On January 5, 2008, The Guardian published an extensive and incredible list called 50 people who could save the planet. A part of this list of 50 brilliant personalities is Cormac McCarthy, the legendary author of the book The Road.
This book brings a sense of urgency to understand issues concerning the repercussions of extreme destruction of the environment and the plundering of earth’s resources. Although the context of the story is imaginary, the aftermath humans on planet earth would face, if there was no food, no vegetation, no electricity or water and an almost insignificant presence of animal life, is heart-rending. The book may be a work of fiction; however, the story’s hues and imagery could facilitate and encourage pro-activity and preservation of Planet Earth. Succeeding passages elucidate this further.
The story and writing style
The writing style is terse and immaculate and because of the storyline it is also tense. Like a taut wire, stretched to its limit, the story will place a reader on tenterhooks, ready or perhaps, unready to react to any situation soon to reveal itself.
Some rules of writing are broken, as can be done only by a writing virtuoso. The protagonists do not have names, except for one man encountered on a journey. There are no names to support dialogues either. If a loop of dialogues is lost while reading, then one must return to the previous lines, to cognize who exactly says what. Dialogues in the novel are not held within quotes. Some parts in terms of language and descriptions are similar to an earth-curtailed, but this terseness is eloquent and is pertinent to the story.
The characters in the story are numbered—not unusual in a desolate scenario where, ash layers water bodies, broken structures accumulate, but do not accommodate, macadam roads lead to nowhere, falling trees ravage their surroundings, landscapes, wrought by the wrath of an apocalypse, offer no hope, all sorts of despoiled remains accost in silence, and ghosts of a green past—shape the immediate environment.
Given the setting of a violated earth, a story unravels itself. Post an apocalypse, in an unspecified location, most probably somewhere in the United States, a father and son head south to the coast, in order to survive the loss of vegetation and animal life, a barren and ashen landscape and unfettered cannibalism. Limp pages of a tattered map, what once were the states, are in the hands of the man. The map helps them, head south. As says the man to the boy, pointing out the mapping: “We follow the road along the eastern slope of the mountain.”
The state roads shown on the map, offer them a choice to carve a path to their destination. They hope to escape the cannibalistic chaos and survive the winters—by heading to the sea, which the boy imagines as blue, having never seen it before, as part of the beautiful world that once was, before the catastrophe.
The Road is a story of their journey through the murk of gloomy lifelessness and the horrors of inhumanity. It is a chronicle of their encounters upon this ocean of derelict land—storms breaking in the mountains, a rundown truck upon a bridge running over a dark river; charred and butchered human bodies, the burnt remains of a baby and also an underground hideout where alive human beings are immured by a group of cannibals. Apart from these, there are, however, also some sudden dulcet moments for the duo.
Most importantly, The Road is a story of a relationship between a father and a son; it is a portrayal of a father’s mission to protect his child, one who was once abandoned by a distraught mother. A quest for survival is now their destiny and it leads them to the coast, looking for a new beginning. There are many aspects that we can learn from The Road in relation to the value of our planet and the following passages explicate some such learning.
A fictional prediction
The author’s prediction, although completely fictional, presents to us reflections of a possible futuristic truth. What if there was mass destruction of planet earth, or the depletion of resources, on a large scale, due to a calamity of some sort or as a result of more insidiously occurring reasons. No technology, no electricity, no animals, no birds, no food, no greenery, no basic amenities, an ash-superimposed state of life, a murky environment, a burnt and charred earth, forests on fire, blackened and undrinkable water, cadaver-strewn land, could be some of the events perpetuated as a consequence.
Blanched faces and yellowing life, everywhere, shriveled nature, weathering forms, destruction en-mass and a merciless environ, would settle like a melanized veil upon the planet. Irrespective, we do not know what to really expect in the far future. Natural cataclysms cannot be stopped; perhaps, they could be diverted, or avoided. Moreover, man’s own follies, could lead to sufferings and destruction. A prediction of this nature, albeit immersed in fiction, has nevertheless, lessons aplenty for generations to come.
The Road presents an image of a man’s fight for survival, in a post-apocalyptic scenario. In the book, for the father, his son was, “Glowing in the waste like a tabernacle.” The man has to save himself and his son, a son in whom he sees a god, who is perhaps also to him, a gateway to a sublime future.
They have limited resources at the onset. Their knapsacks, a cart, a pistol with only two rounds of fire are some of their meagre resources on their journey upon the back roads. The father and son forage for food every day, food, which has been left behind, by marauders, or by owners; they search out drinkable water; they build a fire, every night, to keep the cold at bay and they protect themselves from communities that have forgotten humanity.
The learning from this book that perhaps many could absorb is the essentiality of nature, of life and its resources. Dearth of water and food would have serious effects on living conditions and things could spiral out of control. The author of the novel has a kind heart and in a fictional setting, the father and son, always find some food or some other resource. A similar outcome cannot be assured, if something similar were to happen in real. Valuing resources, therefore, is all-important.
Repercussions post an apocalypse
Even in reality, an annihilation of the existing functional system could take place as happens in the story. Also, in The Road, in a lawless land—only survival has significance, all else, are just memories—whispers of an abundant past that circle the air and then evaporate into the atmosphere. In the book, humans are hunted as food; human beings are stored as cattle, to be consumed as meat. Only the few good communes that remain in the story do not resort to cannibalism. Clean drinking water is also no longer available.
As in the novel, the reader has an additional array of unfolding scenes to perceive: “Melted car tyres, melted window glasses, incinerate corpses, ancient ships, dead-windfalls of pine trees and wreckage of buildings.” These are only some of the imagery constructed for the readers, to understand the extent of the damage. Snow, rainfalls and a toxic shrouding only make matters worse. “Skeins of wire from the roadside poles garbled like knitting,” and also, “The road was littered with debris,” are quotes from the book, which furthermore elaborate.
Consequently, most ruins from the past—broken structures and tracks, corroded vehicles and frameworks, discoloured humans, dismembered skeletons of history and numerous other remnants behave as unwanted bridges that connect the present to the past. If such an apocalypse were to occur in real, everything would be in tatters, only survival would be basal. Therefore, the novel sets out, indirectly to expose the multifarious possibilities of extreme lack, degradation and violence, post a disaster of unimaginable proportions.
Appreciating Planet Earth
Lessons of appreciation for our planet, as it is now, are to be gleaned from the book. Turning attention to nature, flora and fauna, the environment; also, focusing on an overall careful and humane development of society, is crucial for everyone.
However, not just these resources, but all the facilities that ease living and enable growth and strengthen the system holistically, are essential. Therefore, they should also be appreciated and preserved, where necessary. Doing one’s bit—especially actions correlated to the judicious use of resources, wherever possible, like saving water, not wasting food and such, should become primary. Gratitude for the presence of natural resources is necessary, at all times and most activities of consequence will stem from that.
Several interpretations related to the environment and Planet Earth, intermingling with the story of the father and son can be derived from The Road—such as, do not await destruction, or catastrophe, to be propelled into an understanding and love for the planet, but nurture the seeds and fruits of nature, as have been given to us, to be enjoyed and also to be rescued where necessary, to be stored where needed and to be treated with tenderness and also to be left alone, when required.
Do not be a part of something that harms natural resources and impairs normal living conditions on planet earth. Use the resources of the planet sparingly—be it water or food or others. Nurture relationships too. Build law, understanding and humanity in the minds of children, for they are the future. A book such as The Road is a fictional analysis of the scope of danger human beings could be faced with, in reality, if something drastic were to happen.
Finally, books such as The Road are not merely storytelling masterpieces or literary chef d’oeuvre, but they also provide direction to allow for a better and more equipped future, for Planet Earth.
Writer’s Website: www.trishabhattacharya.com
Photo Credit: Image of the book cover of the novel The Road