The Road

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The Road Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Cormac McCarthy's The Road. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Cormac McCarthy
McCarthy was born as one of six children, and he grew up in Knoxville, Tennessee, where his father worked as a lawyer. McCarthy pursued creative writing at the University of Tennessee, but he never graduated. He has been married three times, to Lee Holleman, Annie DeLisle, and Jennifer Winkley, and has two children. He moved to Santa Fe with Winkley to raise his young son John Francis. McCarthy’s first novel, The Orchard Keeper, was published in 1965. Overall he has written ten novels and is now one of the best known contemporary American writers, but McCarthy remains a reclusive figure. He was awarded the MacArthur Fellowship in 1981, the National Book Award in 1992, and the Pulitzer Prize (for The Road) in 2006. Several of his books have been made into feature films, including No Country For Old Men. McCarthy still lives and writes in Santa Fe.
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Historical Context of The Road
The Road takes place in a hypothetical post-apocalyptic world, but the disaster leading to civilization’s collapse is never explained in the novel. Members of the environmentalist movement have claimed The Road as a valuable tool in warning about the dangers of pollution and climate change, especially the fact that without plants and animals, humans will inevitably die off too. Several churches have also embraced the Christian and religious themes in the novel.
Other Books Related to The Road
McCarthy’s works span several genres and often cannot be categorized, but some are considered Westerns, thrillers, or science-fiction. McCarthy’s earlier, “Southern Gothic” works were influenced by William Faulkner, the author of The Sound and the Fury and As I Lay Dying. McCarthy has also been influenced by Herman Melville, the author of Moby Dick. Other post-apocalyptic literature includes Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, Stephen King’s The Stand, and Mary Shelley’s The Last Man.
Key Facts about The Road
  • Full Title: The Road
  • When Written: 2003-2006
  • Where Written: El Paso, Texas, Ireland, and Santa Fe, New Mexico
  • When Published: 2006
  • Literary Period: Contemporary American Literature
  • Genre: Post-Apocalyptic Fiction, Science Fiction, Horror
  • Setting: Post-apocalyptic America
  • Climax: The man’s death
  • Point of View: Third person limited, occasionally first person
Extra Credit for The Road

Oprah. McCarthy is known as a reclusive writer, but when The Road was selected for Oprah’s Book Club, McCarthy broke his silence and gave one television interview with Oprah Winfrey.

The boy John Francis. McCarthy’s son John Francis, who was born late in McCarthy’s life, was the main inspiration for The Road. Supposedly much of the dialogue is taken verbatim from McCarthy’s conversations with John Francis.