The Road Review

‘The Road’ is often cited as McCarthy’s “most readable novel.” It is also one of his most popular. 

While exploring the story of The Man and The Boy I found myself amazed by the many different ways to approach this review. The novel is entrancing. It grips readers from its first pages and doesn’t let go until the final words. 

The Road Review


Survival and Relatability

The Road’ is filled with heart-wrenching and painful scenes, ones that are too easy to imagine with one’s own loved ones. Throughout, one can’t help but imagine what they would do if they found themselves in a similar situation. 

The two protagonists, a father and his son, struggle throughout the novel to make their way south, supposedly, to safety. The entire plot is bound up in this march along the road, seeking out a place of refuge among the roadagents, or cannibals, and various other threats. The Man and Boy survive in a state of near starvation. But, throughout it all, there is the drive to move south to the coast to what The Man believe (or purports to believe) may be a safe haven. 

It’s this belief that is tied to nothing but hope and the need to present a goal to his son that is hard to let go of. They travel through a wasteland without so much as a hint of true hope in the future. It’s impossible to know what exactly the two are going to find when they reach their destination, but it’s hard, having seen what the world is like, to believe there is much if any good left out there. Despite this, The Man maintains hope for his son, repetitively telling him that they are the “good guys” and that they have to continue on, “carrying the fire.” 

Carrying the Fire 

This term is tied up in the relationship the father and son have and the way that the latter considers the world around them. It’s clear from the former’s narration that he’s lost hope in the world (except perhaps when it comes to his child). But, that’s not something he’s willing to share with his son. 

The Man shares the phrase “carrying the fire” with his young son as another way of ensuring him that the two have a purpose in life and that they aren’t suffering for no reason. They have to carry hope, kindness, and morality with them through their lives because others aren’t. The “fire” of human goodness is at stake. The Man sees it when he looks at his son in a way I have to believe resonates with readers worldwide. 

The Boy 

The Boy is presented as a figure of hope throughout the novel. While The Man often gets lost in feelings of despair and is tempted by violence, The Boy is kind and helpful to a fault. One of the best examples is when the two pursue and find the thief that stole their belongings off the beach. The Man makes him strip naked and takes his clothes and belongings, condemning him to death. But, The Boy won’t stand for it. He is unwilling to concede that the two are the “bad guys” like the other people they meet on the road. 

In bother instance, the two meet an old traveler named Eli. This old man, who The Man seems surprised is still alive, travels with them for a brief period of time. The Boy, despite The Man’s attempts to stop him, gives him food from their supplies. Eli is without gratitude for this incredibly selfless act, but The Boy does it anyway. Its moments like this make it clear why The Man feels as though he has to preserve The Boy’s life at all costs. He’s willing to do anything to ensure that his son survives. 

The Boy becomes more than just The Man’s son; he’s also, in a way, all that’s left of humanity as it used to be. The world has changed irrevocably. There’s no going back to the way things used to be. The Boy, due to the way The Man has raised him (on memories of the past and how the human race used to act), is different. 

Love as a Theme 

Love is one of the primary themes readers are left with when they walk away from this novel. The book is filled with torment and the horrors of McCarthy’s post-apocalyptic world. But, it’s also filled with a great deal of love. There is the love that keeps The Man thinking about his wife, the mother of his son, and the love that keeps The Man and The Boy bound to one another. One particularly moving scene comes near the end of the novel when The Man has passed: 

He slept close to his father that night and held him but when he woke in the morning his father was cold and stiff. He sat there a long time weeping and then he got up and walked out through the woods to the road. When he came back he knelt beside his father and held his cold hand and said his name over and over again.

The Boy remained at his father’s side, despite the fact that he was dead, for three days. The Man was all he knew in the world. Now, the novel implies, he is going to have to go on and figure out life on his own. But, soon, a new hope arrives. 

When The Boy has been discovered by a new family. The following passage I found to be particularly moving as The Boy is saying goodbye to his father. 

He walked back into the woods and knelt beside his father. He was wrapped in a blanket as the man had promised and the boy didnt uncover him but he sat beside him and he was crying and he couldnt stop. He cried for a long time. I’ll talk to you every day, he whispered. And I wont forget. No matter what. Then he rose and turned and walked back out to the road.

Here, The Boy pledges to speak to his father every day. He “won’t forget,” he adds. Not only won’t he forget the love they shared, this implies, but also the lessons The Man taught him and the concept of “carrying the fire” throughout life. He commits to remembering the past in a way that the rest of the world seems not to. 

FAQs 

Is ‘The Road‘ worth reading?

Every reader is different, but for most readers, they are going to find ‘The Road’ worth reading. It taps into universal themes and tells an unforgettable story. 

Is ‘The Road‘ by Cormac McCarthy sad?

The ending of ‘The Road’ is deeply sad, but it is also tinged with hope. There are several other moments readers might find themselves moved by the subject matter, including when The Man thinks about his wife. 

What caused the apocalypse in ‘The Road?’

McCarthy revealed that the apocalypse in ‘The Road’ was caused by a meteor strike. But, that fact is never mentioned in the book. 

The Road Review: McCarthy's Harrowing Novel of Survival and Love
  • Story
  • Characters
  • Setting
  • Writing Style
  • Dialogue
  • Conclusion
  • Lasting Effect on Reader
3.7

The Road Review

The Road‘ by Cormac McCarthy is an incredibly moving novel. It follows two unnamed characters as they contend with the aftermath of an unknown apocalypse. Traveling the barren landscape of what used to be the United States, The Man and The Boy are constantly forced to fight for their lives. 

Pros

  • Creative writing style
  • Mysterious characters and their pasts
  • Beautiful descriptions of terrible sights and events

Cons

  • Dialogue is difficult to read due to lack of quotation marks
  • No solid conclusion at the end
  • Deeply disturbing scenes
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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