The Road – Cormac McCarthy
April 29, 2012 @ 2:40 pm
I’ll start this off with a truth: I don’t know that Cormac McCarthy is a Christian. A quick read of his wiki page didn’t give me much to go on, but I am going to go ahead and assume he’s not. Mainly because I’m from the West Coast, and it’s my culture to assume people are irreligious.
On a directly related note: I don’t really think it matters. To me, this book is about faith, love, persistence and living a life solely based on love in the midst of hate. I don’t think it’s a specific Christian allegory the way Pilgrim’s Progress or The Great Divorce are, but there is a lot we, as Pilgrims, can learn from this piece of fiction.
That said, The Road is a novel by Cormac McCarthy, published in 2006 in the USA. It’s a post-apocalyptic story of a man and his son surviving together after the fall of civilisation. So far it’s the most recently written book I plan on touching on in these posts. It’s also one of my favourite books ever. I guess there was a movie made of it a couple years ago? I haven’t seen it. Living in the DTES is a little bit of a culture vacuum in some ways.
The main characters of The Road, who are unnamed – going only by “the man” and “the boy” - are 2 of very few survivors on Earth after the collapse of society. The man and the boy are different from other survivors we meet throughout the novel, as they are still remotely civilised, outright refusing to turn to cannibalism, as many others have – even harvesting other survivors for this purpose.
The boy was born very shortly after the world changed, so this world is the only one he’s known. Through the story he asks his father questions about right and wrong, asking how they can be sure that they are “the good guys”. The father responds to these questions the same way, with the response “because we’re carrying the fire”.
While “the fire” is never defined in the book, it becomes apparent by the end that “the fire” is humanity itself, and the human ability to show compassion. As far as we know, the man and his son were the last remaining people on Earth who showed compassion for one another, who made sacrifices for each other, who loved each other. That’s what defined them, that’s what made them good in a landscape with no laws or reason. They remained moral in a world where morality ceased to exist, because their standard of life was based off of the love of another.
If the man had no son, he would have become depraved like the others we meet in the book, or killed himself to prevent that from happening. The illustration here shows us that it is truly loving and being loved that keeps us human, keeps us sane and good.
Reading The Road while living in the Downtown Eastside is a strange experience. In a lot of ways, our neighborhood already looks like the world McCarthy describes. A man pushing his belongings in a shopping cart through a landscape of despair and distrust? I see that everyday, several times a day. People turning on one another for personal gain, neglecting compassion? Welcome to the world of addiction.
In the Road, the blood cults are addicted to the same thing we’re all addicted to: food, and they’ll abandon every human kindness to get it once it’s sparse. A lot of us here have been betrayed by our friends because their addiction was ruling their choices.
The challenge for us here is to keep loving people, pouring the fierceness of compassion into places barren of its fruit, letting that love blossom into something over time.
And there is a challenge for all Christians here: press on! The man and the boy struggled and survived for no reason other than to live together, for each other, despite absolute hopelessness. So let’s do that too – keep journeying, and walking the road, despite everything.
What do you think? Have you read it? Any thoughts?
I, obviously, HIGHLY recommend this book.
(PS: In what is seeming to become an interesting trend with these books, a War College Alumni has a quote from this book tattooed! Someone should get a Pilgrim’s Progress tattoo before next Sunday!)