By: Jaimie Bartlett
No other reading has struck me so deeply as, Cormac McCarthy’s, The Road. The raw emotions that come about when you are reading stem from a primal part of the brain. Every situation in this book is riddled with examples of parental investment and sacrifice. While reading these scenes, they hit very close to home reminding me of the close relationship I have with my own father. I could never imagine being in such a situation and having to make the choices that the boy’s father made for him within this novel. Each time I reading a section, I would have this gut feeling of heaviness and sorrow for the characters that almost made me want to just put down the book and never pick it up again.
In The Road, McCarthy paints the picture of a desolate, run down post-apocalyptic world that consists of two sides, the bad guys and the ones that “carry the light”, which includes the two main characters, a young boy and his father. In the novel, the author explains how both the man and his wife birthed the boy into this post-apocalyptic nightmare. In the shining example of parental investment, the boy’s mother chooses to end her own life so that the man and their son will have a better chance of survival. The rest of the text also illustrates parental investment but on the man’s side. Through the challenges and struggles that the two face while following “the road”, the novel illustrates the man’s goal to aid in the survival of his child. Their journey’s destination is to the south in search of warmer weather so that they can make it through the winters. Many nights and days they battle freezing temperatures, exhaustion, lack of food, hypothermia and the “bad guys” who have converted to cannibalism. These “bad guys” are known to kidnap, rape, enslave and eat the weak that they come across.
As the pair go about their travels they have to always be aware of the elements and anyone who they encounter. In some instances, they are forced to run for their lives even when they are very weak from not eating for days. When they are forced to run, the man takes the risk of being slowed down to put his son on his shoulders so that they both can get away from the danger that they faced. For example, on page 66 the man shoots the “bad guy” who is trying to hold the boy hostage and then “picked up the boy … and set him on his shoulders and set off … at a dead run”. There are also times when they come across other “good guys” but his father forces the decision to leave them behind to avoid risking their lives at the expense of another mouth to feed or body to protect. His goal is to keep his child safe and no one else no matter how much the boy pleads to take along the others that they come across. For example, he asks numerous times about a little boy that he thought he saw and if they could go back to help him. Also, around page 164 they run into an old man wondering down the road very slowly and even though the do give him some of their food, the man tells the boy that they can not take him with them by saying, “I know what the question is, the answer is no … [it’s] can we keep him? We can’t”.
When I was reading the directions for this assignment, I immediately thought of a song when I remembered the way that this book made me feel. “You Can Let Go”, by Crystal Shawanda is an absolutely beautiful song but it makes me so upset that many times I have had to turn it off when it came on the radio or my iPod. It’s one of those songs that you listen to when you really need a good cry. The lyric starts off with the artist talking about her father teaching her to ride a bike. When she got the hang of it she tells him in the chorus of the song, “You can let go now, daddy, you can let go. Oh, I think, I’m ready to do this on my own. It’s still a little bit scary but I want you to know. I’ll be okay now, daddy, you can let go”. It goes on to apply the same theme for her wedding when he is holding her hand and giving her away. The last scenario talks about her father being in the hospital (and this is the part that really gets the tears rolling). The nurse tells her that he is only hanging on for her and she climbs into his bed and tells him that he can let go with the chorus of the song and it is such a gut wrenching lyric and musical combination that most of the time, I have to turn it off or switch the song.
To me, these two works hit the same nail on the head. They are two peas in a pod because of the feeling and mood that they deliver as well as the theme of the lyric, which exemplifies the immensity of the effects of parental investment. This is the time and energy invested by parents in the production of viable offspring (p. 156, The Literary Animal). In each work they give multiple examples of this. In The Road, McCarthy shows how the boy’s father takes every opportunity to teach him important skills and lessons. The author also shows, in many instances, how the man would choose his son’s survival over his own. In “You Can Let Go”, Shawanda explains that her father taught her many things and was there for the important moments in her life. Then, when it was her turn to take the lead, the roles reversed and she helped him to let go and end his suffering. By telling him to let go she is telling him that because of the things he taught her, that she would be ok without him.
At the end of The Road (pg. 278), the man tells his son that he will have to go without him. Alternating between the man and boy, the boy says, “I want to be with you”, “you can’t”, “I don’t know how to”, “yes you do” says the boy’s father. Even though in this scenario the boy does not think that he is ready for his father to go, his father knows that he has taught his son enough to find the “good guys” and he is able to go on without him. On every page in the novel the man is taking care of the boy and seeing that his needs are met first while always showing him how to do it for himself because he knows, as every parent does, that he will not be here forever to protect his child. Eventually, every child will have to use the tools that they have been taught to survive without their caregiver such as described in both, The Road and “You Can Let Go”.
McCarthy, Cormac. The Road. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2006. Print.
Shawanda, Crystal. “You Can Let Go.” SongLyrics.com. N.p., n.d. Web. 11 July 2014. <http://www.songlyrics.com/crystal-shawanda/you-can-let-go-lyrics/>.
Shawanda, Crystal. You Can Let Go. N.d. YouTube. Web. 11 July 2014. <http://youtu.be/RhoevrOkaow>.
Wilson, David Sloan, and Jonathan Gottschall. The Literary Animal : Evolution And The Nature Of Narrative. Evanston, Ill: Northwestern University Press, 2005. eBook Collection (EBSCOhost). Web. 11 July 2014.