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The Road

This ain't your grandmother's road.

Get ready for a road trip, brought to you by America's favorite master of bleak violence and horror, Cormac McCarthy. In The Road, he gives us a vision of a post-apocalyptic American landscape populated by roving bands of cannibals and our two heroes: a father and son who have no plans to eat each other—or anyone else for that matter.

In this course, you'll tackle The Road from every angle in a series of Common Core-aligned activities designed to take you into the novel's thematic heart. You'll read, write, and draw your way through the novel's characters, scenes, tone, and themes. And—of course—you'll watch the movie version starring none other than Aragorn himself. In a decidedly un-Aragorn-y role.

Via all these readings and activities, you'll be able to

  • close read to your heart's content (or your stomach's tolerance for gore).
  • analyze Cormac McCarthy's inscrutable prose for symbolic and thematic meaning.
  • read a scene featuring cannibalism without throwing the book across the room in horror.
  • represent the setting of the novel in a visual piece of your own creation.
  • decipher the ending of the novel, which is easier said than done.

Course Breakdown

Unit 1. The Road

Cormac McCarthy might not be a fan of the comma, but he sure can write a story. This 15-lesson unit will guide you down the road of The Road—just remember to bring your blankie.

Sample Lesson - Introduction

Lesson 1: Setting Out

The Great American Road Novel begins in...a cave. Okay, we can roll with it.

Allow Shmoop to introduce Cormac McCarthy, one of the most important American authors of the 20th century and general expert in all things unrelentingly bleak and unforgivably violent.

Yeah, we bet you're just oh so pleased to meet him.

Sure, McCarthy may have made his name (and his literary fortune) on ultra-violent novels like Blood Meridian and Child of God, but he's also got a softer side, thanks to his cherished relationship with his young son. They say fatherhood changes a man, and, well, that's straight up true, in his case.

McCarthy's 2006 novel The Road is unrelentingly bleak and unforgivably violent, to be sure. But at its heart is the kind of father-son relationship that Alan Thicke could only dream of having with Kirk Cameron.

When The Road appeared on bookstands in 2006, critics noted the book's (expected) brutality and its (unexpected) tenderness (source). The Road simultaneously advanced McCarthy's reputation for violent, brutal writing and introduced a new depth of compassion.

Yvonne Zipp wrote the following about The Road in her Christian Science Monitor review:

The love between the father and the son is one of the most profound relationships McCarthy has ever written, and the strength of it helps raise the novel—despite considerable gore—above nihilistic horror. (source)

To sum up: this is a novel by an American master. It has all the thrills you'd expect from a post-apocalyptic novel, a fair share of horror and gore, and an incredibly sweet relationship between a father and son.

In this lesson, we'll begin at the beginning with a healthy dose of close reading. It's always a good idea to go through the first few passages of a novel with a fine-toothed comb. It helps you suss out its themes, identify its characters, and familiarize yourself with its tone.

And that's just what we'll be doing to The Road.

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  • Course Length: 3 weeks
  • Grade Levels: 9, 10, 11, 12
  • Course Type: Short Course
  • Category:
    • English
    • Literature

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