The Road Study Guide

The Road

The Road by Cormac McCarthy

The Road is a post-apocalyptic novel about a father and son traveling and trying to survive after an unspecified global catastrophe. The father and son are attempting to reach the sea before winter. Along their way, they encounter other dangerous survivors, one of whom the father kills. Eventually the man dies and the son finds a family who take him in. The novel's simple prose style contrasts desolate imagery with symbols of lightness and hope.

A father and his young son journey across post-apocalyptic America some years after an extinction event. The land is covered with ash and devoid of life. The boy's mother, pregnant with him at the time of the disaster, committed suicide some years earlier.

Realizing they cannot survive the winter, the man takes the boy south along empty roads towards the sea, carrying their meager possessions in their knapsacks and a supermarket cart. The man is suffering from a serious cough and knows he is dying. He assures his son that they are "good guys" who are "carrying the fire". The pair have a revolver, but only two rounds. The father has taught the boy to use the gun on himself if necessary, to avoid falling into the hands of cannibals.

The father uses one of the rounds to kill a marauder who discovers them, disturbing the boy. They flee the marauder's companions, abandoning most of their possessions. When they search a house for supplies, they discover a locked cellar containing captives whom cannibal gangs have been eating limb by limb and flee.

As they are near starvation, the pair discover a concealed bunker filled with food, clothes, and other supplies. They stay there for several days, regaining their strength, and move on. They encounter an elderly man with whom the boy insists they share food. Further along the road, they evade a group whose members include a pregnant woman, and soon after they discover a newborn infant roasted on a spit. They come to a house where they find more food and a wheelbarrow they use to carry their supplies, but the man's condition is worsening.

The pair reaches the beach where a boat is drifting out at sea. The man swims to it and recovers supplies including a flare gun, which he demonstrates to the boy. After their wheelbarrow is stolen, they continue to look for it and those who took it. After finding a single man with the wheelbarrow, the father forces him to strip naked. After this distresses the boy, he leaves the clothes on the road with can of food, in hopes the man will find it.

In a town inland, the man is shot in the leg with an arrow. He loses blood and, after several days, realizes he will soon die. He tells the boy he can talk to him in prayer after he is gone, and that he must continue without him. After he dies, the boy stays with his body for three days. He is approached by a man with his wife, two children, and a dog. He convinces the boy he is one of the "good guys", and takes him under his protection.

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