1. arron89
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    arron89 Banned

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    The WF Book Club: The Road

    Discussion in 'Book Discussion' started by arron89, Jun 24, 2010.

    The book we'll be focusing on until the end of July is Cormac McCarthy's 2006 novel The Road.

    In the interest of sustaining an interesting and engaging discussion, I've provided a series of questions or discussion starters to provide a starting point in your analysis of the novel. The first group of questions are relatively straight-forward and concern the main themes and ideas of the book, while the second set are more complex or demanding, and aimed at those who are able/willing to perform more in-depth critical analysis.

    I won't set a mandatory timeframe for reading, but please use spoiler tags if your post contains potential spoiler material.

    Finally, have fun! Contribute as much or as little as you like, ask questions, (politely) challenge opinions and improve your critical (and writing) ability.

    Easier Questions
    1. In fiction, the idea of the journey is inextricably linked to ideas of progress, development and the attainment of the ideal. Is this true of The Road's journey?

    2. Neither of the main characters are named. What, in your opinion, are the reasons for this?

    3. Do you find the ending of The Road to be optimistic or pessimistic about human nature?

    4. McCarthy's style is unmistakable. What are its key features, and how, in this case, do they affect the story?

    Difficult Questions
    1. "There is no God and we are his prophets." Taking this as a starting point, discuss the role of religion in The Road.

    2. Is it significant that The Road takes place in America?

    3. The Road draws on a variety of literary forms: the road novel, slave narratives, elegy, and horror fiction and cinema. McCarthy also alludes to Classical texts and the Bible. Discuss the impact these allusions have on the text and your understanding of it.

    4. Defamiliarisation is crucial to the theme and tone of the novel. Both the setting, characters, and, most importantly, language are, to a certain extant, made to seem unfamiliar. Starting, perhaps, with the shopping cart used by the man and the boy, discuss how McCarthy achieves this sense of defamiliarisation, and what it contributes to the text. (You may like to consider especially the contrast between the 'underground bunker' scenes and the rest of the novel.)

    5. Is The Road more speculative or experiential?
     
  2. Banzai
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    Banzai One-time Mod, but on the road to recovery Contributor

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    I may join in with this. I've been meaning to read The Road for a while, but haven't gotten around to it yet :)
     
  3. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    If I am welcome, I would also like to participate. I have my copy in hand.
     
  4. arron89
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    arron89 Banned

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    Lol Wrey, of course you're welcome. It would be nice to have some of our fearless leaders involved this time around.
     
  5. Lemex
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    Lemex That's Lord Lemex to you. Contributor

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    I've already read The Road and I wish all who are about to: happy readings!
    I really loved this novel.
     
  6. Evil Flamingo
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    Evil Flamingo Contributing Member Contributor

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    I echo this statement, and add on that I will read it again and participate in the discussions that take place here. Hopefully on my second read-through here, I will have question of my own to bring to the table.
     
  7. Manav
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    Manav Contributing Member

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    I am very new to such book discussions. But I am on my way to buy this book and I want to participate if I am allowed to. And I hope my views won't be too naive.
     
  8. Lemex
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    Lemex That's Lord Lemex to you. Contributor

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    Remember: every opinion, no matter how well thought out, is helpful to a discussion.
     
  9. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    Well, I am only a few pages in at the moment. It will be a bit difficult for me to relate to page numbers with the rest of the group because I am reading it as an eBook and my eBook reader paginates to a different drummer. Anway.... His syntactic manner is convoluted. It has taken me a bit to slow my reading eye in order not to lose the thread of a sentence.
     
  10. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    I started my reread of The Road just last night. This time around I'm taking my time with it. Reading it again made me realize just how good of a writer he is. The minimalism works very well here. Anyway, I look forward to discussing it once a few more people have gotten into the book.
     
  11. arron89
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    arron89 Banned

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    So, how are we going? Many people reading? Finished? Getting near the end?

    Also, don't forget to submit ideas for next month's book, I'd like to get the poll up sooner rather than later. Either pm them to me or post them in the other thread.

    In the mean time, if anyone wants to start things off here, I think we could probably begin soon...
     
  12. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    I'm more than halfway through. I'm just waiting to see how everyone else is doing. I'm ready to discuss anytime.
     
  13. Evil Flamingo
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    Evil Flamingo Contributing Member Contributor

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    I'm finished with it and ready to discuss it anytime.
     
  14. Lemex
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    Lemex That's Lord Lemex to you. Contributor

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    Yugh hell, I'll join in this too.
     
  15. Dill-n
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    Dill-n New Member

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    I'd enjoy joining this discussion. I'll also mention that I have already read the book and as Evil Flamingo said "Ready to discuss it anytime."
     
  16. BUDDY GORGEOUS
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    BUDDY GORGEOUS Active Member

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    I finished this yesterday. (there are spoilers here, so if you haven't finished it please don't read this). As grim as it got (though it wasn't a depressing read) i didn't want it to end. I've been a McCarthy fan since reading Blood meridian and The border trilogy and this was far from being a dissapointment. Beautiful writing as always and i was suprised how much i felt for EVERY character, even the brief and fleeting ones like the old man or the fella who steals their belongings to survive. I wanted to follow the boy and his new found friend at the end and how he may befriend other kids. I loved how all the way through we see the man teaching his boy to survive the world once he's gone.

    I'm not too good at asking questions about the book for others to ponder over, i preffer to answer and let it go on from there, so i'll let someone else start haha :D. Overall it was one of the best reads i've had for some time and hope you all enjoyed it too.

    *Brain flash* what do you think the man's dream of a beast drinking from a rimstone pool on the other side of the shore after they venture through a cave signifies at the begining of the book??? McCarthy, with most of his books, uses dreams quite frequently like in No country for old men. I personally think it represents the dangers lurking out there in the world, waiting to devour them (The cannibals etc).

    McCarthy never let's you know what has caused this cataclysm and remains reticent about it in interviews too, but he has mentioned once in an interview for the road about the Supervolcano in Yellowstone park "It could explode in a thousand years... or next Monday" ....er, Gulp! :p. Some people think it was a Meteorite strike that had caused the burning of the world. What do you think??
     
  17. Gannon
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    Gannon Contributing Member Contributor

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    TO ALL: TO ADD SPOLIER TAGS enclose any sensitive text with [ spoiler ] AND [ /spoiler ] tags (without the spaces).

    1. In fiction, the idea of the journey is inextricably linked to ideas of progress, development and the attainment of the ideal. Is this true of The Road's journey?

    There is undoubtedly a journey, one that takes place on the road. The destination is fluid - reaching the ocean, moreover that to stagnate would likely be to perish. This perpetual motion is unnatural to modern man. The nomadic qualities of life are lost to most, farming put pay to it in most cases. The Road regresses its characters and does so over a frightening short time scale. And there is still an ideal, just not the classic ideal of American literature - this time it's pure survival.

    2. Neither of the main characters are named. What, in your opinion, are the reasons for this?

    Twofold IMO. One for economy. In such an environment names become surplus to requirements, excess when there is room for none. And two, that the author likely wanted to make the tale a universal one - a struggle for survival not just for his characters, but for Man as a whole. This anonymity helps his cause.

    3. Do you find the ending of The Road to be optimistic or pessimistic about human nature?

    Neutral. If the knight in armour is to be believed then it shows that Man need not succomb to his most base instincts in adversity, and that along with the father, they are a manifestation of Man's potential and humanity. Yet, as the father has died, and everything is still so literally grey, and we have little to trust in the newcomer we are inclined to think pessimistically. Actually, I think there could be religious nuaunces to the finale. Only with faith can we view the ending optimistically - this I think could clearly be read religiously.

    4. McCarthy's style is unmistakable. What are its key features, and how, in this case, do they affect the story?

    His minimal style works well in this novel. It's almost apocalyptic itself, stripped of institutionalised function and rendered economical to the point of being bleak. It may not work so well in other settings, but here the lack of speech marks, as well as other forms of punctuation revert the reading back to one of economy. Just as there is no need for names in this world, there is no need for formal stylistics.

    Having no cause for the events means the focus is on the now, just as it would be for the characters. What had been would be of little interest to them. There is no need to know the why in this instance, as the what is the more compelling, and often is under-represented in fiction. The author addresses this balance with rather unique vision. Also, again, it provides a universality to the text - no matter the cause - and there could be many - this could be the result. It's a warning as much as a case for survival.
     
  18. arron89
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    arron89 Banned

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    1. In fiction, the idea of the journey is inextricably linked to ideas of progress, development and the attainment of the ideal. Is this true of The Road's journey?

    One of things I found quite interesting with this novel was the contradiction between the physical journey and the literary significance of 'the journey'. The characters are traveling throughout the whole novel, more or less, yet there really is no development. There is nothing to learn along the way, the characters change remarkably little, the Man maintaining his distrust of others, and the Boy more trusting throughout. The arrival at the coast proves an anticlimax, and has no didactic purpose. Even the death of the Man doesn't really change the sense of stasis (if anything it adds to it).

    But I suppose that's the point. At the beginning of the novel, the characters have been travelling for years. Their world has fallen apart, and everything this new world has to teach they've already learned. What we're seeing is not a complete journey, but the point at which the Boy comes to realise that he will be on the road for the rest of his life, and that nothing can or will change except to decline or decay. The meeting with the other family at the end seems to suggest some change or respite, but this is ultimately hollow and shortlived; we have already seen that even the most concrete, significant human relationships are powerless in this environment. There is nothing worth obtaining but survival, and no way to obtain it but to keep going on, endlessly.

    2. Neither of the main characters are named. What, in your opinion, are the reasons for this?

    I agree with Gannon's idea that names have become meaningless--I think this is in fact more or less stated by McCarthy in the novel--what use are names, or even words, when the things they signify have ceased to exist? I think this relates to the idea of defamiliarisation in the novel--things that we should recognise and be able to name are now unnameable, unknowable, nonexistant. You could push this idea further and see the process as a kind of un-colonisation. When a group of people happen upon a new environment or new people, the first thing they do (linguistically) is to assign names to things. After this apocalyptic event, the process is reversed, and word by word the language is erased (this has obvious implications for the significance of McCarthy's extremely sparse minimalism).

    I also agree that the namelessness of the main characters elicits a kind of universality. In fact, I would go further and say that McCarthy is deliberately trying to evoke a sense of the mythic, to make this a "new" archetypal story for, as one critic put it, the global warming generation.
     
  19. thirdwind
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    Do you find the ending of The Road to be optimistic or pessimistic about human nature?

    I see it as optimistic, although I am making a leap of faith here. For all we know, the boy could be in danger. But the ending is ambiguous precisely for this reason. I agree with what Gannon has said. How one views the ending depends a great deal on the reader's beliefs. A religious person might see the ending as optimistic. But if one judges the ending by the rest of the book, then there is evidence that all is not well for the boy. I truly think it could go either way.

    I will add my thoughts on the other questions a bit later.
     
  20. hiddennovelist
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    hiddennovelist Contributing Member Contributor

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    I just picked The Road up after work today, so I'm not very far in, but this is one thing that I was going to comment on. When I first started reading, the lack of quotation marks and the bare bones style of writing threw me off a little, but as I got into the story, it really started to fit with what was going on. I think McCarthy's style of writing really enhances the story he's telling.
     
  21. arron89
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    arron89 Banned

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    Still two weeks left in July, so its not too late to join in, post your thoughts, comments, discuss, etc...

    Also, if anyone's keen for another book next month, we need suggestions...
     
  22. Chudz
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    Chudz Contributing Member

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    I read "The Road," roughly two years ago.

    For me, it was very bleak yet moving. We get to see some of the worst of humanity, meaning cannibalism, as well as some of the best. By the best, I mean a father's absolute and undying love for his child. It begs the question as to what each of us would do, or be willing to do, if such a scenario arose. Truly an introspective piece.

    I'm curious to see what people that have read the book thought about the movie.

    As far as books in the future, and I'm not sure if either of these have been mentioned before, I'll nominate "American Gods" by Neil Gaiman, or "The Lemon Tree" by Sandy Tolan.
     
  23. hiddennovelist
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    hiddennovelist Contributing Member Contributor

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    I have to agree about the book being bleak yet moving. It's interesting that even with such a bare-bones style of writing, McCarthy was able to pack so much emotion into the main character. It hurts my heart a little bit, feeling what he must be feeling toward his son...it's incredible to me that we as readers are able to feel that emotion from such simple writing.
     
  24. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    2. Is it significant that The Road takes place in America?

    This is an interesting question. America is one of the most dominant/powerful countries in the world, and it could be argued that its destruction in the book is a warning that even the most powerful are susceptible to decay and destruction. On the other hand, the fact that it is set in America could simply be because the author is American. There's always the danger of over-interpreting something, so I don't want to jump to any conclusions.

    But to answer the question more specifically, I don't think it matters where the book is set. It could have taken place in any other country, and it would have had the same impact. As I said before, there's always the temptation to look for things that aren't there, and had the book been set in another country, we would probably try to extract some kind of meaning from that as well. I'm leaning toward the view that the book is set in America simply because McCarthy is American.
     
  25. hiddennovelist
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    hiddennovelist Contributing Member Contributor

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    This is something that I really struggled with while I was reading. I was so wrapped up in their journey, to the point where when they would start exploring a new area or when they thought someone was following them, it made me really anxious. But at the same time, I knew that no matter how badly I wanted to discover a happy ending by the last page, it wasn't going to happen. With The Road, there is a whole lot of journey, but not much in terms of progress. It was difficult to separate the two in my mind.

    I will say, though, that while there wasn't any physical progress, in terms of their situation, I think the son made a lot of emotional progress by the end of the story.
     

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