire life with the father on a devastated land. His mother had been pregnant at the time of the calamity and committed suicide several years before the beginning of this storyline. She supposedly preferred to end her life not to accept the horrifying circumstances of the changing world. At the beginning of the novel, the boy is frightened and depressed, although, towards the end of it, he becomes more confident and strong. He does not forget his father after his death, “I’ll talk with you every day. And I won’t forget. No matter what,” he whispers, and keeps talking with him in prayers (McCarthy, 2010, p. 18). He continues his journey with his potential new family like his father wanted.

Main Themes of the Novel

In his novel, the author colorfully describes all the horridness of the post-apocalyptic world where the lack of food and comfort, the endless winter, and numerous deaths turn few survivors into marauders, thieves, murders, and cannibals. This book invokes awareness concerning global environmental safety and international conflicts between states, which can lead to the same catastrophe (Johns-Putra, 2016). The absence of governance and law uncovers the worst sides of human nature. The survival, by all means, becomes the single purpose of every person. Though even in the cruel world, there is a place for love, and in opposition to inconceivable violence, Cormac McCarthy puts a story of the tender love between the father and son. The main characters care about each other with compassion and self-devotion. Isolation, inhumanity, and indifference around them make their love more precious. The author endeavors to show the development of a human character through the main protagonists. The son transforms from a frightened boy into a courageous young man through all experienced struggles.

Personal Opinion

The Road can be defined as a novel that does not allow anyone to stay indifferent, the suspenseful storyline of which makes it highly recommendable for reading. The images of hideous human activities in austere environments provoke reflections concerning human nature. The novel encourages the reconsideration of personal behavior, actions, and relationships with other people. The story frightens with the descriptions of possible future and evokes gratitude that the modern world is better. It warns the society that people’s inattention to global issues may lead to catastrophe. The novel shows that even in the worst times, goodness, compassion, and love can stay in people’s hearts.


The Road by Cormac McCarthy describes the traveling of the father and son across America destroyed by an unspecified, probably, nuclear calamity. Although the main characters suffer from diseases, cold and hunger, and encounter marauders, bandits, and cannibals, they love each other and show care and support. The Road is an outstanding story about love and death, despair and inner strength, unbelievable violence and self-sacrifice, isolation, and compassion. It teaches that in peaceful times, there is always a place for catastrophe, and amid cruelty, there is a place for love.

Reference List

Beathan, A. (2019) Summary of The Road by Cormac McCarthy. Singapore: Abbey Beathan Publishing.

Hillier, R. M. (2015) ‘“Each the other’s world entire”: intertextuality and the worth of textual remembrance in Cormac McCarthy’s The Road’, English Studies, 96(6), pp. 670-689.

Johns-Putra, A. (2016) ‘“My job is to take care of you”: climate change, humanity, and Cormac McCarthy’s The Road’, MFS Modern Fiction Studies, 62(3), pp. 519-540.

McCarthy, C. (2010) The road. London: Picador.

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