The Road

The Road

infobox Book |
name = The Road
title_orig =
translator =

image_caption = First Edition hardcover of "The Road"
author = Cormac McCarthy
illustrator =
cover_artist =
country = United States
language = English
series =
genre = post-apocalyptic fiction
publisher = Alfred A. Knopf
release_date = September 26, 2006
english_release_date =
media_type = Print (Hardcover)
pages = 256 pp
isbn = ISBN 0307265439
preceded_by =
followed_by =
"The Road" is a 2006 novel by American writer Cormac McCarthy. It is a post-apocalyptic tale describing a journey taken by a father and his young son over a period of several months across a landscape blasted years before by an unnamed cataclysm that destroyed civilization and, seemingly, most life on earth. The novel was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and the 2006 James Tait Black Memorial Prize for Fiction. Many consider this to be Cormac McCarthy's masterpiece.

McCarthy said the inspiration for "The Road" came during a visit to El Paso, Texas with his young son in 2003. Imagining what the city might look like in the future, he pictured "fires on the hill" and thought about his son. He took some initial notes, but did not return to the idea until several years later while in Ireland. Then the novel came to him quickly, and he dedicated it to his son, John Francis McCarthy. [Conlon, Michael (June 5, 2007). [ "Writer Cormac McCarthy confides in Oprah Winfrey"] . Reuters. Retrieved September 8, 2007.]

Plot summary

"The Road" follows a man and a boy, father and son, journeying together for many months across a desolate post-apocalyptic landscape, some years after a great, unexplained cataclysm. (In an interview with David Kushner in "Rolling Stone", McCarthy suggested it was an impact event.) [ [ Cormac McCarthy's Apocalypse] ] The story takes place in the lower Appalachian mountains. Civilization has been destroyed and most species have gone extinct. What happened outside of North America is left unexplained. Humanity consists largely of bands of cannibals, their captives, and refugees who scavenge for canned food.

Ash covers the surface of the earth; in the atmosphere, it obscures the sun and moon, and the two travelers breathe through improvised masks to filter it out. Plants and animals are apparently all dead (dead wood for fuel is plentiful), and the rivers and oceans are seemingly empty of life. The only non-human organisms they encounter are a dog, some edible mushrooms, moss, and some mold and shriveled apples found in an orchard.

The boy's mother, pregnant with him at the time of the cataclysm, became overwhelmed by the desperate situation and committed suicide some time before the story begins. The father is literate, well-traveled, and knowledgeable about machinery, woodcraft, and human biology. He realizes that he and his young son cannot survive another winter in their present location, so the two set out across what was once the Southeastern United States, largely following the highways. They aim to reach warmer southern climates and the sea in particular. Along the way, threats to the duo's survival create an atmosphere of sustained terror and tension.

The father coughs blood every morning and knows he is dying. He struggles to protect his son from the constant threats of attack, exposure, and starvation, as well as from what he sees as the boy's dangerous desire to help the other wanderers they meet. They carry a pistol with two bullets, meant for suicide should it become necessary; the father has told the son to kill himself to avoid being captured. The father struggles in times of extreme danger with the fear that he will have to kill his son to prevent him from suffering a more horrific fate – examples of which include chained catamites held captive by a marauding band, the discovery of captives locked in a basement; their limbs gradually harvested by their captors, and a decapitated human infant being roasted on a spit.

In the face of all of these obstacles, the man and the boy have only each other (the narrator says that they are "each the other's world entire"). The man maintains the pretense, and the boy holds on to the real faith, that there is a core of ethics left somewhere in humanity, and they repeatedly assure one another that they are among "the good guys," who are "carrying the fire."

In the end, having brought the boy south after extreme hardship but without finding the salvation he had hoped for, the father succumbs to his illness and dies, leaving the boy alone on the road. Three days later, however, the grieving boy encounters a man who has been tracking the father and son. This man, who has a wife and two children of his own, invites the boy to join his family. The narrative's close suggests that the wife is a moral and compassionate woman who treats the boy well, a resolution that vindicates the dead father's determination to stay alive and keep moving as long as possible.


Throughout the story McCarthy uses a basic rough style of writing. He often neglects to denote contractions with apostrophes as well as forming run on sentences by not using commas. The story also lacks typical dialogue styles. Conversations lack quotations and the dialogue is often not separated into separate paragraphs. In addition, the novel has no chapters or breaks, and the main characters are referred to merely as "the man" and " the boy".


"The Road" has received numerous positive reviews and honors since its September 26, 2006 release. The review aggregator Metacritic reported the book had an average score of 90 out of 100, based on 31 reviews. [cite web|url= |title=The Road by Cormac McCarthy: Reviews |accessdate=2008-02-15 |publisher=Metacritic] Critics have deemed it "heartbreaking," "haunting," and "emotionally shattering."cite news | author = Mark Holcomb| coauthors = | title = End of the Line -- After Decades of Stalking Armageddon's Perimeters, Cormac McCarthy Finally Steps Over the Border | url =,holcomb,74342,10.html | format = | work = | publisher = The Village Voice | id = | pages = | page = | date = | accessdate = 2007-04-23] [Jones, Malcolm (September 22, 2006). [; "On the Lost Highway"] "Newsweek".] [cite news | url=,,1938954,00.html | title= The Road to Hell | publisher="The Guardian" | date=November 4, 2006] "The Village Voice" referred to it as "McCarthy's purest fable yet." In a "New York Review of Books" article, author Michael Chabon heralded the novel, which he insists is not science fiction but an "adventure story in both its modern and epic forms that structures the narrative." [cite news | author = Michael Chabon| coauthors= | title = After the Apocalypse | url = New York Review of Books review |format = | work = | publisher The New York Review of Books article | id = pages= page = date = | accessdate = 2007-04-30] "Entertainment Weekly" in June 2008 named "The Road" the best book, fiction or non-fiction, of the past twenty-five years, ahead of J. K. Rowling's "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire" and Toni Morrison's "Beloved".

Awards and nominations

On April 16, 2007, the novel was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. [cite news | author = | coauthors = | title = Novelist McCarthy wins Pulitzer | url = | format = | work = | publisher = BBC | id = | pages = | page = | date= April 17, 2007 | accessdate = 2007-09-08 ] It also won the 2006 James Tait Black Memorial Prize for fiction, and was a finalist for the 2006 National Book Critics Circle Award for fiction. [ [ The National Book Critics Circle 2006 finalists] ]

On March 28, 2007, the selection of "The Road" as the next novel in Oprah Winfrey's Book Club was announced. A televised interview on "The Oprah Winfrey Show" was conducted on June 5, 2007 and it was McCarthy's first, though he had been interviewed in print before. [cite news | author = Michael Conlon | coauthors = | title = Writer Cormac McCarthy confides in Oprah Winfrey | url = | format = | work = | publisher = Reuters | id = | pages = | page = | date = | accessdate =] The announcement of McCarthy's television appearance surprised those who follow him. "Wait a minute until I can pick my jaw up off the floor," said John Wegner, an English professor at Angelo State University in San Angelo, Texas, and editor of the Cormac McCarthy Journal, when told of the interview. [cite news | author = Julia Keller | coauthors = | title = Oprah's selection a real shocker: Winfrey, McCarthy strange bookfellows | url = | format = | work = | publisher = Chicago Tribune | id = | pages = | page = | date = | accessdate = | language = | quote = ]

British environmental campaigner George Monbiot was so impressed by "The Road" that he declared McCarthy to be one of the "50 people who could save the planet" in an article published in January 2008. Monbiot wrote, "It could be the most important environmental book ever. It is a thought experiment that imagines a world without a biosphere, and shows that everything we value depends on the ecosystem." [ 50 people who could save the planet] This nomination echoes the review Monbiot had written some months earlier for the Guardian in which he wrote, "A few weeks ago I read what I believe is the most important environmental book ever written. It is not "Silent Spring", "Small Is Beautiful" or even "Walden". It contains no graphs, no tables, no facts, figures, warnings, predictions or even arguments. Nor does it carry a single dreary sentence, which, sadly, distinguishes it from most environmental literature. It is a novel, first published a year ago, and it will change the way you see the world." [cite news | url=,,2201594,00.html | title=Civilisation ends with a shutdown of human concern. Are we there already? | author=George Monbiot | date=October 30, 2007 | publisher="The Guardian"]

Film adaptation

A film adaptation of the novel is currently in production. It is directed by John Hillcoat and written by Joe Penhall. The film stars Viggo Mortensen and Kodi Smit-McPhee as the Man and the Boy, respectively. Production has taken place in Pennsylvania, Louisiana, and Oregon.



*McCarthy, Cormac (2006). "The Road". New York: Alfred A. Knopf. ISBN 0307265439

External links

* [ NPR review]
* [ New York Times review]
* [ Washington Post review]
* [ Sunday Telegraph review]

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