The Road by Cormac McCarthy

From the outset, The Road is a post-apocalyptic tale focusing on a man and his son’s quest for survival following a horrific disaster that has destroyed civilization. However, beyond these facts, it is difficult to pinpoint exactly what to make of Cormac McCarthy’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel.

At least, this is how a lot of us felt after discussing the story at our recent Barista’s Book Group meeting. Some felt it was a parable about faith. Some felt it was simply a story about the love of a father and son. There were thoughts that perhaps it was a futuristic western. There were also comments that there were religious implications to the story with its focus on good and evil.

But regardless of what we thought the novel was about, we almost all agreed it was a good book. Few of us could put it down once we started reading it and most of us cried at the end.

The Road is an incredibly bleak and monotonous yet emotional story about a man and his son striving to exist in a world that has been destroyed by a nameless disaster. The author doesn’t reveal what has destroyed the world. We only know from the book that the sky opened up and reeked disaster. Buildings and homes were destroyed, wrecked vehicles were left in the streets, trees and flowers are unable to live, the snow that falls is gray, and dead bodies are calcified in the streets. The living are few and far between, and the majority of people who are left have resorted to preying on each other for food.

Early in the story, as “the man” reminisces, we learn that his wife committed suicide, citing to the husband that their death was imminent – bad guys would find them soon, rape her and the boy and kill them all for food or they would die from the elements and lack of resources. After her death, the man decides to journey south with the boy in search of better conditions (i.e. warmer weather and “good guys”).

During the journey, the man and boy are constantly filthy and hungry, traveling through cold and destruction, dodging dangerous people, sleeping in the woods, scrounging through abandoned buildings, homes, trains, cars, and even a boat for anything of substance to eat. The man becomes sick, and it becomes apparent his illness might be fatal.

The man and son encounter macabre scenes, such as a basement full of people being stored by cannibals for food. Yet, just when you can’t see any hope for their survival, suddenly they find an underground shed full of food and supplies, an abandoned house that they can sleep in for a few days out of the cold, a rare treat (i.e. Coca-Cola.)

The man constantly reminds the boy throughout the story (in the somewhat sparse dialogue that takes place between them) that the boy is carrying “the light.” This light becomes a thread in the journey, which, despite the horrors along the way, ultimately leads to a hopeful ending.

About the Author

Sherida Harris is a library technical assistant at the Plaza Branch. To join the Barista’s Book Group, e-mail her at or call 816.701.3481.