Cormac McCarthy - The Road

A man and boy are on the road

“You forget what you want to remember, and you remember what you want to forget.”

The post-apocalyptic landscape is bleak in Cormac McCarthy's The Road. Food is scarce, so many of the ashen faced survivors of a meteor strike that has devastated the world's ecosystems have turned to cannibalism.

The Road is about survival, identity, and care for others. The central relationship is between a father and his son. McCarthy didn't name his characters, so Man and Boy will have to suffice. 

Father and Son

McCarthy's inspiration for the book was thinking about his role as father to his son. The role of raising a child, teaching them what they need to know to not only survive but to live well, carrying traditions forward, letting go of control so that the son can mature and take on responsibility. But, McCarthy placed the time-honored tradition of raising a son in a disturbed world where survival is a battle. Living is often dependent on killing.

Terror & Trauma

The Man not only fights off human predators. He also reserves a bullet in his gun in case he has to perform the unthinkable and kill his son, saving him from torture and terror. Clearly, the Man does not want to kill his son. Filicide goes against very strong impulses to protect offspring. But parents killing their own children does happen from time-to-time. Mothers that can't feed their children sometimes burn the house down or lock their car doors and drive into lakes. Though burning everything down is usually perpetrated by parents with extreme mental disorders in stressful situations. The Man in The Road doesn't suffer from any psychological disorder but he is traumatized by the loss of his wife and the stress of protecting his child as they journey to the sea.

The Road to the Sea

What of the journey to the sea? Evolutionarily, all life came from the sea. So, for the Man to return to the sea in a time of planetary crisis suggests that life has regressed. They are returning to the source, to the life-giving safety of the sea. That wife and mother figure died is also important. The sea stands in for the universal feminine, the sea waters life giving like amniotic fluid in the womb.

The Death of the Father

By the end of the narrative, the anxiety associated with losing the Boy is replaced by the death of the Man. His loss feels like it comes too soon. The loss of the archetypal father is always too soon. What man or boy is ever truly prepared to cross the threshold and take on the father's role?

The Man dies and leaves his son to continue on, even though he's no longer able to protect the Boy. The Man knows that he can't walk all roads. His Boy will live on to continue on the weird road of life, a fight for survival that is never won personally but only through the persistence of generations, the will of life to push on.

-End Transmission-