Road by Cormac Mccarthy Term Paper

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Some books are deceptive in terms of their subject matter. At first glance, for example, such books can appear simple, with a relatively straightforward story. Others are excessively uplifting or bleak, appearing to cater to only one single concept or emotion. Many times, however, the most apparently simple stories can hide deeper themes relating to the what we as human beings truly are. They contain important lessons or hold the capacity to change the lives of their readers. Indeed, as humanity, we are lucky to have the cognitive skills and understanding to enjoy such high-level works. Three prime examples of works that are deceptively simple and/or bleak include The Road by Cormac McCarthy, On the Road by Jack Kerouac, and Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer. Of the three, The Road Is probably the bleakest, while Into the Wild is the most straightforward, but each of the three works offers the reader a unique perspective on life and the universe that has the potential to remain with the individual for a lifetime.

The Road by Cormac McCarthy is the extremely bleak and apparently hopeless story of a father and son, two survivors of what the reader might presume to be an apocalyptic nuclear event. The world is dark and desperate, with the father and son plodding on towards no sense of salvation and no sense of hope. There is simply nothing left to hope for. Days are greyer than the ones before and nights are increasingly dark, perhaps symbolizing the pair's inevitable plodding ever-closer towards death.

Despite the fact that the book's subject matter is quite simply bleak and straightforward, it makes for an intense read, not least because of its language. From the first page, the words the author uses are filled with a richness that contrasts starkly with the world he creates in the mind of the reader. It is as if the words are all that are left in a world that has become a "death camp." For people who have become thin and worn-out and hopeless like the poorest of the poor are in fact the richest, clinging to life in a world in which almost everybody has died. It is a world in which death is in daily evidence from the sad shapes of corpses that have used their dying breaths to escape the apocalypse to violent gangs desperate themselves for food and shelter, but robbed of any sense of humanity by the lack of these. It is in this world that the author describes, in the richest terms, things as simple as a cave:

"…he had wandered in a cave where the child led him by the hand. Their light playing over the wet flowstone walls. Like pilgrims in a fable swallowed up and lost among the inward parts of some granitic beast. Deep stone flues where the water dripped and sang." (McCarthy, 2006, p. 3).

Hence, the author uses language to create a sense of juxtaposition. What is left of humanity is its powers of description, but these powers are essentially useless and fall on deaf ears in a world where the most important commodity has become life in any shape or form. Soon, all life will be gone, because there is no way even the novel's main characters can survive the increasing darkness of the post-fallout world. If they were not to be murdered by gangs desperate for food, they will ultimately be killed by a world in which it is no longer healthier to be outdoors than indoors.

Yet, there is something exhilarating in it, according to reviewer Mars-Jones (2006), who holds that, although the road is neither a "fable" nor a "prophesy," it is an experiment in thought and feeling. Its very bleakness is also its exhilaration. It sketches a new world without making any pretence for nobility in humanity. It is this honesty within which lies its exhilaration. By using his powers of description, the author creates the contrast of language with what is being described by that very language not only to show that words are all that are left, but also to show the extremity of human despair. There is simply nothing left to hope for. Yet, the boy and the man carry on, traveling a road that can lead only to more darkness and despair. They carry on because there is simply no other choice. What makes the work exhilarating, even in its bleak despair, is its honesty. The author and characters accept absolutely and without question the conditions imposed upon them. There is nothing that they can do about it. There is no salvation for the earth and nobody more fortunate to beg from.
Hence, the lesson the reader might take from the book is not only a flippant sense of "at least we have more than this kind of life left," but also a sense of the human spirit that tends to refuse death even when faced with it every day.

The most obvious relationship of McCarthy's novel with Kerouac's On the Road is its title, which suggests a relatively perpetual Journey. Although Kerouac's work is by no means as bleak and desperate as McCarthy's, it involves a journey through life that is more or less as never-ending and non-conformist as the main characters' in The Road, where the concept of the road is used as symbolic of a never-ending journey. For Kerouac's Sal and Dean, there is no destination, just like there is not destination for the father and his son. On the Road ends with the friends taking leave of each other, but not with any sense that the journey will ever end. In the same way, the father and son will presumably be separated at some future point, but the journey does not have an inherent destination.

In terms of mood and tone, one might note that Jack Kerouac's work is somewhat more upbeat and hopeful than McCarthy's. There is certainly a cast of friendlier and more supportive secondary characters than those on McCarthy's road. Indeed, the main characters appear to enjoy their non-conformist lives to the full.

Whereas the boy and his father are thrust into a journey without a choice, Sal and Dean choose their lives on the road. The first-person narrator says:

"With the coming of Dean Moriarty began the part of my life you could call my life on the road. Before that I'd often dreamed of going West to see the country, always vaguely planning and never taking off." (Kerouac, 1999, p. 1).

Interestingly, the catalyst for Sal's "life on the road" was not so much a worldwide one as a highly individual one, starting with his divorce, through a miserable illness, and ending with an emotional feeling that "everything was dead." For Sal, the road is his salvation from this emotion. McCarthy's father and son, the road does not offer escape, but it does offer the opportunity to cling to life somewhat longer than would otherwise be the case. When they are in danger, the father and son resume the road, even when they have not rested sufficiently to do so. In Kerouac's novel, on the other hand, one has the sense that the journey offers escape from misery rather than more of it. Much like the father and son, however, Dean and Sal do what they need to survive, taking part-time work and doing whatever is necessary to ensure that they at least have money for food.

In both novels, one has the sense of the road representing both a journey and the necessity to survive. Abandoning the road would mean abandoning life and whatever hope remains of maintaining a sense of survival. For Sal and Dean, this means relying on both themselves and those they encounter for sustenance. For the boy and his father, there is precious little to ensure their survival, but they are offered little by way of choice. Although one might argue that Sal and Dean do have a choice, deeper examination might reveal that this is not necessarily the case. Surely Sal would not be able to imagine returning to a life in which his wife had abandoned him and he was essentially "dead" in an emotional sense. Indeed, the beginning of the novel suggests that he does not want to return to this bleak time even in his mind. Dean, on the other hand, has always traveled, first with his parents and then by himself. One might argue that, in his case, he has as little choice as the boy and his father. In this sense, the road chooses its protagonists because they are not only worthy of it, but it is also worthy of them. The road offers survival for those who would survive the devastation they experience as a result of the life process. As such, the road does not offer escape as much as it does a means of survival beyond the conditions imposed by the life before and after the road. As such,….....

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