Many literary critics agree that Cormac McCarthy is one of the premier contemporary fiction writers. He is known for his bleak, stripped-down writing style, evading punctuation and disregarding convention of spelling. His view of the world is perceptibly dark, as seen through his novels, and the violence and lawlessness that permeates his writing reflects a troubled yet caring understanding of his world. In two of his greatest works, Blood Meridian and The Road, McCarthy stages his tales in a bleak, post-apocalyptic world to tell two stories which, while sharing many atmospheric elements take two different approaches to essentially the same setting. Both in character and use of language, McCarthy deftly weaves two stories that dance around their shared, bleak, apocalyptic settings with a stunning dissimilarity.
The Road tells the story of a man and his son traversing a vastly abandoned road with no purpose other than that basest need—survival. Throughout the novel it becomes clear that this survival, at least until the very end, is motivated by mutual commitment between the father and son. Perseverance, driven by the code of the “fire” imbued by the father seems to be their only option. The title of the novel is no coincidence—the road represents their journey forward in a time and place in which forward action seems futile and naïve. Certainly, the cannibalistic gangs that have assumed control of the road share no such ethos. McCarthy, then, seems to be arguing that while much of humanity requires little impetus to revert to animalistic behavior, the positivistic perseverance driving the man and the boy is another possibility.
The Road is immediately striking in its toned-down language, describing a catastrophic world while maintaining horrifying concision. The work is filled with pithy yet heavily philosophical jabs-- “Where men can't live gods fare no better”, and “There is no God and we are his prophets”, giving the man and the boy an almost divine quality. The sentences are short but packed with meaning; the metaphors are rich but accessible on first read.
The lack of color and the bleakness of the wasteland thrust the reader not only into the aesthetic direness of the scenario but the haltingness of emotion as well; the words “gray” and “black” appear around a hundred times apiece in this novel. In the entire story, there is only one named party, because the specifics of the characters are unimportant. It is the universality of human nature especially in crisis that McCarthy is so brilliantly grappling with. Yet every word is essential and powerful, and the book becomes impossible to abandon along with its imperfect and weary cast who nevertheless persevere with phenomenal strength. Even the nature of the presumed apocalypse itself is ambiguous, supporting the idea that McCarthy wants his readers to face head on the darkness he sees in the beautiful, if torrid world.
Blood Meridian, like The Road, follows travelers in a...