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7 comments - Last on 10/09/2008

October -- The Road

September 29, 2008 By Cormac McCarthy

For the month of October, the book discussed will be The Road by Cormac McCarthy. McCarthy’s books have won numerous awards, with The Road, his 10th novel being awarded the 2007 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.

October -- The Road

The Road is a post-apocalyptic story that follows the journey of two survivors, a father and son, as they make their way south to an unknown destination.  Their journey is fraught with danger as they travel across a landscape plagued by bands of lawless survivors and other dangers of the post apocalyptic world while they engage in a constant struggle to find food, water and shelter.  While the setting of this story is bleak, the father’s love and devotion for his young son bring beauty to a world full of horror and despair.  McCarthy’s beautiful prose and descriptive imagery draw the reader into The Road and don’t let go until the two reach their final destination.

Novelist Book Discussion Guide

New York Times Book Review of The Road

Update on the Movie Release:

The movie version of The Road originally scheduled to be released on November 26, 2008 has been rescheduled for a  2009 release date.  The movie will star Viggo Mortensen (the man), Kodi Smit-McPhee (his son), Charlize Theron, (wife), and Robert Duvall (old man). The movie was filmed in the Ninth Ward in New Orleans, near Mount St. Helens and in western Pennsylvania near the ash heaps left from strip mining.

 

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Discussion Question 1 - A writer's style sets the tone and purpose for the story. From the novel's opening passage below, what do you think that McCarthy wants us to see or understand about the characters and their situation?

"When he woke in the woods in the dark and the cold of the night he'd reach out to touch the child sleeping beside him. Nights dark beyond darkness and the days more gray each one than what had gone before. Like the onset of some cold glaucoma dimming away the world. His hand rose and fell softly with each precious breath. He pushed away the plastic tarpaulin and raised himself in the stinking robes and blankets and looked toward the east for any light but there was none"(p. 3).

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Discussion Question 1

I think the author is trying to give us a sense of the bleakness and the hopelessness of the man and the boys existence. 

Discussion Question 2 - The use of flashbacks is used to reveal the boy's mother and her decision to end her life (pp 55-58). The boy's father chose to live and face life in a perilous world. What decision would you make in similar circumstances?

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Discussion Question 2

I would not want to exist in such a world, but I honestly don't know what decision I would make if I were on my own.  Like the father in The Road,  I do know if my child was involved, I would make the choice to continue living for their benefit. I think it takes more courage to choose to live in desperate, hopeless circumstances than it is does to end your life as the mother did.

My review of The Road

http://sa1va7ion.wordpress.com/2007/06/01/the-road/

Joshua J. Carlson
Teen Librarian
East Brunswick Public Library

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Discussion Question 3 - Why is the setting so important to the story? Where do you think the story takes place?

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Discussion Question 3

I think that the setting, a gray, dreary, unending landscape accentuates the "darkness" and desperation of the situation just as the writing style -- short, blunt statements - sometimes does.  Obviously this story could not take place in any other type of setting.

For some reason, I think the story takes place in the south, possibly Virginia. At least, that is where I imagined it took place. And Washington, DC would be a prime target for an attack.  In the book World Made by Hand by Kunstler, also set in the near future after a series of attacks provoked by a war over petroleum, the cities of Washington, Philadelphia and New York are destroyed.  The people in the country, or who escape to the country, are able to survive by remaking the world "by hand." Very interesting book, but not a work of art.

Discussion Question 4 - As the father is dying, he tells his son he must go on to "carry the fire" (see below). To what does the phrase "carrying the fire" refer?

"You're going to be okay, Papa. You have to.

No, I'm not. Keep the gun with you at all times. You need to find the good guys but you cant take any chances. No chances. Do you hear?

I want to be with you.

You cant.

Please.

You cant. You have to carry the fire.

I dont know how to.

Yes you do.

Is it real? The fire?

Yes it is.

Where is it? I dont know where it is.

Yes you do. It's inside you. It was always there. I can see it."

(pp. 278-279)

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On one level, the fire represents life.  The boy must survive in order to ensure the survival of the species.  That is why the father also tells him to protect himself by using the gun if he needs to. In the post-apocalyptic world, it will be survival of the fittest, so the good have to be fit.  On a deeper level, of course, the fire represents the spirit.  The father is saying that we always carry the spirit of God within us.

 

Discussion Question 4

At first, I thought the fire represented the actual fires they made that were keeping them warm.  But the last passage indicated that it was something intangible.  Perhaps, the boy was responsible for the survival of man on this planet or more specifically to ensure the survival of goodness as he is one of the "good ones" unlike many of the other survivors, "the bad ones", who have resorted to cannibalism and other unethical and immoral conduct.

Discussion Question 5 - What was the significance of the father's passing? After such a fate do you think the world could be "put back together again" as it was?

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I guess the father had to die in order to pass "the flame" on to his son.  The son will have to remake the world for a new generation; it can never be the same a it was. Hopefully, it will be a better world.