by Cormac McCarthy
The Road Theme of Mortality
McCarthy once said that he doesn't understand novelists who don't "deal with issues of life and death" (source). Well, he certainly practices what he preaches. Death is a constant in The Road. Its thorough inclusion in the novel almost gives it the status of a character. (Some characters in the novel even talk about death as if it were a person.) The constant threat of death – from starvation, exposure, illness, or murder – also makes the everyday stuff in the novel much richer than it otherwise would be. Simple actions like eating, finding clean water, or exchanging a few kind words with another human being suddenly seem quite extraordinary.
Questions About Mortality
- Do you think the possibility of The Man's own death or The Boy's death frightens The Man more? Why?
- Most novels only deal with mortality on an individual scale. The Road examines global mortality – what would happen if most of the natural world and most of human life disappeared? What's the difference between these two types of mortality? Are they fundamentally different or, despite the differences in scale, similar?
- Even in the most degrading and squalid of conditions, many of the people The Man and The Boy meet on the road want to stay alive. How do you make sense of this? Is McCarthy uncovering a nearly unquenchable human drive? Does The Woman's suicide make you doubt this drive exists for everyone?
- Do you think The Road teaches us important lessons about mortality, or is it overly bleak?