August 15, 2008

Discussion: The Road by Cormac McCarthy

Another month, another book discussion. This month's selection is The Road by Cormac McCarthy.

I'll leave this bare bones and join the discussion with you all. A few questions to get us started on our discussion:

1. What do you think was McCarthy's point?

2. Could you relate to the characters? Was the relationship between the father and son believable?

3. Did you find the grammatical style distracting (no quotation marks, random apostrophes, or chapter breaks) or did it add to the story?

4. What was McCarthy saying about humanity?

5. And just for fun, what in the world would you do if you were placed in this kind of situation?

26 comments:

  1. This book reminded me of other post-apocolyptic books by Ayn Rand and Margaret Atwood. One thing I thought was interesting was that McCarthy didn't say what had happened, only what the local results were, leaving everything open for speculation. Which is really smart, because it will keep the book relevant. It could have been a man-made disaster like nuclear fall-out, or it could have been a meteor strike. It could be the whole world that's afflicted or it could be their region.

    I think it says a lot about the inner raw nature of humanity, what we will do to survive. There are traces of it in our daily existence, in everything from road rage to modern war, but McCarthy exposes it in whole. Preparing for hurricanes in FL was a bit like this. :P

    It always bothers me when a writer uses unconventional punctuation. Sometimes I couldn't tell if there was actually dialog or if it was part of the main text.

    I read the whole book in about three hours one afternoon and had a really hard time sleeping that night.

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  2. 1. What do you think was McCarthy's point?

    One of the major themes throughout the book is hope, hope in the face of adversity, hope in spite of the depression and mere survival they must endure...Hope in the face of death and fear. The boy resembled this hope throughout the book as he gave food to a man worse off than himself and his father. This hope is that humans can rise above their base instincts even in times of adversity and desperation to care about one another regardless of their bond, lack of bond, or likeness.

    2. Could you relate to the characters? Was the relationship between the father and son believable?

    The characters were engrossing, and the relationship was believable. What I could not fathom were the actions of the mother? What mother would abandon her child in that way?!

    3. Did you find the grammatical style distracting (no quotation marks, random apostrophes, or chapter breaks) or did it add to the story?

    I honestly didn't notice the grammatical style, which as an editor is a plus because that meant my editor brain was turned off and I was completely engaged in the story!

    4. What was McCarthy saying about humanity?

    See above...I kind of rambled on question #1

    5. And just for fun, what in the world would you do if you were placed in this kind of situation?

    I have no idea how to answer that. I wouldn't know unless it happened.

    Check out my review of this book for further speculation and analysis on my part.

    http://savvyverseandwit.blogspot.com/2008/02/down-desolate-road.html

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  3. Marie, I agree that leaving the particulars of the disaster unknown was helpful for what he was trying to say. Otherwise, it would have come off as too the-world-is-going-to-end-what-are-you-going-to-do-about-it. I must admit though, I would have liked to have known.

    1. To be quite honest, Serena, I saw no hope in this book. For most of the book they're looking forward towards the coast. Once they get there, it didn't provide the necessary relief. It ends with the father dying, and the boy still in the same position of not knowing where his next meal is coming from. Hope in what? As a Christian I found this depressing (since I believe that even in this type of situation there is hope, but that wasn't portrayed in the book).

    I felt like McCarthy was saying something about the strength of humanity and our ability to face adversity when it comes. However, I don't agree with his point. I honestly don't think that humanity by itself is that strong.

    2. I found the lack of names to be distracting and a deterrent to really understanding the characters. It left nothing to hang the details on.

    3. I found the grammatical/style issues VERY distracting. I think I understand why he did it, but everytime there was a missing punctuation mark, I noticed that instead of what he was trying to say. And without quotation marks and proper paragraphing, I couldn't always tell what was going on/versus what was being said. That made me spend time trying to figure out what in the world McCarthy was saying rather than actually understanding what he was saying.

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  4. I guess what I am trying to say is that this child is hope! He survives against the odds and his ability to see what should be done rather than what is done is amazing. The boy is the strongest character...he is compassionate. He is the hope for humanity. His survival is hope.

    I'm sorry you found the lack of punctuation so distracting.

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  5. Finished the book! And I am with Marie....I finished it last night and had a hard time sleeping. Kept having strange dreams and whatnot.

    I found myself comparing it to I am Legend. :-)

    And I agree with what you all have said, so I won't reiterate. ;-) What I came away with is that the author wanted to show what people will do just to survive, but what were they living for? So I agree with Ronnica in that there seemed to be little hope for those people.

    To me, the grammatical style was odd...it felt like I was reading their thoughts.

    What really connected me with the book was the fathers love for his son. I kept imagining me with Emma in that kind of scenario....and believe me. I'd do anything to keep her safe.

    Overall, an interesting book to read!

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  6. Before I answer the questions, I have read first, the Border Trilogy, then Blood Meridian, Sutree, Child of God, I believe in the order. So I am not new to McCarthy’s minimalist quirks. I reckon we all have a little ee cummings in us, and Cormac seems to like sticking his finger the eye of his reader. At least the road didn’t have gobs of difficult to translate Spanish or analogies of rubric’s cube complexity.
    Of the works that I have read, I find his absentness of punctuation plausible. It clears away the conventions of modernity in a purifying manner. Gone are the old ways, as gone as birds. The Road is his most plausible work. I found each plot point, the ash, the cold, humans as the apex predators, as believable as a scream, raw, painful, like a tooth letting go from your jaw. In his other works I had to suspend my disbelief to continue to he resolution. It was worth it, but I found not one scintilla of it in this short novel.
    His point, the difference between the best of us and the worst is not far, only a few short missteps and you are a monster. An eater of the fire. That can be put down without hesitation, without remorse, the righteous kill. Blowing the brains from the assaulter after one warning. Need I say how a common masculine hope this is? Too be ready willing and able to make that move. The Man’s fire, the protection of his offspring, his son, his education leading to his endurance, the immortality of reproduction.
    I long for a word which describes the masculine psyche like feminism does for women. I think the word would help to describe the life of the man/Papa. I was very touched by the feminism of the two Mothers. The first, who made the choice, faced with the probability of the husband and son being witnesses to her rape and the ultimate assault upon her person of being cannibalized. She eliminated the possibility of that crippling trauma, Something the Man at the end of his life could not do, he could not see his son dead. He could not, not leave the boy. And, the second, who could grab up the child of another and love it as her own. The women in the story of a Man are strong and well defined.
    I too, could not put this book down, and I had trouble getting to sleep. But, in the morning I felt rejuvenated by it. I felt that good can be defined, protected, cultivated, as did the Man as he lay dyeing, his son in his arms. He felt the odds were good that it would be all right. The boy had the ability and the goodness to find enough of it too survive, to teach another.
    What would I do? Giving my short site, weakness, I reckon I would kill the killers until one killed me.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Before I answer the questions, I have read first, the Border Trilogy, then Blood Meridian, Sutree, Child of God, I believe in the order. So I am not new to McCarthy’s minimalist quirks. I reckon we all have a little ee cummings in us, and Cormac seems to like sticking his finger the eye of his reader. At least the road didn’t have gobs of difficult to translate Spanish or analogies of rubric’s cube complexity.
    Of the works that I have read, I find his absentness of punctuation plausible. It clears away the conventions of modernity in a purifying manner. Gone are the old ways, as gone as birds. The Road is his most plausible work. I found each plot point, the ash, the cold, humans as the apex predators, as believable as a scream, raw, painful, like a tooth letting go from your jaw. In his other works I had to suspend my disbelief to continue to he resolution. It was worth it, but I found not one scintilla of it in this short novel.
    His point, the difference between the best of us and the worst is not far, only a few short missteps and you are a monster. An eater of the fire. That can be put down without hesitation, without remorse, the righteous kill. Blowing the brains from the assaulter after one warning. Need I say how a common masculine hope this is? Too be ready willing and able to make that move. The Man’s fire, the protection of his offspring, his son, his education leading to his endurance, the immortality of reproduction.
    I long for a word which describes the masculine psyche like feminism does for women. I think the word would help to describe the life of the man/Papa. I was very touched by the feminism of the two Mothers. The first, who made the choice, faced with the probability of the husband and son being witnesses to her rape and the ultimate assault upon her person of being cannibalized. She eliminated the possibility of that crippling trauma, Something the Man at the end of his life could not do, he could not see his son dead. He could not, not leave the boy. And, the second, who could grab up the child of another and love it as her own. The women in the story of a Man are strong and well defined.
    I too, could not put this book down, and I had trouble getting to sleep. But, in the morning I felt rejuvenated by it. I felt that good can be defined, protected, cultivated, as did the Man as he lay dyeing, his son in his arms. He felt the odds were good that it would be all right. The boy had the ability and the goodness to find enough of it too survive, to teach another.
    What would I do? Giving my short site, weakness, I reckon I would kill the killers until one killed me.

    ReplyDelete
  8. I'm not going to answer all the questions, but I will say that I am currently writing a character analysis on the boy for my AP Literature class. I don't understand how one could not see the hope that McCarthy tries to portray. The hope in the end is that the boy finds the strength to no longer hide from his fears. He finds the strength to stand in the road and trust the strange family who takes him in. The last bit of hope is found when the man who takes him in says that he has a younger daughter. I think it is meant for us to take as a way of the world being reborn. Perhaps the boy and his father survived because they werent meant to, perhaps it was an act of God. We really do not know the exact reasons, but I think that was all done on purpose also.

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  9. I have always wondered why apocalyptic writers always picture man at his worst. I believe that human's would band together to survive not to feed off from each other, but then that would make a very boring book about an utoptian society and wouldn't be as exciting as cannibalism. I found McCathy's disregard of grammatical convention to be an important part of the storytelling. If you live a in society without law, why would you continue to adhere to the rules of grammar? The novel is all about hope and faith - it is the fire that the good guys carry with them. The novel's ending leave the reader with the question, has the boy found another good guy or will he become lunch?

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  10. I agree with some of you and I disagree with the rest. I don't think the boy is 'lunch' at the end, the other man allows him to keep his gun and keeps his promise to wrap the man in his blanket. I don't think that was a ruse to then simply eat him - he could just shoot him or snatch him. And I don't think the boy is left hopeless at the end either, I don't get how one would see that, but that's cool cos everyone has their own opinion.

    The book is both powerfully simple and incredibly layered and complex at the same time. The author's ability to deconstruct a story to it's core and not stray tonally is marvelous. It is unrelenting and stark yet it is not without a somewhat redemptive feeling. It is bleak but not without reward.

    Nobody could fairly say what they would do in that situation. Survival would become more about psychological resilience and toughness. The human body can support itself for a while, but the mind is challenged much harder. (I found the sequence after the man and the boy find the cache of supplies, wherein the man has to deal with the fact he was ready to die and now is not ready again, particularly wrenching.) One can simply not imagine what that must be like without having been there. Reading this novel is about as close as I want to come to facing that level of survival and despair.

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  11. "I have always wondered why apocalyptic writers always picture man at his worst. I believe that human's would band together to survive not to feed off from each other, but then that would make a very boring book about an utoptian society and wouldn't be as exciting as cannibalism."
    Good God... shove your head any further into the sand and you'll hit bedrock.
    Here's a perfect example of just WHY most will be absolutely helpless to deal in such a scenario. This person holds a belief without any basis for doing so... other than it "feels good" to invest oneself in such an absurd notion about humanity, and of course therefore feels safe. It also resolves one of the responsibility or actual thinking and planning. People are able to believe ANYTHING they need to believe to avoid accountability right now, just as things are today. Imagine what they will be capable of after such an event.
    The Joker charactor in Batman Forever has it just right; "People are only as good as the world allows them to be. When things go bad, they'll eat each other".
    Unbelievable.

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  12. The last comment is genious and I completely agree. People have been known to kill other people for even less than $10 what makes you think they wouldn't kill you for their lives, surely thats worth much more to them than $10? Also I don't believe there is any hope for humankind in the book. Cannibals are doing what they can to survive, in the long run, however, I think disease, smoke inhilation, poor diets, low birth rates and high death rates are going to make humankind extinct. There is no hope if there is no one left to be hopefull.

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  13. What a great discussion. I would just like to add what I believe some people are missing when they talk about humanity. Humanity, and human existence are completely separate. Human existence may end in this world, but McCarthy's point is that humanity will be there until the end as well, whether you believe in a moral code from God, or man knowing that in order to survive he must work with others, then creating an unspoken moral code to keep peace in this society. You see in either case it is either inside of us and can not be changed, or we have learned that it is a better way to survive. If you look at the simple society of cannibals in The Road, you will see a society that has completely given up on reproduction, which the man at the end of the book hints towards. Without reproduction, the cannibals will eventually die off, and if Human life can be sustained in this new world, the fittest, (those that chose to live life in a society, where reproduction is still apart of it) will survive.

    Sorry if this is not edited well, I just had a few minutes free to chime in

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  14. If there is no hope left, then what is the fire that the son must carry on after the father dies? Is the fire just instructions for how to cook some canned food? Or maybe just a comprehensive list of the ways to stay warm at night. Why wouldn't the fire be hope? In my opinion, the fire represents determination, compassion, and the willingness to survive. The father gives these up, and wants to make sure the son has them. This book so much conveys hope when faced with adversity. There are those like the mother, who give it up. But there has to be something alive in this man and his son, otherwise, they would not have come this far.
    Morality has a very delicate place in this new society. In a situation like this, humans would not band together, but it would be every man for himself. For some this means cannibalism; for others simply looting abandoned houses. Morality is certainly skewed after a catastrophe like this, but it does not altogether vanish. Remnants of morality are evident in the boy, because he continually wants to help people who are worse off than they are.
    When the father tracks down the man who stole all of his and his son's stuff, the father takes everything back plus the very little the man had. When the son finally convinces the father to give the stuff back, there is a very big possibility the man has died. This event deeply troubles the boy, because he knows it was wrong to take everything, and he feels responsible for the death of this man. A few instances like these occur throughout the book, where the boy is troubled by the sufferings of another and feels inclined to help. His sense of morality is something not even his own father can match, and just proves that goodness will continue in some after catastrophe.

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  15. I don't believe that this book is written as a work of fiction. I believe it is intended to be poetry and metaphorical truth. And, because of its extraordinary quality, I believe it may eventually prove to be mythological truth, a much higher form of truth than mere history or fact.

    It seems to me completely beside the point that the scenario of the book is implausible--that no known human made disaster could cause the sun to be dimmed to the point of halting all photosynthesis, and that the darkness could then somehow continue to increase even after a period of several years, apparently over the entire Earth.

    I think the book is intended as a scream, a heart rending, prolonged scream. Much like Edvard Munch's painting. And like a scream, it communicates powerfully, in its own beneath-the-level-of-rationality way, and on its own terms.

    And the horrific cause of the scream, in my opinion, is the murder and trampling of the sacred. Of life lived in such a mindlessly, routinely brutal way that there is not even any awareness that the murder and trampling is occurring. There must be 100 or more allusions to the question of what is sacred in the book. The first four pages alone read like the first chapter of Genesis, (albeit in reverse)! I think this is, and is intended to be, a profoundly spiritual book.

    And I do not believe the murder of the miraculous that the author has in mind is in the future; I believe he is referring to our current behavior. And to us as the ones doing it.

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  16. fcuk this book! so dumb!

    ReplyDelete
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