Nuclear war? Asteroid strike? Global climate catastrophe?
I've got my bet on asteroid strike. The book mentions a glow on the horizon before the world ends, but there doesn't appear to be a lot of radiation... The boy would have definitely been sick if it had been a global nuclear war. That's what I love about this book - you're given very few clues.
The fact that they saw a glow on the horizon means it couldn't have been a nuclear bomb because they would have died from radiation sickness. I think it was an asteroid strike because of the gray skies and ash.
Good question. I was assuming, given the state of the world, a nuclear war but you are probably right. So - if we manage to avoid killing ourselves, we will likely be done in by somthing completely out of our control.
It may not be a nuclear apocalypse, but I definitely think it's man made. Mccarthy references the decline of civilization prior to the event--that is the first clue. The "deranged chanting" on the ridges. The "screams of the murdered." The second is when the clocks stop at 1:17, the wife asks, "What is it?"--if a comet/asteroid large enough to cause a planetary extincition were to hit us, astronomers would have seen it coming. When it was close enough it might possibly be seen by the naked eye.
I think it's definitely a man made apocalypse and the fact that it's unspecified suggests our ingenuity in creating weapons of death. It may be something new.
I'm not sure what it is, and McCarthy is right not to spell it out. I think it might be that monster volcano in Yellow Stone. That explains the ash, the darkness,and the lack of radiation (the world's been through that one before).
As to the 'murdered' and the 'chanting', I think that all of that came after the Big Disaster; this was people's reaction to it.
A series of sudden and violent volcano eruptions that spew huge amounts ash into the air for years would eventually block the sun. Don't forget everyone and everything didn't die at once. So it could be a natural disaster.
Well he left it ambigious on purpose obviously but he had something in his mind because he's a detail oriented writer. I'm 100% convinced it was an asteroid strike. The clock stopped at 1:17, cracking sounds, light on the horizon. The ash and freezing temperatures all seem consistent with the same kind of extinction level event that wiped out the dinasours. I think if you re-read the section about 'deranged chanting' etc it's after the event occured. Finally per the Discovery channel astronomers would very likely not see an asteroid coming at the southern hemisphere and from the direction of the sun.
I agree that Mr. McCarthy does not offer too many answers in his novels, and I rather like that. It's reassuring to read a work by an author who isn't preoccupied with laying out answers to every question that is raised within the framework of a story.
In regard to Americans and the variegate artistic mediums with which we pass our time, it's insulting when artists - whether they be writers, filmmakers, musicians, etc. - feel it necessary to speak to us as if we have had our brains extricated from our bodies. Such practices are simplistic and false. After all, the world and what we've made of it is far more complex than is often revealed.
And too many Americans, it seems, have bought into such fallacies. One need only look at the recent culmination of the series, The Sopranos. It was a show during which the creator and co. dealt with situations in a realistic manner. Sometimes there was closure to certain conflicts, and sometimes there was not. It was rather like life in that way. Of course, many people were furious when the show concluded in much the same way. It was as if they were expecting something commercial from a show that had been, throughout its course, anything but.
Mr. McCarthy, though detailed in his narration - and, in the case of The Road, he both succeeded and failed in this endeavor - never explains every element inherent in the stories he writes. Often he does not explain his characters' actions for the fact that the characters - like many a human being - do not themselves always realize the reason for their behavior.
We have been programmed to believe that every conflict provides an answer. In Mr. McCarthy's world, such is not often the case.
In regard to The Road, my question wasn't so much about what had happened. What was of interest was how those who had survived it dealt with and responded to it. A cataclysm is, after all, just that. Logic, it seems, does not often apply, for there is no central or singular answer that would be able to adequately explain the source and result of such vast destruction.
That said, I was not convinced nor much impressed with the characters in the novel. The prose was so minimalistic, his execution of the characters so vague, as to leave one thinking that he was not so much writing a novel as he was writing and releasing for publication the notes for a novel or a screenplay that had yet to be written.
Mr. McCarthy has used this minimalistic approach in other novels, and in them he did so with a greater degree of success. I am thinking primarily of No Country for Old Men and Child of God. Though the characters and their stories were by no means simple, the sharp, declarative prose which he employed in describing their lives did not negate the weight and worth of the characters themselves. I saw the characters in those novels as human, full-blooded, and real. They had flaws as well as attributes. They were idiosyncratic. They were never once presented as one-dimensional, cut-and-dry constructs.
In The Road, however, he met this same element with less success. His prose and execution was so sparse as to be sadly vague. Almost banal. These were things I'd not found within the pages of a Cormac McCarthy novel before. True, his dialogue has often been minimal in tone and in length, often replicating the way people generally speak to one another. However, in The Road, the dialogue was repetitious and scarce to such a degree that the characters themselves could not shoulder the weight of being real, full-blooded human beings. They seemed rendered less realistic to me and more the puppets put through the staged traces of their creator's imagination.
Henry James wrote - I'm paraphrasing - that character is conflict, and vice versa. It's often how people enter a novel or a film or a TV show: they connect, in ways both personal and universal, with the characters. In order to do so, however, the characters must be rendered in a way that is credible. The man and the boy in The Road had glimmers of this, but Mr. McCarthy seemed always to shy away from this precipice of character just when one thought he might very well finally be ready to exude the power and knowledge evident in a good number of his other novels.
So, the fact that Mr. McCarthy does not name the reason for the catastrophe didn't interest me so much. What did interest me, however, was the fact that he never allowed the characters to come more fully alive. The desolate tundras of ash and blackened wildlife and utter despair, it may safely be said, were more than given representation. The characters, sadly, were not.
It was this about which I thought while reading the novel. The simplistic notion of good guys and bad guys is not, I feel, worthy of Cormac McCarthy characters. He's never done that before, opting instead for the truth when aiming the laser beam of his discernment and observation on human beings. He even did this in what may be called one of his strangest and most arcane novels, Blood Meridian, Or the Evening Redness in the West. Of course, the fact that he had taken the legend of the West and demythologized it in that novel had more than a little to do with his execution of the characters. It was a matter of stripping away from stereotypes the residual gloss that history and myth had given them, and leaving us with a melange of characters who thus could not be easily labelled or excused.
I do wish he had done the same with The Road, for if he had, this novel might just have attained more honestly the mantle of masterpiece that so many have proclaimed it to be.
I'm going with the Bomb theory, the absence of ubiquitious radiation poisoning notwithstanding. People incinerated in their cars outside of a large city (my money is on Jacksonville) is too localized and seems to point to something along the lines of conflict. The red glow seen in the far distance by the man and woman without some deafening report or concussion (Krakatoa was the loudest "boom" ever heard by humans, supposedly, heard thousands of miles away) ultimately reaching them makes me doubt the asteroid scenario and the "Yellowstone super volcano" scenario seems like a stretch. There was melted glass running down the sides of "skewed" skyscrapers at one point. If we're talking about a city in the deep South, that's mighty far away for the heat of a pyroclastic cloud to have affected them. The earthquake ("like a train running underground") does suggest non-war causes, though enough megatons could possibly trigger siesmic changes, I suppose. It's all kind of academic.
As far as the two-dimensional characters are concerned, I would be greatly surprised if anyone left after the type of holocaust McCarthy describes would have anything other than a "flat affect" with the million-yard stare. What made the father "who he is" in The Road was his past, which, at the point we encounter him, was practically irrelevant, only slightly less so than the "future." In McCarthy's world, resumes and epitaphs are meaningless.
I thnk some of the other posts argue strongly for nuclear war.
Regardless of the cause, and even though I really liked the book from a literary point of view, the absolute lack of life of any kind, while some people remain to wander around 8-12 years after the catastrophe (the approximate age of the boy), is not scientifically plausible. If the fire and radiation were enough to kill ALL plant and animal life in land as well as sea, then all people would have also been exterminated as well.
A post in one of the other discussions commented on the fresh apples the man and boy found. The man ate the apples, seeds and all. Those presumably weren't the only seeds anywhere on earth. When the man was on the boat he described mold on something. They found mushrooms under the ashes. He collected seeds from bales of hay in a barn. It still rains. Wouldn't some seeds somewhere have sprouted, and by ten years wouldn't there be grass again all over the place, not to mention apple trees? What about worms and other creatures that live under the ground? What about bats in caves?
you need photosynthesis for plants to live. Grass wouldn't grow back under the ashclouds as the sun could not penetrate.
It may be very well that the "asteroid" could've hit close enough to cause firestorms, etc., Hence the melted glass, people burned in their cars.....But again, the phrase of "godspoke" men who took the world with them lends a nod to the "nuclear winter" theory.
I don't think it matters what the cause was. Think about this, if G-land ice shelf collapses (will happen with 15-30 years), creating 1 billion refugees world wide, civilization will collapse just as surely as if we were hit by an asteroid, or nuclear war. Or when peak oil causes mass deforestation (already happening) and disruption of supply chains of food, this will be the result. No doubt, people will do anything to feed themselves. Just look at Darfur. This is the future.
Well, that was my first post to an Amazon discussion group. It is slightly off topic, and maybe I should create a new topic "scientific plausibility of The Road".
But let me first respond to Roger and Ed: Yes, we very well may be on the way a global disaster within the next century, either through global warming or nuclear holocaust. And, yes, we could get hit by an asteroid in the next [fill in the blank with a period of time, but probably not hour, day, or week, or we would know it is coming].
But there is a paradox about life: although such catastrophes have caused and will again cause mass extinction of a majority of species of life, at the same time life as a whole is extremely diverse and resilient. When the asteroid caused the extinction of the dinosaurs 65 MYA, small mammals were already living under the dark clouds and ashes, and lived to take over as the dominant vertebrate land animals. Life forms have been found in the most seemingly hostile environments on Earth, such as geothermal vents at mid-ocean ridges and extremely acidic environments. While photosynthesis is indeed required for green plants, the novel does not describe complete darkness. Some plants thrive in minimal sunlight. Seeds can survive for years under the right conditions. I still contend that ten years after whatever disaster preceded the events of The Road, SOME form of life would have re-emerged from the ashes, unless the disaster was so complete as to have killed off ALL life, including all human beings.
I, for the most part, agree with Ted and had the same thoughts. The only thing I guess that explains it is that, due to all the ash and storms and whatever, there seem to be a lot of thunderstorms, which seem to create a lot of lightning, which seems to keep setting fire to everything. This not only keeps the ash filling the skies, but it also keeps burning all the plantlife.
Of course, once a forest burns I'm not so sure it can really burn again until new stuff grows, even if struck by lightning, so you'd think by now the fires would have calmed a bit and the sky would be clearing and maybe some low-light plants would be thriving with the lack of competition, but who knows.
The survivors in the book are not the survivors of the initial event. They are the survivors at the 8 to 12 year mark depicted in the story. The fact that there is so little to be picked through for survival needs indicates huge numbers of survivors after the initial event. All of the readily avialable consumable were gone in a short time and cannabilism has been something the boy has been aware of for a long time. The possible cataclysmic event is not really important to the story, however a few that have not been mentioned are aliens, biological or even the wrath of god. This is a bleak depressing book. The only beauty in the book is the love of a father and his son for each other and the son's effort to keep a spark of humanity glowing in his father.
It was obviously a nuclear war. There is a paragraph in the book that describes the events as the electricity going out (which would be caused by the electromagnetic pulse of the nuclear weapons) then a series of low booms (which would be the actual nuclear bombs exploding). In my opinion there is no other explanation.
It really doesn't matter what caused this setting. Perhaps thermonuclear war. Perhaps it occurs in a world or future where weapons of mass destruction do not infect the world with much lingering radiation. It doesn't matter. The book isn't about that. I understand the interest in speculation, but ultimately it doesn't matter.
This is the setting McCarthy needed to tell this story. It worked.
I would offer a friendly challenge to those who call these characters one dimensional to count again or explain their thoughts with more clarity. I found the characters to be extremely multi-dimensional and interesting.
Imagine being a survivor on a scarred Earth with your child. Your utmost desire is the same as it was when you lived in a colonial with a mini-van... to raise your child to be a happy and healthy adult. But the challenge to achieve that desire is now far more complicated. Maybe even hopeless. So hopeless that you have taught your child how to commit suicide... for his own good.
But you can't give up. So you face your immediate challenge... getting south... in the hopes of warmth and survival. you've spent the last few years too far north with depleting supplies and marauding cannibals and your spouse has killed herself in despair.
Watch as this man stuggles to hold on to his humanity and his son's respect while he makes the hard and desparate decisions that will keep his son alive. This primal struggle strips the human condition to its core. These characters are teeming with dimensions. One, two, three? This father and son are revealed by their struggle to have uncountable dimensions.
A truly beautiful story about the only thing that ever matters in any story... meaning. The man has no reason for hope. He has no reason to journey on. He has no reason to suffer when the escape of a bullet would end the misery.
And yet, there is a moment when the boy smiles on the beach watching the flare gun.
A smile from one's child.
A moment worth a lifetime of struggle and misery.
To find that moment in a polluted timestream of hellish misery... that takes a hero. In fact, it takes two of them.