Winner of the 2007 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, The Road takes place several years after an apocalyptic event (nuclear war?, meteorite? – it doesn’t really matter) has left the planet cold, dark, empty, and dangerous. There is no color, little sound. Nothing flies in the sky. Everything is covered with ash and is either dead or dying. Cannibalistic bands of “bad guys” prey on the weak. If you are familiar with the TV series Firefly, imagine the Reavers run amok in a world of black and grey, any feeling of hope long since abandoned.
Against this backdrop of death and despair, a man and his son make their way along a road in an effort to reach “the sea”. Why they want to reach the sea is unknown, both to themselves and to the reader; but this is a world were reason no longer applies. In visualizing their journey, I was reminded of the scene in Fantasia where the dinosaurs are walking through the desert at the end of their era. Not really going anywhere, just going until they die.
Thus do the man and boy move down the road, pushing their belongings along in a shopping cart; their journey and existence held together by simple love, and the base human faith that things will somehow be better “over there”. The door to the human condition is not closed completely at the end of the novel. The ending is sufficiently ambiguous for the reader to write his or her own conclusion to the world described by McCarthy; a conclusion that could vary, depending upon mood and circumstance.