The post-apocalyptic novel offers endless possibilities to the author who can successfully mold their work into something unique and not the typical vision of a post-civilization world. It provides an incredibly enticing backdrop; the virtual elimination of human society and the reduction of man to little more than his basal animal self. In this setting, civility and faux personality disappear as the author is left to explore the deepest most primal aspects of humanity as man is left as exposed and vulnerable as his birth.
This is the world that Cormac McCarthy places his characters, a man and his son, in The Road. It is an unforgiving inhospitable place resultant from some undescribed disaster and plays one of the adversaries the main characters face. It is in this absence of knowledge that most of the novel revolves around. No characters are designated names and likewise locations are purposefully vague. Most likely, this is McCarthy’s device of interchangibility, allowing the reader easier immersion into the story. He makes them believe it could be hem forced to survive such a horrific situation.
That, however, sees to be a superficial assessment at best, as subtler connotations surround the characters’ anonymity. Anonymity is a powerful guise, allowing for freedoms unthinkable in a modern civil society. As all expectations of civility have been obliterated, however, the need to be anonymous has similarly lost its value. A name no longer ties you to the responsibility’s inherent in it. It has effectually become meaningless a moniker of nothingness and purely aestheticized. Lacan would be proud.
The majority of the remaining population takes this in stride, subjected to no arbitrary rules, they experience a regression to survivalism as the paramount ideology in their minds. Therefore, one who could retain morality in such a situation would signify the continuance of humanity and not a relegation of it to destruction akin to the apocalypse that destroyed civilization.
In the novel, the protagonist (and also his son) are seemingly the only ones to adhere to this philosophy whilst still managing to survive, though barely. The simplest necessities in this world are at a premium after the unnamed horror and years of pillaging survivors. And whatever brief encounters are made with other human beings only serve to bolster McCarthy’s ideals of animalistic immorality that overshadow the entirety of the novel.
It is in these limited interactions between man and man that McCarthy’s novel really seems to shine, playing as hidden gems amongst a world of death and dirt. McCarthy makes us live through the loneliness of the man and his child feeling their despair and even their hunger and desperation.
It is through this ideal that the novel truly shines, with McCarthy’s ability to drudge a story through seemingly endless despair and still retain some semblance of hope. With an upcoming major motion picture portrayal one can only hope the original sentiment is captured in the onscreen transition.