The Road Reflection #4 (172–228)

At this point in The Road, the man and the boy have managed to retain a small glimmer of hope in their journey across a broken America with nothing but a grocery cart, a torn up map, and each other. And an increasingly pessimistic view on their world.

As the two travel through the treacherous terrain and encounter other people, they learn of the atrocities the human race has succumbed to. On page 181, the man observes an exhausted city “soon to be largely populated by men who would eat your children in front of your eyes…. held by cores of blackened looters who tunneled among the ruins and crawled from the rubble white of tooth and eye carrying charred and anonymous tin of food in nylon nets like shoppers in the commissaries of hell.” Just four pages after, upon entering a small town, the man and the boy come across “a human head beneath a cakebell… Dessicated,” only confirming the man’s thoughts. It is clear that the man trusts nobody in this world; he is fearful of other people, yet he knows where they lurk and that meeting them will be inevitable. This is because everyone is forced to forage, to seek out food and shelter, to compete for survival. The imagery throughout The Road is horrendous, and conveys to the reader constant disorder in the world. A chaotic monotony, if you will.

Something I’ve intentionally left out of my previous reflections that adds to the plot of the story: the man is sick. Deathly sick. He often has fits of coughing, along with a constant fever and insomnia. The man’s “rasping suck of air” and numerous coughs indicate pneumonia. This is ironic because pneumonia would have been so easily cured before the disaster, representing a reversion in time to before modern medicinal advances. As time moves forward after the apocalypse, civilization moves irreparably backwards.

McCarthy also hints at the cause of the apocalypse. On pages 188–191, the man has a vision of a small family standing over a large pit entrapping hundreds of serpents. The family pours gasoline over the snakes, lights them afire, and watches sovereign as the serpents slowly die away, catching fire to each other. The snakes symbolized all the people of the world, the family a deity, and the act a desecration of all civilization. This vision leads me to believe the cause of the apocalypse was a natural disaster, most likely the eruption of the Ring of Fire circling the Pacific Ocean, or the eruption of Yellowstone, either of which would greatly impact North America and explain the constant falling of ash. Additionally, on page 191, the man and the boy walk through an abandoned village, “pick[ing] their way among the mummied figures.” This is a similar description to the ancient Greek city Pompeii, which was also destroyed by the eruption of a volcano. I found this amusing, because it would mean the people of a future civilization would be able to study our cultures similar to how we study that of cities like Pompeii.

In the last few pages in this section of The Road, the man and the boy finally reach their destination: the ocean — “the desolation of some alien sea breaking on the shores of a world unheard of.” I was emotionally stricken when the man and the boy finally reached the ocean to find its hue not blue, but gray. Meaningless, dull, ashen gray. This seems to be the final straw for the man, who thereafter becomes even sicker, and that small glimmer of hope begins to slip away.

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