by Cormac McCarthy
Versions of Reality Quotes in The Road
How we cite our quotes: Citations follow this format: (Section.Paragraph)
And the dreams so rich in color. How else would death call you? Waking in the cold dawn it all turned to ash instantly. Like certain ancient frescoes entombed for centuries suddenly exposed to the day. (32.1)
Good dreams remind The Man of an ancient fresco that, suddenly exposed to the air, fades and crumbles. The Man continually reminds himself that the vibrant world he knew is gone – that it's literally ash. What an odd reversal of color and symbol. Usually we think of death as gray and colorless and life as vibrant and colorful. This isn't the case in The Road, where The Man confronts an ash-filled reality and a vivid death.
In his dream she was sick and he cared for her. The dream bore the look of sacrifice but he thought differently. He did not take care of her and she died alone somewhere in the dark and there is no other dream nor other waking world and there is no other tale to tell. (50.1)
Dreams offer The Man a false version of the world, and he constantly battles these mirages. This passage concerns his wife's suicide. In the version The Man would prefer, his wife takes ill and he cares for her. Once he shakes himself out of this falsehood, we get the facts: his wife died alone in the dark, and there isn't a way to sugarcoat it. There isn't an alternate reality or another story to tell. It makes us wonder, though, why is there so much animosity toward stories in a work of fiction? Is it that McCarthy just doesn't like certain types of fiction? (Can you imagine him reading romance novels?)
He woke whimpering in the night and the man held him. Shh, he said. Shh. It's okay.
[The Boy:] I had a bad dream.
[The Man:] I know.
[The Boy:] Should I tell you what it was?
[The Man:] If you want to.
[The Boy:] I had this penguin that you wound up and it would waddle and flap its flippers. And we were in that house that we used to live in and it came around the corner but nobody had wound it up and it was really scary.
[The Man:] Okay.
[The Boy:] It was a lot scarier in the dream.
[The Man:] I know. Dreams can be really scary.
[The Boy:] Why did I have that scary dream?
[The Man:] I dont know. But it's okay now. I'm going to put some wood on the fire. You go to sleep.
The boy didnt answer. Then he said: The winder wasnt turning. (60.1-60.12)
We hear plenty of The Man's dreams, but this is one of the few times The Boy shares a dream. It's a scary one, but according to The Man's take on dreams, bad dreams mean one is confronting reality instead of running from it. How does this dream relate to reality, though? What does it tell us about the world in which The Man and The Boy find themselves?
Well, we're actually unsure how to answer that question. Our best guess is that somehow the world itself – like the penguin – is mechanically progressing toward extinction. And, like the penguin without a winder, there's no way to stop it. On a gut level, though, we find The Boy's dream both frightening and funny. It's a penguin for crying out loud – that's a little silly. But don't children dream of things like penguins? And doesn't that make the dream believable? (And then frightening when you realize no one wound it?)