Some time after an unspecified extinction-level global cataclysm, The Road follows two survivors - a man and his young son - who journey south through the ashes of the former USA in the hope of finding enough food to avoid starving to death over the coming winter in a place warm enough that they won't die of exposure either. They have only the rags on their backs, a cart of scavenged food, a gun with two bullets, and one another. As they travel, they (and the reader) bear witness to a dead world where nothing grows, nothing lives, and the sun hasn't been seen in years. 'Nothing lives' but refugees like them, wandering the country in search of food... and ever-hungry gangs of cannibals that stalk the roads.The Road was published by Cormac McCarthy in 2006. It garnered critical praise in America and went on to win the Pulitzer Prize. The book is notable for a stark, minimalist style interspersed with occasional purple metaphors. The writing is idiomatic to say the least, eschewing most punctuation (including quotes) and occasionally including one-sentence chapters of philosophical musing.Depending on whom you ask, The Road is either a melancholic, yet stirringly beautiful story about the goodness of humanity in a hopeless world, or a hellish nightmare so dark that no sane person would read it. Either way, never point out that this book, despite its premise, is not to be found in the science fiction section of the bookstore: McCarthy fans will get upset at the implication that High Literature would be grouped with Genre Fiction, and Genre fans will be upset because The Road is pretty tame when compared to the Post-Apocalyptic genre, as a whole.Like most of McCarthy's books, it was optioned for a film, and The Film of the Book (Also called The Road) was released on November 25, 2009. It was directed by John Hillcoat, the director of The Proposition, starring Viggo Mortensen and Charlize Theron (in a minor role). The score was done by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis (no, not thatWarren Ellis).
The original novel contains examples of:
After the End: One of the few such novels to actually make it look like mankind is on its way out. Not just scraping by, but dying.
Anti-Hero: The Man, doing the best he can considering the world he lives in.
Apocalypse How: Debatable. We don't know how much of the world is dying, but the parts that are may potentially be Class 4 - biosphere extinction has already occurred and the affected areas are in the final stages of dying. Some scientists McCarthy knows have stated that the world the novel is set in is consistent with Earth after a meteor strike or the eruption Yellowstone Caldera, both of which the world has dealt with and recovered from. But just because the world (and life in some form) would be able to recover from such a disaster doesn't mean that humanity, or even most other life would.
Artistic License - Biology: In a world with dwindling food resources, the cannibals stay alive by maintaining human livestock. However, to keep captive humans alive, you'd need to give them food that is edible by humans, meaning that the cannibals would be wasting far more food than they'd get back through cannibalism.
Beard of Barbarism: Averted and played straight. Averted by the father, whose unkempt beard is mentioned a few times (typically right before he has the chance to shave it off). Played straight when the two main characters stumbled upon the ghoulish larder of a small band of cannibals at one point. As they flee, they briefly glimpse the larder's owners, and the only adjective used to describe the men is "bearded."
Cannibal Clan: Most of humanity have starved to the point where they eat other humans, and it's implied that they will eventually die from sickness or starvation, or cannibalize each other until no one is left.
Despair Event Horizon: It's arguable whether our heroes are teetering on the edge, or jumped off a long time ago. Either way, the discovery of the cannibal larder hits them both hard.
Driven to Suicide: The mother, and the father still carries a gun with two bullets in case the urge becomes overwhelming for him too. Justified, given the situation.
Eats Babies: The cannibals. At one point,the man and the boy see three men and a very pregnant woman. Three days after, they pass through a camp that has the remains of a beheaded, roasted infant on a spit.
Hope Spot: The father finds a still-stocked and untouched bomb shelter, giving them a short time with comfortable beds, food, and even showers. Since he knows others will find it as well, he doesn't stay long.
I'm a Humanitarian: The only way for most people to eat, now that the biosphere's dying out. The man and the boy are amongst the few survivors who don't indulge in this. As well as the group that finds the Boy at the end.
Kick the Dog: When the father and son catch up to the man who stole from them, the father engages in some Disproportionate Retribution, ordering him to strip naked and throw his belongings in their cart. This, in short, gave him a death sentence by hypothermia.
Nameless Narrative: No characters are named throughout the novel. Double subverted with an old tramp the man and his son meet at one point, who claims his name is Ely, before revealing it isn't, and that he doesn't want to tell them his real name.
Pet the Dog: A couple from the scavengers who pick up the boy at the end of the book, showing that they're safe and trustworthy people to be around. They cover the father with a blanket like they'd promised, and insist the boy keeps his gun when he tries to give it to them.
Purple Prose: In some sections, usually during dream sequences or between settings, the narrator tends to wander off and wax philosophically for a page or two before snapping back to the plot at hand. Beige prose sprinkled with purple patches.
Rape as Drama: Alluded to as one of the many perils on the road (one of the nomadic groups keeps a pack of teenaged sex-slaves on dog collars) - not least because it's often the precursor to something worse.
Real Is Gray: Justified in that ash has blotted out the sun for years and most of Earth's flora and fauna are dead.
Red Herring: The final bullet is ultimately never used.
Scenery Gorn: So very much. In this world, ashes fall like snow.
Schmuck Bait: Averted. The man finds a jar of preserved fruit in an abandoned house. It looks very nice, but "other people hadn't trusted it, and in the end, neither did he."
Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism: There's a whole cottage industry that's sprung up around debating this question. As noted in the description, there's a group that believes the book is mind-shatteringly depressing. There's another group that believes The Road is, through all the death and misery, a chronicle of the strength and beauty of the human spirit.
Throw the Dog a Bone: The boy loses his father, his only source of joy, comfort, peace of mind, and protection. Just as the story sets him up to travel the world as The Aloner, some scavengers who have been following them and claim to "carry the fire" appear... and by all the available evidence, they're trustworthy. The two kids in their group look healthy, and best of all, not gnawed-upon..
Unspecified Apocalypse: What happened to the world and how it happened is only mentioned in bits and pieces, not enough to come to a conclusion. The novel is more about the eventual fate of its two characters more so than the mystery of the past.
What the Hell, Hero?: The father forces the thief who stole their gear to strip at gunpoint, then leaves him helpless beside the road. He will almost assuredly die painfully as a result. The boy lampshades this.
Arc Words: "Why are you following us?" or some variant thereof by various characters.
Better to Die Than Be Killed: When the man and his son are surprised by the return of the cannibals and hide in the bathroom upstairs, the father, upon hearing one of them climbing the stairs, puts his gun against his son's forehead and prepares to use his last bullet to spare him the horror of being captured. Ultimately averted thanks to the prisoners breaking out who distract the cannibals long enough to allow them to make their escape.
Only Sane Man: Some see the mother as this, since she preferred to die rather than struggle in this ruined world.
Pet the Dog: Just like in the book, the father forces the thief to strip naked and plans to leave him behind like that, essentially dooming him. However, due to the son's pleas they go back to where they left him to give him back his clothes. Although he isn't there when they get there, they leave behind his clothes and a can of food.
The house in the flashbacks, if you notice closely, gradually decays as time passes, from more-or-less pristine to a dilapidated shell of its former self. It also helps that some form of EMP shut down just about everything electronic from day one.
Real Is Brown: Combined with relentless Scenery Gorn like woah. Much of the movie was filmed in an abandoned strip-mine, which is about as close as you can get to a Real Life post-apocalyptic wasteland.
Throw the Dog a Bone: On top of the boy finding a new family in the end like in the book, birds and animals can be heard during the credits, assuring us that the world isn't completely dead and life will go on.
On top of that, it was mentioned in the beginning of the movie that every animal died. But they find a beetle towards the end. Not to forget, the family in the end has a rather healthy dog.
Would Hurt a Child: As to be expected for the setting there are several people who would have no problem with hurting the boy if given the chance.