“He pushed the cart and both he and the boy carried knapsacks. In the knapsacks were essential things in case they had to abandon the cart and make a run for it. Clamped to the handle of the cart was a chrome motorcycle mirror that he used to watch the road behind them. He shifted the pack higher on his shoulders and looked out over the wasted country. The road was empty. Below in the little valley the still grey serpentine of a river. Motionless and precise. Along the shore a burden of dead reeds. Are you okay? He said. The boy nodded. They set out along the blacktop in the gunmetal light, shuffling through the ash, each the other’s world entire.”
Extract (p.6) from The Road by Cormac McCarthy
Re-write a few lines of the extract using different types of narrator:
- First person narratorI pushed the cart and the boy carried the knapsack. In the knapsack we essential things in case we had to abandon the cart and make a run for it. Clamped to the handle of the cart was a chrome motorcycle mirror that I used to watch the road behind them. I shifted the pack higher on my shoulders and looked out over the wasted country. The road was empty. Below in the little valley the still grey serpentine of a river.
- Second person – as if you were the man (You pushed the cart…)Along the shore a burden of dead reeds. Are you okay? I said. You nodded. We set out along the blacktop in the gunmetal light, shuffling through the ash, you and I, each the other’s world entire.
If McCarthy had chosen the third person limited point of view, think about the difference between telling this story from the boy’s POV or the man’s.
The third person limited point of view would know such details such as ‘each the other’s world entire.” The mystery would be lost if it was from the boy or man’s POV. It would be clearer to what their relationship is, of perhaps it would feel more emotional, instead of feeling cold, like looking onto strangers.
What impact does changing the narrative angle have on the story? Why do you think McCarthy decided to use an omniscient narrator?
The narrative angle, from the man, or boy, instead of omniscient, would both be different from each other. The man vs the boy would evoke different emotional responses, the child being more innocent, the man being more experienced.
‘He’, the man, and ‘the boy’ are nameless. Why? Does their anonymity change the way we feel about the characters? Can we still care about them without names? Do they still have an identity without a name?
I think you care less for the characters although the intrigue is greater. The author perhaps entices you to be either character, to imagine yourself in each other their shoes. Their identity could be your own choosing.
How can we tell they’re in danger? Are they fleeing danger or do they expect to encounter it along the way? What sort of danger? Human? Animal? Elemental?
‘in case they had to abandon the cart and make a run for it’,
‘watch the road behind them’,
‘shuffling through the ash’
All the above speak of danger, it is clear. They have their bags packed and are moving forward which implies fleeing. There are ashes, they are walking through wasted country, so it could be a natural disaster, or human, or animal, it’s not clear.
The chrome motorcycle mirror tells us the time is roughly contemporary. So what’s happened to the rest of the recognisable contemporary world? Or is the story set in the future? Post-apocalypse maybe?
It could be all of the above.
They are alone: ‘The road was empty.’ Where is everyone? Why are they scared if no one is around? Because no one is around? Because someone might be around?
There’s been some sort of disaster: ‘wasted country… dead reeds … shuffling through the ash …What sort of disaster might it be?
They’re on a journey with everything they own. Where are they going? Where have they come from?
Who can say?
The road is mentioned three times in these few lines. It is also the title of the book. What does it symbolise?
The road symbolises escape, hope, freedom, life.
Can you spot any poetic devices in this short passage? What effect do they have?
- a burden of dead reeds – Metaphor
- gunmetal light – Metaphor
- serpentine of a river – Personification (snake)
All describe the scene, dark, and dangerous.
What other stylistic language choices does McCarthy make and why? Why might he not punctuate speech?
Without punctuating speech, you do not hear the voices of the characters in your head, you feel distanced from them, looking down from above, like someone else in translating the situation for you.
What features give us a sense of where we are? How does McCarthy create a post- apocalyptic world? Would the impact be the same if he were to remove the man and the boy? Look carefully at the imagery, for example the grey ‘serpentine of the river’ and ‘the gunmetal light’. What is it about the choice of metaphor that creates a sense of danger? What does the serpentine symbolise? Think biblical perhaps. What effect will biblical and religious imagery, themes and symbols have in this genre of writing?
Snake in religion represents evil.
What’s the prose style like? Are the sentences long or short? Are they rhythmic or choppy or stark? What impact does this have? Is the language complex or simple? Often the more dramatic or dark a piece is, the more simple and stripped back the prose. Why might this be? What would be the effect of more flowing, colourful and detailed prose?
Really short uniform sentences which flow. The vocabulary is stalk but beautiful. You don’t have to re-read it many time to understand what is going on.
How does it all make you feel?
I makes me feel quite worried for the two of them… concerned about what may happen next.