In Defense of The Road:
McCarthy has undoubtedly established himself as part of the American canon through his unique prose style and distinctive narrative structures in novels like Blood Meridian (1985) and All the Pretty Horses (1992). In 2006 he was recognized by the Pulitzer Prize committee and won the award for distinguished fiction by an American author in 2007 for The Road. At the heart of this novel, you will find a love story between a father and his son. McCarthy had his first son much later in life and he dedicates this novel to him. As a much older man fixed with the task of raising a child, he was confronted by his mortality and the looming certainty that he would not be there to see his son mature, nor would he be there to guide him through the many roadblocks we all face growing up. On the Pulitzer’s website Allen A. Knopf accurately summarizes the impact this novel has on the world of literature, and why I have chosen to teach it;
“The Road is the profoundly moving story of a journey. It boldly imagines a future in which no hope remains, but in which the father and his son, ‘each the other’s world entire,’ are sustained by love. Awesome in the totality of its vision, it is an unflinching meditation on the worst and the best that we are capable of: ultimate destructiveness, desperate tenacity, and the tenderness that keeps two people alive in the face of total devastation” (Knopf, 2006).
More specifically, this novel introduces students to several literary techniques they will need to know presently and in the near future. McCarthy writes in a seemingly simplified manner, but much like poetry, each word is packed full of symbolism, allusion, and metaphor. From the opening passage we see McCarthy alluding to Plato’s Allegory of the Cave, and following the trope of “a hero’s journey,” he places his protagonist in a “dark wood,” which is an indirect reference to Dante Alighieri’s Inferno from The Divine Comedy. We will be reading Dante’s Inferno after The Road and it serves as a perfect precursor to the moral and social criticisms explored in Dante’s contrapasso. Both Alighieri and McCarthy utilize Homeric style similes to bridge the gap between the known reality and the unknown world of their fictional narratives. Students will need to be able to recognize, decipher, and create Homeric similes for the Mastery project at the end of the semester. McCarthy’s simplistic syntax and irreverence for traditional grammar rules contextualizes
The Road as an allegory depicting “a postmodern understanding of the function of language” in a collapsing society (Blasi, Gabriella 90).
Basically, McCarthy is exploring the role language plays in establishing, reinforcing, and contradicting societal laws that are in direct opposition to natural law. This introduction to the complex laws of language will be important when students begin reading Modernist authors like Woolf, Yeats, and Elliot during the 2nd semester and their senior year. In addition to this, the second semester of this year will begin with John Steinbeck’s, The Grapes of Wrath, and students will see a similar division between respecting human rights against prescribed social and governmental constraints as The Joad family journeys to the West coast in search of relief from the Dust Bowl.
One of the essential concepts we discuss in world literature is the importance of perspective. Students were first introduced to this concept through Scout’s viewpoint in To Kill a Mockingbird. Lee understood that the child’s voice is uncorrupted by established social constructs, taboos, and erroneous stereotypes which often convolute the minds of adults. This is literally reinforced in The Road when McCarthy strips these constraints away from his post-apocalyptic world to illuminate the power of love and the desire to remain “the good guys” above all else.
This novel has so much to offer beyond the setting and plot. I personally enjoy all this novel has to offer its readers, and I would encourage all the parents to read it if they have a chance.
Blasi, Gabriella. “Reading Allegory and Nature in Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. Towards a Non-Anthropocentric Vision of the Language of Nature.” Reading Allegory and Nature in Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. Towards a Non-Anthropocentric Vision of the Language of Nature. N.p., 27 June 2014. Web. 14 Oct. 2015.
Knopf, Alfred A. “The Pulitzer Prizes | Works.” The Pulitzer Prizes | Works. N.p., n.d. Web. 14 Oct. 2015.
Image: Burmester, Jason. “Walking Down a Lonely Road.” March 29, 2008.
Lane, Emily, “Hell On Earth: A Modern Day Inferno in Cormac McCarthy’s The Road” (2010). University of New Orleans Theses and Dissertations. Paper 1127
Cant, John, ed. The Cormac McCarthy Journal (2008): n. 2009. Web. 14 Oct. 2015.