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'I consider myself a
poet first and a
musician second. I
live like a poet and
I'll die like a poet.'
Postmodernism? Or something new?
The Age of Terror
Set in a conceivable future, after a global catastrophe,
The Road tells the story of a father and a son as they
tread along a forsaken highway awash with marauders
It is perhaps the most chilling commentary of the post-
9/11 world. The post-apocalyptic setting plays upon the
public’s fear of terrorism, pandemics, genocide, and
weapons of mass destruction.
We can also hear the poetic passages of desolation and
are reminded of Dante’s descent into hell or T. S. Eliot’s
The Waste Land.
McCarthy also wrestles with the ever-present question of
the existence of God: the father tells the boy, “There is no
God and we are his prophets.”
The Road is set in some undetermined location.
There is mention of distant mountains, several rivers
and creeks, the Piedmont (a plain that runs along the
eastern side of the Appalachian Mountains), and a
The landscape and the air are soaked in thick, gray ash.
Vegetation has been destroyed. There are no fish in the
When snow falls, it collects the ash in the air and falls to
the earth already gray.
Discuss the means
tensions, and the
What caused the
devastation of the land?
Provide the clues you used
to come to your conclusion.
The eruption of a super-volcano or impact of
massive asteroid or many asteroids would
probably be enough to cause this type of
devastation, including the ash/cold/gray
skies/fires everywhere. There’s one glimpse of a
flashback offered that would have me lean a
bit towards the asteroid theory:
“The clocks stopped at 1: 17. A long shear of light
and then a series of low concussions. … He went into
the bathroom and threw the lightswitch but the
power was already gone. A dull rose glow in the
windowglass.” (McCarthy 485)
It seems like an asteroid strike that he witnessed
out of his window.
Volcano or asteroid?
Cold, ash, grey, dead; the repetitions of these words are the
main leads. [. . .] The harsh November winter was already upon
by the time we reach the end of the first half and it was
snowing. The man’s observation of the snow is the most obvious
clue as to whether a volcanic eruption came over the land:
“The snow lay deep and gray. Already there was a fresh fall of
ash on it” (McCarthy 99). Besides this there are frequent
mentions of ash covered grounds: “The city was mostly burned.
No sign of life. Cars in the street caked with ash, everything
covered with ash and dust.” (12) Ash fall is the result of a
massive volcanic eruption. It traps whatever moisture there is
and prevents any form of growth in the land, which could
explain why the land remained as dead as it is even after such
a long time. This reminds me of Pompeii, the ancient city of
Rome that was trapped in an eternal frozen state when a
nearby volcano had erupted. Then again, the scale of this
speculated eruption is not so catastrophic as to overlay the
whole land in ash because there are still survivors and so far I
had not seen description of crusted lava or recollections of fire.
My theory that leads me to conclude that
was the destruction was a nuclear bomb
because bombs are “impenetrable” (15) and
they can kill inhabitants within seconds of
exposure. [. . .] The book also mentioned
“night” [and] “black smoke” as well as
darkness (McCarthy 89). Fire, smoke, and
ashes are mentioned many times in the book,
giving obvious clues. Besides that, it is evident
in McCarthy’s use of language. He defies all
the traditional use of quotations and instead
writes the dialogue as a fragmentation, as
part of the postmodern period . It illustrates a
destruction of language.
The devastation of the land is so ashen that it indicates
a mass burning of the world which a nuclear blast
would accomplish. The man describes a moment where
his family “sat at the window and ate in their robes by
candlelight a midnight supper and watched distant
cities burn” (50). He continues this motif by describing
the music his son played on a flute he crafted as “the
last music on earth called up from out the ashes of its
ruin” (66). There are numerous occasions where the
man refers to the land as “dead and gray,” and even
the sky as being perpetually complimentary to the burnt
landscape (100). There was even a scene (I tried to find
it but was unable to) where I believe the man
admonished himself for being careless with the way he
prepared a cup of water for his son, which might
indicate a contamination aspect to the environment.
I think a nuclear bomb caused the devastation of
the land. In many parts of the story the man and
his son claim to see ashes everywhere. On page
5, the man says, “The city was mostly burned. No
sign of life…everything covered with ash and
The land could have been subjected to a surge of
nuclear radiation overdose, either by a nuclear bomb or
an accident [. . .] It must have been enough to have
other countries isolate the land and leave it to rot away.
There are few signs of life in the natural world.
“Will the dam be there for a long time?/ I think so. It’s made
out of concrete. It will probably be there for hundred of
years. Thousands, even./ Do you think there could be fish in
the lake?/ No. There’s nothing in the lake.” (20)
We can see from the cannibalistic behavior of the ‘bad
guys’ that it is futile to revive the land. Even when the
man found seeds, he questioned “For what?” (133). […]
Cows are extinct, humans eat one another to survive,
and the man’s health is failing. Coughing up blood is
never a good sign, […] but if I were to follow nuclear
theory, I would say that his body is affected by the
radiation. I mean, there should be a reason as to why
the ‘bad guys’ are wearing gas masks.
In terms of the zombie apocalypse theory,
which has the least amount of evidence, after
the man’s wife asks him what they are doing
after the devastation and he answers that they
are survivors, she responds by telling him that
“we’re not survivors. We’re the walking dead in
a horror film” (41). Granted, this isn’t necessarily
an admission of a zombie apocalypse, and if
there was one, it is odd that there has yet to be
an encounter with a single zombie, but the way
she responds to him definitely had me curious.
A zombie apocalypse.
There are many instances where the man refers to God,
the most significant of which to me being when they are
almost caught by the cannibals in the house and his first
instinct in the face of potential death is to “curse God
and die” (96). Why curse God? If there was a nuclear
war, why not curse mankind for dropping the bombs?
Throughout the first half of the novel virtually all of the
danger the man and his son encounter is from other
people, so why not curse them? Curse human nature?
Why God? This is what made me think of a biblical
rapture taking place. If there had been one, and the
man and his family were not taken away, then his curses
toward God would be more than just. He would be
cursing God for leaving him in the wasteland that once
was the world we now live in. He would curse God for
his son being born after the devastation, never knowing
that previous world [. . .] All of the people they do
encounter are “bad guys,” another indicator that God
may have taken most of the good people.
A Biblical Rapture
Sparse, dense language
Fragmentation and fractured punctuation
The loss of a beginning.
The upending of the modern “reality.”
Clear assertion that progress is not the
path to utopia.
Loss of meaning: A future that will not be
able to make sense of the past.
End of Days
Class 41: The Road: Concepts;
Class 42: The Road:
Postmodernism; Critical Theory;
The American Dream; Introduce
Class 43: The quarter in review;
Self-Assessment; Discuss Exam #3
Class 44: Optional Class: Make-
up Exam #1 or #2
Class 45: Final: Thursday, June
27th, 9:15 to 11:15 am
Read The Road: to the three/quarter point:
page 72 in the online version. Stop here: “One
vast salt sepulcher. Senseless. Senseless.”
Post # 39: Discuss one:
Examine the concept of trust and mistrust in the
Analyze the symbol of innocence and how it
pertains to the son in The Road.
Introduce another concept or symbol
Start thinking about your next essay. Some
possible prompts are posted. Remember, you
can pursue any topic you would like as long as
it concerns a text or texts from the second half
of the quarter.