Page 1. " Their light playing over the wet flowstone walls. "

Flowstone forms from layers of calcium carbonate, deposited on rocks where water has flowed or dripped. This example comes from the Timpanogos caves in Utah.

Page 1. " swallowed up and lost among the inward parts of some granitic beast. "
Jonah Leaving the Whale by Jan Brueghel the Elder
Public DomainJonah Leaving the Whale by Jan Brueghel the Elder

This may allude to the Biblical story of Jonah, who was swallowed by a whale.

Page 11. " The shore was lined with birchtrees "
Birch Trees
Creative Commons AttributionBirch Trees - Credit: Moe Chen, Flikr

Though locations are never named, McCarthy does provide clues throughout The Road. Birch trees, and more specifically river birches, are common in North America, but are especially widespread across the southeastern quarter of the United States, from eastern Texas and southeastern Iowa to Virginia and northern Florida.

Page 12. " A dead perch lolling belly up in the clear water. "

McCarthy repeatedly refers to the absence of fish in this post-apocalpytic world.

Fish populations – both marine and freshwater – are currently greatly threatened by pollution, loss of habitat, illegal fishing methods and overfishing. Read more about this unprecedented crisis at actionbioscience.org.

Page 15. " No one traveled this road. No roadagents, no marauders. "
Wild Bill Hickok with two Navy Colts in his famed handles-forward rig, with Bowie Knife, Mendota, IL, 1869
Public DomainWild Bill Hickok with two Navy Colts in his famed handles-forward rig, with Bowie Knife, Mendota, IL, 1869

A post-apocalyptic world is almost impossible to imagine. In many ways, McCarthy's vision is founded in the knowable past, a time considered less civilised than the present.

A roadagent is one example; this 19th century term from the American west referred to a highwayman, a bandit on horseback who held up and robbed stagecoaches and vehicles on the road. McCarthy's ominous roadagents, however, hold none of the romance and glamour of those folk heroes of the Old West, like Wild Bill Hickok, Texas Jack and Buffalo Bill.

Page 20. " A log barn in a field with an advertisement in faded ten-foot letters across the roofslope. See Rock City. "
'See Rock City' barn on U.S. Highway 441, in Sevier County, Tennessee
GNU Free Documentation License'See Rock City' barn on U.S. Highway 441, in Sevier County, Tennessee - Credit: Scott Basford, April 2006

Though not the only advertisement or billboard mentioned in the book, this one is a solid clue to the book's setting, placing it firmly in the southeast US. Rock City is a tourist attraction, a natural rock formation on Lookout Mountain, near Chattanooga, Tennessee.

 

Google Map
Page 22. " He withdrew his hand slowly and sat looking at a can of Coca Cola. What is it, Papa? "
Coca Cola
Creative Commons Attribution Share AlikeCoca Cola - Credit: cyclonebill

Emphasising the lack that the boy has always known, this episode also makes a stark statement about the consumer-capitalist society that came before the great unexplained catastrophe.

It also shows the great divide between the father and son, something that McCarthy no doubt considered with regards to his own young son, who was born when the author was in his late sixties, and to whom The Road is dedicated.