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?