Cormac McCarthy was born in Rhode Island. He attended the
University of Tennessee in the early 1950s, and joined the U.S. Air
Force, serving four years, two of them stationed in Alaska.
McCarthy then returned to the university, where he published in the
student literary magazine and won the Ingram-Merrill Award for
creative writing in 1959 and 1960. McCarthy next went to Chicago,
where he worked as an auto mechanic while writing his first novel,
The Orchard Keeper
. The Orchard
was published by Random House in 1965;
McCarthy''s editor there was Albert Erskine, William Faulkner''s
long-time editor. Before publication, McCarthy received a traveling
fellowship from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, which he
used to travel to Ireland. In 1966 he also received the Rockefeller
Foundation Grant, with which he continued to tour Europe, settling
on the island of Ibiza. Here, McCarthy completed revisions of his
next novel, Outer Dark
.In 1967, McCarthy returned
to the United States, moving to Tennessee. Outer
was published by Random House in 1968, and McCarthy
received the Guggenheim Fellowship for Creative Writing in 1969.
His next novel, Child of God,
published in 1973. From 1974 to 1975, McCarthy worked on the
screenplay for a PBS film called The Gardener''s
, which premiered in 1977. A revised version of the
screenplay was later published by Ecco Press.In the late 1970s,
McCarthy moved to Texas, and in 1979 published his fourth novel,
, a book that had occupied his writing life
on and off for twenty years. He received a MacArthur Fellowship in
1981, and published his fifth novel, Blood
, in 1985. After the retirement of Albert Erskine,
McCarthy moved from Random House to Alfred A. Knopf. All
the Pretty Horses
, the first volume of The Border Trilogy,
was published by Knopf in 1992. It won both the National Book Award
and the National Book Critics Circle Award and was later turned
into a feature film. The Stonemason,
play that McCarthy had written in the mid-1970s and subsequently
revised, was published by Ecco Press in 1994. Soon thereafter,
Knopf released the second volume of The Border Trilogy, The
; the third volume, Cities of the
was published in 1998. McCarthy''s next
novel, No Country for Old Men
published in 2005. This was followed in 2006 by a novel in dramatic
form, The Sunset Limited,
performed by Steppenwolf Theatre Company of Chicago and published
in paperback by Vintage Books. McCarthy''s most recent novel,
was published by Knopf in 2006
and won the Pulitzer Prize.
1. Cormac McCarthy has an unmistakable prose style. What do you
see as the most distinctive features of that style? How is the
writing in The Road in some ways more
like poetry than narrative prose?
2. Why do you think McCarthy has chosen not to give his
characters names? How do the generic labels of "the man" and "the
boy" affect the way in which readers relate to them?
3. How is McCarthy able to make the postapocalyptic world of
The Road seem so real and utterly terrifying?
Which descriptive passages are especially vivid and visceral in
their depiction of this blasted landscape? What do you find to be
the most horrifying features of this world and the survivors who
4. McCarthy doesn''t make explicit what kind of catastrophe has
ruined the earth and destroyed human civilization, but what might
be suggested by the many descriptions of a scorched landscape
covered in ash? What is implied by the father''s statement that "On
this road there are no godspoke men. They are gone and I am left
and they have taken with them the world" [p. 32]?
5. As the father is dying, he tells his son he must go on in
order to "carry the fire." When the boy asks if the fire is real,
the father says, "It''s inside you. It was always there. I can see
it" [p. 279]. What is this fire? Why is it so crucial that they not
let it die?
6. McCarthy envisions a postapocalyptic world in which "murder
was everywhere upon the land" and the earth would soon be "largely
populated by men who would eat your children in front of your eyes"
[p. 181]. How difficult or easy is it to imagine McCarthy''s
nightmare vision actually happening? Do you think people would
likely behave as they do in the novel, under the same
circumstances? Does it now seem that human civilization is headed
toward such an end?
7. The man and the boy think of themselves as the "good guys."
In what ways are they like and unlike the "bad guys" they
encounter? What do you think McCarthy is suggesting in the scenes
in which the boy begs his father to be merciful to the strangers
they encounter on the road? How is the boy able to retain his
compassion--to be, as one reviewer put it, "compassion
8. The sardonic blind man named Ely who the man and boy
encounter on the road tells the father that "There is no God and we
are his prophets" [p. 170]. What does he mean by this? Why does the
father say about his son, later in the same conversation, "What if
I said that he''s a god?" [p. 172] Are we meant to see the son as a
9. The Road takes the form of a classic journey
story, a form that dates back to Homer''s Odyssey.
To what destination are the man and the boy journeying? In what
sense are they "pilgrims"? What, if any, is the symbolic
significance of their journey?
10. McCarthy''s work often dramatizes the opposition between
good and evil, with evil sometimes emerging triumphant. What does
The Road ultimately suggest about good and evil?
Which force seems to have greater power in the novel?
11. What makes the relationship between the boy and his father
so powerful and poignant? What do they feel for each other? How do
they maintain their affection for and faith in each other in such
12. Why do you think McCarthy ends the novel with the image of
trout in mountain streams before the end of the world: "In the deep
glens where they lived all things were older than man and they
hummed of mystery" [p. 287]. What is surprising about this ending?
Does it provide closure, or does it prompt a rethinking of all that
has come before? What does it suggest about what lies ahead?
At once brutal and tender, despairing and rashly hopeful, spare of language and profoundly moving, this work is a fierce and haunting meditation on the tenuous divide between civilization and savagery, and the essential, sometimes terrifying power of filial love.