by Cormac McCarthy
Mortality Quotes in The Road
How we cite our quotes: Citations follow this format: (Section.Paragraph)
[The Man:] There's no one here. There has been no one here for years. There are no tracks in the ash. Nothing disturbed. No furniture burned in the fireplace. There's food here.
[The Boy:] Tracks dont stay in the ash. You said so yourself. The wind blows them away. (291.17-291.18)
Erasure in The Road is pretty much total. Much of what once characterized the lives of the survivors has been incinerated into ash, and when they walk on that ash, the wind erases their footprints. So, imagine playing the song "Dust in the Wind" while parts of your stereo system crumbled and blew away. "Yeah," you would say. "McCarthy was right. This world is transient."
At night when we woke coughing he'd sit up with his hand pushed over his head against the blackness. Like a man waking in a grave. Like those disinterred dead from his childhood that had been relocated to accommodate a highway. Many had died in a cholera epidemic and they'd been buried in haste in wooden boxes and the boxes were rotting and falling open. The dead came to light lying on their sides with their legs drawn up and some lay on their stomachs. The dull green antique coppers spilled from out the tills of their eyesockets onto the stained and rotted coffin floors. (294.1)
OK, this is gross, but it's also noteworthy. Sometimes when The Man wakes up in the middle of the night, he feels like he's woken up in a grave. It's not just any grave, though, it's a mass grave. Which, all things considered, is a pretty accurate metaphor for the setting of the novel. After that "long shear of light," the world has become one big mass grave (88.1). Talk about horrifying and depressing.
They trekked out along the crescent sweep of beach, keeping to the firmer sand below the tidewrack. They stood, their clothes flapping softly. Glass floats covered with a gray crust. The bones of seabirds. At the tide line a woven mat of weeds and the ribs of fishes in their millions stretching along the shore as far as eye could see like an isocline of death. One vast salt sepulchre. Senseless. Senseless. (307.1)
McCarthy's repetition of the world "senseless" here is pretty amazing. We interpret this double-whammy as follows. In the first "senseless," McCarthy is talking about the ocean itself and its lack of sentient creatures – it's literally devoid of any feeling beings. But the second "senseless" is a value judgment about all this death. It's "senseless," meaning pointless. We couldn't agree more.