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.
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
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.
Sample Lesson - Reading
Reading 1.1: Take to The Road
The Road gets off to a rather abrupt start, but Cormac McCarthy is never one to set you at ease. Begin at the beginning—that would be page 3 (of this version) for those of you who are counting—and read to page 22. Stop at the end of the passage that reads "Someone before him had not trusted them and in the end neither did he and he walked out with the blankets over his shoulder and they set off along the road again."
As you read, be sure to underline or make note of key passages, and circle any words you don't know (there will be a boatload).
Okay, so not a ton happens in this section. In fact, in some ways, not a lot happens in the entire book. They walk down the road, and then they walk down the road some more. Then they walk down a different road. But in any case, it's important to keep track, so we'd recommend you check out Shmoop's summary, too. Read the summary of Sections 1-10, Sections 11-20, and the beginning of Sections 21-30.
Sample Lesson - Activity
Activity 1.1a: Close Reading
Shmoop loves to start a novel with a deep dive. We're a firm believer that close reading the very beginning of a novel is a great way to get to know the novel's tone, themes, and voice. That way, we can know what to look for as we cruise through the rest of the novel.
So now that you've read the first twenty pages or so, you're probably already quite familiar with what this novel has to offer—a bleak vision of an unspecified future in which the world is laid waste. Through that unspecified future walk two unspecified people: a man and his son.
Take a look at the following passages, and answer the questions below.
Sample Lesson - Activity
Quiz 1.1b: Running from the Quiz
- Course Length: 3 weeks
- Grade Levels: 9, 10, 11, 12
- Course Type: Short Course
Just what the heck is a Shmoop Online Course?
Common Core Standards
The following standards are covered in this course:CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.9-10.1