The Road, by Cormac McCarthy, follows an unnamed father and son as they travel towards the coast in search of safety. The world has been all but destroyed by a catastrophe that is never explained, leaving only a handful of survivors. The man hopes once they reach their destination they will find ‘good people’ like themselves who can eventually take care of the boy, as he himself coughs blood on a daily basis and knows he is dangerously ill.
Overwhelmed by the pressures of the cruel new world and raising a son where cannibals – and worse – roam free, the boy’s mother committed suicide a short time before the book takes up the story. The man is haunted by his dreams, and flashback memories of the last few days he shared with his troubled wife.
The pair survive through luck and cunning, scavenging food, water and fuel at every opportunity, and filling the cart which they drag with them. Their only shelter is a tarpaulin, and their only protection is a pistol with just two bullets, to be used in self-defence or – the unthinkable – suicide.
As they travel the road, the father has to protect his son from the threat of strangers, starvation, exposure and harsh weather. The son begins his journey young, innocent, vulnerable and naïve; as time goes on he develops his own inner strength, becomes a partner and equal, and then finally has to play the role of carer and guardian.
They eventually reach the sea, but hopes of a better climate and more plentiful food are soon dashed. Although he has succeeded in keeping the boy safe this far, the father feels he has failed in their primary goal. The man succumbs to his illness and dies, leaving the boy utterly alone for three days. Eventually he is found by a man passing with his family. The story ends as the boy joins the new family, who seem to be the good people they had set out to find.