ENG 350 – “The Road”

Last week I read The Road by Cormac McCarthy. To keep with my theme of comparing the novels I read for class to video games, I’d love to compare The Road to The Last Of Us (Naughty Dog, 2013), but I’ve never played the game. I only know its a zombie apocalypse game that focuses on the main character transporting a young girl to a safe location. Its a game I’ve meant to play but never got around to, and like The Road, the narrative is more about the relationships than the state of the world.

Though the class focuses on climate related fiction, I don’t feel that the situation in The Road is strictly climate fiction. It’s about the old fear of nuclear winter rather than the new fear of global warming. It focuses more on the powerlessness of the main characters at the hands of other humans than the uncaring universe. Don’t get me wrong, the uncaring universe is there, but it’s there for everyone. When something is so ever-present, it ceases to be a worry, and more of just a concern. A factor that must be taken into account rather than directly planned for.

In The Road, the man (who is never named, other than “Papa”) is entirely concerned with protecting the boy (his son, who again is never named). This protection ranges from tending to his physical needs (food, water, shelter) as well as his metaphysical ones. The man fosters a kindness in the boy that, even as the boy begins to call out the hypocrisy of the man, the man still insists the boy must adhere to. This echoes much of the world as is—”Do as I say, not as I do”—where people martyr themselves so that others don’t have to. It’s always wishful thinking in my opinion, as everyone must always survive, and protecting people in this way sometimes makes them unable to care for themselves in morally ambiguous situations.

The relationships between the main characters and other characters, however brief, are as important as the relationship between the main characters themselves. When two people have only each other, they can say whatever they want, but when a witness comes around, their attitude changes. The boy hints near the end that the stories the man told him about being the good guys are just that—stories. Lies. A mask the man wants to wear in front of the boy. But when others come around who are just as desperate, the boy wants the man to wear the mask, but the man knows the mask is flimsy and won’t protect them.

The end is “happy” in a sense, in that the boy won’t be alone, but we also don’t know his future. To truly be a dystopic story, though, I think the boy should have suffered alone longer. Not that I would wish that upon anyone, but the boy went from one protection to another—and honestly, when would that ever happen? Does it even happen now?

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