The Road and FaulknerCormac McCarthy’s book The Road shows the link between William Faulkner and himself. This is especially true of the representative characteristics of the book compared to Faulkner’s Nobel Prize speech.
At least three distinct topics tie the two together. These are the depiction of the apocalypse, the characters of son and father, and the view of the optimistic future of man.First of all is how McCarthy treats, explains and describes the apocalypse. This is complicated because of the two different ways in which he sees it. The Faulkner view which The Road finally agrees with is that man won’t merely endure but will prevail, according to his Nobel speech. This is the most important view. However it is the second view shown by McCarthy’s book.
The first view of The Road is a more traditional version of the apocalypse. It becomes important to demonstrate this understanding through most of the novel. This is because it provides a great backdrop against which to contrast the final, more positive outlook. In most of the book the apocalypse makes its face known through negative imagery. There are many examples. Right away in the opening pages of The Road the book describes a dreamlike view from the man. Staring into a cave in his dream he sees, “A creature that raised its dripping mouth from the rimestone pool that stared into the light with dead eyes white and sightless” (4).
That is quite an apocalyptic view and it shows just how the man thinks things are going to go. This vision continues only pages later.The man now links the apocalypse to God, which again is a traditional connection. As a snowflake falls and then disappears, it is described as, “a gray snowflake that expired like the last of Christendom” (16).
This is hardly an inspiring thought and it shows the despair of the end of the world. Other images of this end are more philosophical.On page 160 the man carries on a conversation with the boy. He is actually responding to an interesting question that has been posed. The boy has asked if they still have long term goals. The man is surprised and wonders where the boy had heard that before. He is even more surprised when the boy said that he heard it from him once.
This shows two clear things about McCarthy’s book’s first vision of the apocalypse: first, it is about the absence of having needs for long term goals; second, it is the fact that the man cannot even remember having long term goals. All seems hopeless. But then there is the secondary and more important view of the apocalypse that ties The Road into the influence of Faulkner’s speech.This view is found in the very ending of the book. Everything changes with the man’s actual death. When he gets the chance to see that the end is near, he finally sees that it is not the end. The entire journey to death has been about continuing on. The man had endured throughout the entire book against suffering, starvation, and fear.
He never stopped struggling. It is never really clear why. He is facing death. The coast probably won’t have the salvation he hopes for. In other words the apocalypse is near. In the end the reason for his going on is found.
As he dies he instructs the boy to continue. As the boy is found and adopted by another family McCarthy’s reasoning is fulfilled. The boy doesn’t just endure; that is what he did with the man. Now the boy prevails, by renewing his struggle with another family. There is hope.This hope had originated with the boy.
So it is not really surprising that he continues the hope at the end of The Road. The son had much to teach his father about the nature of human goodness, even when the father didn’t really want to see it. Examples come from all over the book as they march onward to the sea.
Consider the examples involving the words good, goodness or god. These are all just variations of the same word and the same theme. Therefore it is a good place to start.
To return to the beginning of the story, the man is taking a minute to reflect on his son. He thinks, “If he [his son] is not the word of God, God never spoke” (5). He learned that the nature of human goodness does come from God himself. It is an inherent thing and this helps the man in some moments to try to see people beyond their situations. Then there is the word ‘good’. This word doesn’t come up very often in the story, so there must be something to learn from it when it does.
One of the places where it is used is when the father is again considering his son. “You’re doing good,” he says of the boy attempting to swim (39). This usage of the word cannot be an accident. It is the son, again, teaching his father about the goodness that is in people. This is inherent goodness – the kind that comes out when a person is just enjoying himself.
Even in times of trouble there is this thought of goodness, man, and relation to God. When the two become lost trying to get back to their makeshift camp, the man urges his boy to “pray for lightning” (234). Once more this shows the book’s consideration that there is goodness in man, and that goodness comes from God. That is the nature of man’s goodness. Yet there is even more about this nature that the boy teaches his father.The nature of human goodness is to share with others, the boy continually teaches. Even at the expense of their own limited supplies which mean the difference between life and death the boy wants to help others.
He sees it as a two way road. He empathizes by telling his father to see that other people’s situations are the exact same as theirs and that they are suffering too. This is shown in how the boy tried to find the other little boy he saw in the village and share “half his food” with him, despite the danger (84). How do we know that the son successfully taught his father this lesson? In the simple and brief episode later on down the road. The man actually feeds the old traveler that had been behind them (163). Though not much is made of this act, it is an obvious result of the generosity and goodness of human nature that the son had been demonstrating to his father.
This understanding shows, too, in some of the father’s words.The father describes his son as carrying the “light.” This light is the goodness and continuation of humanity. This comes about as the two are having a discussion around the fire and it becomes a metaphor. The father is telling the son to carry this fire, this light which will help the goodness of human nature to prevail. This is clearly called forth from William Faulkner and ties in to his ideals of humanity. One can hear Faulkner’s, “one who will some day stand here where I am standing” in the belief that the father has for his son’s ability to carry on after he is dead.
It is a very hopeful tone that begins to prepare the reader for the ending. It is an ending that is most unexpected.In the end the father is a hero. There is really no other way to look at it. Especially when one considers the influence of Faulkner upon this novel. The man doesn’t have to live to be a hero. He doesn’t even have to get his son to a predictably safe spot. Just because he doesn’t accomplish these two things does not make him a failed hero.
The father has helped his son to preserve goodness in the world. He has learned from his son, and taught his son in return, to continue on and not just to sit in one place. That results in the boy going on with the other ‘good guys’ in search of more road. That is the point. One doesn’t ever get to the end of the road.
It is all about living with goodness and humanity. This conclusion clearly makes the father a hero.Cormac McCarthy’s book The Road is related to William Faulkner’s view of the world and of man. When one read’s Faulkner’s Nobel Prize speech and then reads The Road it is easy to see how the influence is demonstrated. McCarthy’s description of the apocalypse, the interactions of the son and the father, and of course, the optimistic end all tie in to conclude that humanity is good and should continue being good rather than stagnant. The Road agrees with Faulkner’s speech by asserting, “I decline to accept the end of man.”ReferencesMcCarthy, Cormac. The Road.
New York: Vintage Books, 2006. Print.”William Faulkner – Banquet Speech”.
Nobelprize.org. 7 Jun 2010http://nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/literature/laureates/1949/faulkner-speech.html