Most people seem to assume that the man and the boy are travelling across America. The Wikipedia article about "The Road" states that the story takes place in the "Southeastern United States", which would imply that the coast they eventually reach is either the Atlantic Ocean or the Gulf of Mexico.
However, the only clues I remember from the novel were vague references to England and Spain, so it seems to me that the man and the boy were probably traveling through Europe. Did I read a different version than everyone else?
One hint in the book I recall was when the man and his father came across a barn with the sign "See Rock City" painted on the tin roof. Rock City is in Tennessee and barns in the southeast in surrounding states and Tennessee itself sport this sign I believe.
Also, they find the larder of naked people on an old plantation. The text states that human chattel used to serve drinks on the patio or something to that effect. And there's a canebreak at the edge of the property, bordering the road. That'd be sugar cane which grows in the south.
It does take place in the Appalachian south. In fact the novel just about hands you a road map, if you know the region well enough. It begins in southeastern Kentucky, progresses south through Knoxville (where the man and boy cross the Gay Street Bridge over the Tennessee River), follows the highway from Knoxville through Gatlinburg (the "resort town" they pass through), over the crest of the Smoky Mountains, past the waterfall where the boy takes his frigid shower (the warning sign in the novel is there too) and down to the Atlantic Ocean somewhere near Wrightsville Beach. I've driven nearly this entire route with Wes Morgan, a retired U of Tennessee professor and historian of the region, and checked off items in the novel as we visited them.
I agree with you. The sign "See Rock City" indicates they were passing through what would have been Chattanooga, Tennessee. The book obviously takes place in the southeastern US. I thought it ended in Florida, but I'm not sure. The previous poster seems more knowledgeable than I about that.
It was clearly the eastern US. The slavery reference on the plantation made that clear. I felt like they got to one of the Carolina's or Georgia because they wanted to keep heading south after they got to the coast. In the end, I don't think their location really matters. It isn't that relevant to the point of the book.
It may not be in the U.S. If you freeze frame the DVD, you can see names that seem very English to me. Maybe somewhere in Britain or Australia? Or perhaps it's just a fake so as not to create this sort of discussion?
On the director's commentary it is mentioned that the map isn't actually a map of anyplace "real" - it is a hodgepodge of cities and topography created to give the viewer a sense that the movie is happening in an ambiguous part of the USA
As Rick Wallach aptly pointed out, (I believe) it's the southeastern US, although I'm not sure about it starting in SE Kentucky (where I lived for 6 years). I got the impression that they started their journey somewhere near McCarthy's boyhood home in south Knoxville, TN. Then, they went ESE along US Hwy 442, through Gatlinburg (resort town) and over Newfound Gap (at approx. 5,000 ft, as the book stated) on the TN - NC state line. Continuing SE, I got the impression from the descriptions in the book that they eventually hit the coast somewhere south of Charleston, SC.
Also, as stated elsewhere in this thread, the map that was shown in the movie was not a map of any real places. I too freeze-framed that scene and it's just a bunch of made-up place names. But, the map did look pretty similar to the eastern part of SC, around the Charleston / Port Royal area.
I am originally from the East Tennessee area and the book most defiantly takes place in the area of East Tennessee and Western North Carolina. As others have mentioned the "resort town" is almost certainly Gatlinburg and the city near his childhood home is Knoxville, TN. He also mentions "The Foothills" of the eastern mountains and the only place in the Eastern part of the United States that is specifically known as "The Foothills" is Eastern Tennessee, Western North Carolina and Northwestern South Carolina.
As for "The Gap" I took that as possibly being the Cumberland Gap because the way he described it made me think it was a major landmark. However, the problem with this theory is that the Cumberland Gap sits a little further east from Knoxville and Gatlinburg and that would have them starting somewhere in Kentucky and going through East Tennessee down into North Carolina while completely by passing Knoxville and Gatlinburg.
I also got the impression that the coast they reach is somewhere between Wilmington, North Carolina and Charleston, South Carolina.
In addition to really enjoying the book, I thought the movie was equally as enjoyable and stayed pretty true to the book for the most part. However, I wish they had filmed the movie in these locations.
"The country went from pine to live oak and pine. Magnolias. Trees as dead as any." That is certainly GA, south GA probably. Or as others have said, Charleston or Savannah area. Not much difference in location really
Excellent, living in the West (never visited the east) the route was a total guess to me, but the road/roads taken by charactors intriqued me. Following the clues via the book and a map, I determined the starting point as somewhere in the northeast, destination Gulf of Mexico. The main clue is the 5000 foot pass, which I figured was a mtn pass (about 5200 feet) near mt. Mitchell, NC, the highest point east of the Mississippi. Appreciate your insights, good effort, confirms my conjecture was partly correct.
In the movie, when they arrive on the coast, they open the map. The map seems to have fake city names, but the coastal line suggests it's Corpus Christie, southeastern Texas. I got lucky Google-ing "Edna", one real city I saw on their map, and I was able to match it with the location. Try it out. It's about 1:16 into the movie.