About the Book

Book Protagonist: The Man, The Boy
Publication Date: 2006
Genre: Dystopian, Science Fiction

Historical Context

The Road

By Cormac McCarthy

'The Road' is Cormac McCarthy’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel that is often cited as his most influential piece of writing. It was adapted into a 2009 film that spread its popularity to a wider audience.

It is today considered a staple of the post-apocalyptic genre. It also speaks on various interesting, contemporary, and relevant topics that all readers should be aware of. Below, readers can explore a few of the contextual subjects that influenced McCarthy’s conception and composition of The Road. It won the 2006 James Tait Black Memorial Prize for Fiction.

Today, The Road is enjoyed by readers around the world. The book is studied in schools and read for pleasure. Its setting and underlying themes often inspire readers to interpret the book as a warning against the dangers of climate change and pollution, citing the disastrous conditions depicted in the novel.

The Road Historical Context 

The Climate Crisis and The Road 

One way that some readers interpret and approach the novel is through the lens of the climate crisis. Some environmental groups have cited the novel as an example of what will happen with the world remains on the path on its own, pursuing progress at any cost and continuing to ignore the increasingly obvious signs that the planet is changing. 

Religion and The Road 

There are some religious themes scattered throughout the novel as well, inspiring some readers to interpret a Christian meaning to the text. Some readers may go in another direction, interpreting an atheistic meaning to the text. This is seen particularly clearly at the end of the novel when The Man shoots the flare gun into the air above the ocean, and The Boy doubts that God can see them. 

Cormac McCarthy and The Road 

Cormac McCarthy was born in July of 1933 in Rhode Island. He studied creative writing at the University of Tennessee for a period of time before twice dropping out. His first novel, The Orchard Keeper, was published in 1965. To this day, McCarthy has written ten novels. McCarthy spent many years in Tennessee in the Appalachian south. This inspired much of his early writing. 

When speaking about The Road today, McCarthy recalls spending time in El Paso Texas, with his son and considering what the world would look like with “fires up on the hill and everything being laid to waste.” He was loosely inspired by his relationship with his second son, John McCarthy when penning this novel. McCarthy has suggested that some of the dialogue was taken straight from conversations the two had together. 

It seems clear that at this moment, McCarthy did not see an optimistic future for the world. When speaking about the novel, and the cause of the worldwide disaster, McCarthy stated that it was a meteor strike that resulted in the world of The Road. 

McCarthy’s Literary Inspiration 

When writing The Road, McCarthy was no doubt inspired by his previous novels, many of which touch on the very dark subject matter. For example, No Country for Old Men, started as a screenplay. The story takes place around the Mexico/United States border in 1980 and follows a drug deal gone wrong. McCarthy focuses on three main characters, Llewelyn Moss, Anton Chigurh, and Ed Tom Bell, as they deal with the fallout from the drug deal. While unlike The Road in many ways, this novel includes equally interesting characters and many troubling situations. 

Another novel that’s often compared to The Road is McCarthy’s Blood Meridian. The book follows a group of young men as they attempt to wipe out the Apache Native Americans in Mexico. It’s a notoriously violent novel that has also been cited as one of the best books of the 20th century. 

Outside of McCarthy’s oeuvre, it’s likely he found inspiration in books like 1984 by George Orwell and We by Yevgeny Zamyatin. 

At the time McCarthy was writing The Road, the post-apocalypse genre was already well-established. Books like those mentioned above were important contributions. Others include The Long Loud Silence by Wilson Tucker, a novel detailing a nuclear strike and an intentional plague, and On the Beach by Nevil Shrute. The latter describes a world that’s been devoted to nuclear war. 

A Canticle for Liebowitz, written in 1960 by Walter M. Miller, Jr. (and the author’s only novel), is also another interesting addition to the genre. It describes a world, again, wiped out by nuclear war, and the effects it has on survivors, many of whom become Luddites (with the intention of purging all knowledge). 

It’s also a well-known fact that McCarthy was inspired by the works of William Faulkner. His writing, especially his early writing, such as his first book, The Orchard Keeper, was compared to Faulkner’s. It even won the William Faulkner Foundation Award for a notable first novel. Novels like The Sound of Fury and As I Lay Dying are great examples of Faulkner’s work.


What literary era is ‘The Road?’

The Road’ is cited as part of contemporary American Modernism. Its genre has been described as post-apocalyptic. McCarthy also writes in the western and southern Gothic literary genres. 

When was ‘The Road‘ written?

The bulk of ‘The Road’ was written in 2006. But, some of it was penned early when McCarthy was spending time in a motel in El Paso with his son, John. 

What does the road symbolize in ‘The Road?’

The road symbolizes humanity’s drive to continue on, despite their circumstances. The Man and The Boy continue to walk on the road even when their situation deteriorates. They are determined to live and find a safe place. 

What caused the apocalypse in ‘The Road?’

McCarthy revealed that it was a meteor strike that caused the apocalypse in ‘The Road,’ although this is never stated in the novel itself. 

Emma Baldwin
About Emma Baldwin
Emma graduated from East Carolina University with a BA in English, minor in Creative Writing, BFA in Fine Art, and BA in Art Histories. Literature is one of her greatest passions which she pursues on Book Analysis.
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