‘He’, the man and ‘the boy’ are nameless. Why? Does their anonymity change the way we feel about the characters? Can we still care about them without names? Do they still have an identity without a name?
The anonymity of the two characters does not affect how I (as the reader) feel about them. What it does serve to do is to put the focus onto the situation in which they find themselves. The atmosphere is quite apparent even in such a relatively short extract, this is reinforced by the characters behavior, their watching of the road and the awareness of the potential need to run. In my opinion the two characters do still have identity without names, they dont need names whilst they have descriptors, over time their individual characters would emerge.
How can we tell they’re in danger? Are they fleeing the danger or do they expect to encounter it along the way? What sort of danger? Human? Animal? Elemental?
We can tell the two characters are in danger from a couple of references within the text. One is that the man is watching the road behind them, this implies that he expects danger from behind. The reference to him watching the road implies that the danger is to come from other humans. Animals and weather do not use roads, only humans would find that natural.
Another reference that alerts us to their potential peril is the idea that they have to be ready to abandon the cart and run away. This implies that peril could also lie along their route, maybe from bandits or outlaws.
More subtle references to the idea that they are in a hostile environment come from descriptions of the ‘gunmetal light’ and ‘shuffling through the ash’.
The chrome motorcycle mirror tells us the time is roughly contemporary. So whats happened to the rest of the recognisable contemporary world? Or is it a story set in the future? Post-apocalypse maybe?
To me the most likely scenario is that it is a post-apocalyptic environment such as in Mad Max. Other options could include refugees fleeing from a natural disaster. Humans really show their true colours when recognised infrastructure is destroyed, hence the looting which always follows newsworthy events. The two characters could potentially just be fleeing to safety from something like an earthquake or volcano eruption.
What makes me lean towards the post-apocalyptic scenario is the complete lack of mention of th wider world, the trudging through ash, the light being gunmetal grey and the two characters being described as ‘each the others world entire’.
They are alone. ‘The road was empty’. Where is everyone? Why are they scared if no-one is around? Because no-one is around? Because someone might be around?
If two characters are walking down a road with no people, and they are scared, it makes sense that they are scared about the potential of other people. Having previously established they they are unlikely to be fearing the arrival of an animal or the weather, that leaves other humans as the only potential issue. This could be relevant to the event that they find themselves involved with, the time of day they are travelling or even the territory that they are crossing.
There’s been some sort of disaster: ‘wasted country….dead reeds…shuffling through the ash… What sort of disaster might it be?
This could be a natural disaster such as post-wildfire or volcaneo eruption. It could be man made such as in the middle of a war zone or post-atomic bomb or even in a few decades time when overpopulation has destroyed the planet.
They’re on a journey with everything they own. Where are they going? Where have they come from?
When people move with everything they own in a manner like this then they are fleeing some kind of inhopsitable environment in search of some kind of sanctuary. We do not know anything more specific than that.
The road is mentioned three times in these few lines. It is also the title of the book. What does it symbolise?
The road symbolises the journey that these characters are on. This could prove to be a physical, emotional or metaphorical journey. This could prove to be a journey for the reader as well as the characters potentially?
Can you spot any poetic devices in this short passage? What effect do they have?
Looking at this passage I can immediatly see a couple of metaphors; ‘serpentine river’ and ‘gunmetal light’. I can only see the one simile ‘each others world entire’. These three poetic devices all add to the overall atmosphere, Particularly the ‘gunmetal’ light.I don’t know if this counts as a poetic device but the length of some of the sentences assists with the narrative effect. The short length of the sentences makes it feel more precise, more measured, more as though the two characters are moving with purpose rather than dawdling. The atmosphere is definitely one of motion and survival rather than static contentment.
What other stylistic language choices does McCarthy make and why? Why might he not punctuate speech?
I’m not sure what the question means by ‘punctuate speech’. I think it means, why did he not use punctuation in the line which contains speech? Possibly the lack of speech marks? If that is the case then I would suggest that it’s potentially to keep the reading of the piece quite smooth? When a character speaks it normally brings all attention from the atmosphere onto whatever the character is talking about, if this is not the intent of the author then that could be a reason why he has not punctuated speech?
If the question means why is the scene not punctuated by more speech then that is easier to answer. In relatively few words the author has created a strong moody atmosphere, interrupting this with a conversation would certainly detract from the sense of place already generated.
What features give us a sense of where we are? How does McCarthy create a post-apocalyptic world? Would the impact be the same if he were to remove the man and the boy? Look carefully at the imagery, for example the grey ‘serpentine of the river’ and ‘the gunmetal light’. What is it about the choice of metaphor that creates a sense of danger? What does the serpentine symbolise? Think biblical perhaps. What effect will biblical and religious imagery, themes and symbols have in this genre of writing?
There are a couple of descriptive lines which give us a sense of where we are. The main setting is a road, this is mentioned several times within the text. We are in the middle of nowhere, no discernible features of human life. This is shown by the road being empty, and when the man does look around, it is into the valley at the serpentine river below. The mention of a valley and a river further generates thoughts of being in the countryside,though a devastated countryside as it is described both as ‘wasted country’ and of our characters trudging through ‘ash’.
McCarthy creates a post-apocalyptic world by referring to the emptiness around the characters, the absence of life and the absence of colour. A gunmetal grey light could be put down to it being near twilight, but to be trudging through ash, that puts a more apocalyptic twist onto the events.
If McCarthy were to remove the man and the boy the effect would not be the same. Reading about a dead, dangerous environment with no people might be a little interesting but nowhere near as engaging as knowing that this in the environment that our characters are stuck inside. The reader can relate to the characters, natural human empathy makes the reader want any character in danger to survive and triumph after defeating their obstacles. A character having to engage with a hostile environment is interesting, that hostile environment by itself is not.
The use of imagery and word choice such as ‘gunmetal’ and ‘serpentine’ makes the whole scenario lean toward that of life and death. A gun as a weapon is not a tool of negotiation. Serpentine, snake, leads back to the story of the garden of Eden where the snake lured Eve astray. Ever since the snake has been associated with distrust, lies, and in some countries, death. Serpentine in this use further adds to the impression that this environment is hostile to our characters and not somewhere that they should linger.
It is a common theme in apocalyptic films and series for there to be a lot of religious and biblical themes and symbols. The Old Testament was full of all the sex and violence that even Hollywood can only aspire to. Biblical symbols are always bigger, cruder and somehow more to the point which makes them ideal for inclusion.
What’s the prose style like? Are the sentences long or short? Are they rhythmic or choppy or stark? What impact does this have? Is the language complex or simple? Often the more dramatic or dark a piece is, the more simple and stripped back the prose. Why might this be? What would be the effect of more flowing, colourful and detailed prose?
The sentences within this extract are all quite short. I would have expected this approach to make it choppy but instead I find it quite smooth to read. I do find that it contributes to the sense of danger of the situation. As a reader I am very aware that these characters are moving with purpose, they are focused and on the alert for further danger.
Stripping back the prose sets the tone of the piece. If it was more flowing and colourful in the descriptions of the wasted land or serpentine river then attention is drawn from the main focus of the extract, the place and situation that our characters find themselves in.
This works well in conjunction with using simple language. We are frequently told at work that if we want someone to understand a message then to use as simple language as is possible. Using simple language will further aid the reader in being able to focus purely on the situation being described in the text, the plight of the characters.
How does it all make you feel?
I feel like I’m on the side of the man and boy characters features. Within this short excerpt I have already brought into their story, I want to know why they are on the road, what they are running from and wether they actually have a plan.
The environment that they are in feels hostile to me, it feels like there has been some kind of a disaster and that society has broken down. It seems as though they are surrounded by devastation but if they are still walking then they still have hope. I always love cheering for an underdog, and these two look like they fit the bill perfectly!