Wider contexts

1 Literary context: read The Road or excerpts of it.

Excerpts from The Road

By Cormac McCarthy

The page numbers for the three excerpts refer to the Picador paperback edition (2007). The excerpts and our short introductory remarks to the excerpts are:

  1. P. 2, l. 11 ”With the first gray light …” – p. 11, l. 10 ”There was a lake …”

 

The opening paragraph of the novel is the description of a nightmare “he” has had.  

 

  1. P. 54, l. 7 “The clocks stopped …” – p. 74, l. 6 “They pushed …”

 

The man and the child walk on. From time to time the man thinks back on his wife and his life before the present situation.

  1. P. 115, l. 14 “Back in the house …” – p. 118, l. 10 “They lay …”

 

The man and the boy have had no food and little sleep for five days when they see a big house on the outskirts of a small town. The boy doesn´t want to enter it, but the man says they have to see if they can find something to eat. In the floor of a room there is a hatch locked with a large padlock which the man is trying to open.

 

 

Glossary for excerpt 1

page 2

heft

 

veje

squat

sætte sig på hug

slutlamp

vægelampe

barren

øde

stark

bar, nøgen

bi’noculars

kikkert

burn

afsvedent landskab

glass (vb)

(her) se ud over med kikkert

charred

forkullet

pale (vb)

blive blegt

limbless

grenløs

murk

mørke

trunk

stamme

swirl

hvirvel

sag

hænge ned

blacktop

asfalt, motorvej

wire

ledning

lightpole

elmast

page 3

whine

jamre, pibe

’segment

rest, stykke

clearing       

lysning

con’geal

stivne, størkne

reach

strækning

warrant

an acceptable reason for something, justification;  (her) “eneste grund til at være i live”

meadow

eng

tarp

plastikpresenning

roadworks

vejarbejde

grocery cart

indkøbsvogn

billboards

reklameskilte

cornmeal

majsmel

weathered

medtaget af vejret

page 4

page 7

knapsack

rygsæk

charcoal drawing

kultegning

a’bandon

efterlade

waste

øde landskab

make a run for it

løbe for livet

a’djust

indstille

chrome

forkromet

gully

grøft

shift

skubbe

slope

skråning

wasted

øde

pole

stolpe

’serpentine

slange

ledge

fremspring

reed

siv

sheets of rain

kaskader af regn, regn der vælter ned

shuffle

slæbe fødderne

huddle together

trykke sig mod hinanden

en’tire

hel

’concrete

beton

page 8

ford

vade igennem

en’shroud

indhylle

vanish

forsvinde

page 5

appa’rition

genfærd

apron

område

crest

(bakke) top

cap

låg

mote

støvfnug

pipe

ledningsrør

streaked

stribet

odor

lugt

’thespian

(tragisk) skuespiller

rumor

rygte, (her) antydning

faint

svag

page 10

stale

gammel, sur

bedrock

urfjeld; the solid rock in the ground below the loose soil and sand

hose

slange

late               

tidligere

service bay

værkstedsafdeling

bleak

kold, trøstesløs

drive socket

topnøgle (en slags værktøj)

’temporal

tidsbegrænset

ratchet

skraldenøgle (en slags værktøj)

to and fro

frem og tilbage

barrel

tønde

void

tomrum

auto’motive

motor-

uncoupled from its shoring

løsnet fra sin tilknytning

’manual

manual; håndbog

 sustain

støtte

sodden

sodet

o’paque [əu’peik]

uigennemsigtig

curl

bue opad

de’scend

gå ned

tilt

vælte, tippe

gryke [graik]

kløft, spalte

page 6

crouch [krautʃ]

knæle ned

trashdrum

affaldstønde

throttle

kvæle

paw

rode

 

 

de’cant

tømme

page 11

dregs

sidste dråber

caked

dækket

drain

løbe ned, tømme

’fossil tracks

fossilspor

pan

skål

sludge

mudder

Glossary for excerpt 2

page 54

’macadam

 

asfalt

shear

(her) spids

drift

drive

con’cussion

rystelse

crouch [krautʃ]

trykke sig ned mod jorden

throw

(her) bevæge, trykke på

bank

grøftevold

dull

mat

page 64

lever

metalpind

running on God knows what

guderne skal vide, hvad de brugte som benzin

tap

vandhane

stakebed

lad (sb)

jamb

dørkarm

coil

sno

cradle

holde

ropy

slidt, defekt

barren

øde, gold

miss

sætte ud

’migratory birds

trækfugle

putter

tøffe

flap to a halt

(her) gå hakkende i stå

page 55

unlatch

åbne

muted

dæmpet

hood

motorhjelm

cranking

skræppen

lumber

skramle, rumle

troop

marchere

creak

knage

godspeed

lykke

save to

end

deck of cards

spil kort

slope

skråning

’bureau

kommode

buck

(her) sprutte

spindled

knækkede

unbuckle

åbne

two of clubs 

klør to

Old Maid

sorteper

page 65

keep a rein on something

standse, kontrollere

cock

spænde hanen

crumpled

krøllet

page 56

emaci’ation

stærk afmagring

provi’dential

(her) et under

strop

slibe

grace

ynde

collared in

(her) omgivet af

’provenance

oprindelse

grime

snavs

’penitent

en angrende synder

illformed

forkert 

quilt

vattæppe

notion

ide, forstilling   

lean             

tynd 

page 57

wiry

senet

I’m done

jeg har fået nok

rachitic [rə’kitik]

rakitisk. Har fået engelsk syge = underernæret

billcap

baseballkasket

page 58

vanish

forsvinde

slender

tynd

’enterprise

virksomhed

grapevine

vinranke, vinstok

take a crap

skide

rare

sjælden

cheroot [ʃə’ru:t]

cerut

page 66

slut

tøjte

gallon

ca 3,8 liter

drum

tønde

page 59

take a stand

have en principiel holdning

page 67

cobble together

flikke sammen

frontal lobe

frontallap

’passable

anstændigt, ok

co’lliculus

colliculus; auditivt og visuelt center i hjernen

coax

lokke

gyrus

hjernevinding

phantom

spøgelses

’imbecile

idiot

e’ternal

evig

hard-ass

stivstikker

page 60

page 68

flake

flage

can’teen

feltflaske

ob’sidian

obsidian, a black volcanic glass-like rock

pouch

pung, pose

the pros and cons

fordele og ulemper

sheath

skede

’earnestness

alvor

level

rette ind

de’liberate

velovervejet

outlandish

mærkelig

page 69

’advent

hændelse

shove

stikke

creation … evolved

et væsen der var skabt til

a dead run

i fuld fart

gore

(størknet) blod

page 61

mute

stum

drycell

tørelement

stagger

vakle

crown

isse

frail

skrøbelig

streaked

stribet

lank

glat

page 70

rank

ildelugtende

’sinister

uhyggelig

me’conium

afføring. A dark greenish mass that accumulates in the bowels during foetal life and is discharged shortly after birth

murk

mørke

scrawny

tynd

shears

saks

page 71

grudging

sparsom

page 62

’perimeter

omkreds

sparingly

lidt

siwash [saiwaʃ]]

lille

meager [migə]

sparsom

faint

svag, utydelig

tool

køre

slumped

sunket sammen

shuffle

sjokke

blank

tomt

hooded

hætteklædt

frame house

træhus

’canister

gas

truckgarden

grøntgartneri

biohazard suit

beskyttelsesdragt

leper

spedalsk

slouch [slautʃ]

slæbe sig af sted, sjokke

club

kølle

page 72

in ambush

i baghold, på lur

page 63

thumbed down

tage ned med tommelfingeren

length of pipe

langt stykke jernrør

’rummage

lede

shove [ʃᴧv]

stikke

charred

forkullet

tear

storme

billet

stump

crumbling

smuldrende

bracken

bregnekrat

page 73

bed

lad (sb)

tar

asfalt

ditch

grøft

squat

sætte sig på hug

cut

udgravning, grøft

scatter

sprede

weeds

ukrudt

right

stille op

plate

flage

guts

indvolde

 

 

 

 

Glossary for excerpt 3

page 115

shield

 

skærme

haspstaple

hængelås

’hideous

rædselsfuld, modbydelig

staple

krampe

pitiful

medlidende, (her) sparsom

pry up /prize up

åbne med magt

tang

skaft

page 117

hatch

lem

shove

skubbe

sent him sprawling

så han landede på alle fire

page 116

hiss

hvæse

offering

offerritual, offerhandling

tear

styrte

stench

stank

screened

skjult

clay

ler

privet

liguster

stained

plettet

cane

rørplante

huddle

trykke sig mod hinanden

 

 

Pre-reading

1. In class. No study aids. All the texts below except one were originally written as poems.

Read all the texts aloud. For each text write down at least two reasons why you think the text is/is not a poem. Practise reading the text you think is not a poem aloud.

 

  1. You tossed a blanket from the bed, you lay upon your back, and waited; you dozed, and watched the night revealing the thousand sordid images of which your soul was constituted; they flickered against the ceiling.

 

sordid                     snavset/beskidt

constituted             ’bestod’

flicker                     flimre

 

  1. The ashes of the late world carried on the bleak and temporal winds to and fro in the void. Carried forth and scattered and carried forth again. Everything uncoupled from its shoring. Unsupported in the ashen air. Sustained by a breath, trembling and brief. If only my heart were stone.

 

bleak             kold og trøstesløs

temporal       tidsbegrænsede

to and fro     frem og tilbage

void               tomrum

uncoupled from its shoring                    løsnet fra dets tilknytning

 

  1. This is just to say I have eaten the plums that were in the icebox and which you were probably saving for breakfast. Forgive me they were delicious so sweet and so cold.

 

  1. Everyday I think about dying. About disease, starvation violence, terrorism, war, the end of the world. It helps keep my mind off things.

 

 

 

2. The following words are from the first eleven pages of the book.

a. Look up the words you don’t know

b. Judging from these words, what do you think has happened, and what do you think the book will be about?

dark               darkness        cold               gray               gray light       barren           bleak             silent

godless          ashen daylight                     ash                caked with ash                    dust               dead trees    dead reeds             blackened lightpoles           charred and limbless trunks of trees         stark and gray    meadowland the waste       the wasted country              gunmetal light                     broken asphalt

the gray shape of the city    the void

3. Apocalyptic texts and films: see pre-reading 1 on page 240 in Wider Contexts.

4. Vocabulary: see pre-reading 2 on page 240 in Wider Contexts.

 

While-reading


I


p. 2-p. 11.

1 Group work: Comment on the style and the layout. Look at:

  • sentence structure: paratactic or hypotactic; simple or complex, long or short,  incomplete sentences, the use of conjunctions
  • vocabulary: concrete or abstract; colloquial, formal or neutral; repetition of certain words; use of or lack of  adjectives and  adverbs; emphasis on specific word classes
  • figurative language: metaphors, symbols, comparisons
  • sound: alliteration, assonance
  • word order
  • punctuation

Group 1: P. 2, l. 12 - 17. Also comment on layout: What is the effect of the empty spaces between the paragraphs?

Groups 2 and 3: P. 2, l. 18 - p. 3, l. 10

Groups 4 and 5: P. 3, l. 10 - p. 4, l. 2

Groups 6 and 7: P. 4, l. 3 - l. 15

 

Would you characterize the style as being

emotional     factual    terse     sparse   poetic   uncomplicated    bombastic    heavy    elegant    informal  or   words of your own choice

 

2 Where and when does the story take place?

3 What is the present world like? As you read, write down keywords in the text used to characterize the light/the sun –  the landscape – the  plants – the gas station – the cities – the people

4 Where are the man and the boy going? Why?

5 Why does the boy ask his father what he is doing when he picks up the phone and dials the number of his father’s house? (p. 5)

6 Comment on the conversation between the father and the son. (p. 8-9)

7 Why does the father wish that his heart were stone? (p. 10)

8 What is the father’s attitude to God?

9 How does the father feel about the boy?

10 Characterize the relationship between the father and the boy.

11 What actually happens in this excerpt?

12 Why do you think we are not told precisely what has happened?


II p. 54 - p. 74


p. 54-62, l. 12

1 The writer goes back in time: what is that called?

2 Why does the man fill the tub with water?

3 Given the clues, what do you think caused the environmental collapse?

4 Why isn’t McCarthy more precise about what happened?

5 Why doesn’t the father share the child’s fantasies? (p. 55)

6 Try to explain lines 2-6 on p. 56

7 What has happened to the man’s notion of time? (p. 56)

8 The picture in the road is a picture of the man’s wife which he has thrown away.(p.56) Why doesn’t he know how to keep her in their lives?

9 Compare the conversations between the man and the boy on pages 8-9, 56-57, 61-62. Note similarities and differences.

10 “We’re the walking dead in a horror film” (p. 57, l. 12). What does she mean?

11 Why does the mother commit suicide? Give as many reasons as you can.

12 Do her reasons for committing suicide give you additional information about the state of the world and the people who have survived?

13 What is the man’s reaction to her decision? What is the boy’s? How do you explain their reactions?

14 “Always so deliberate … towel”. Where are we in time? Why has McCarthy chosen not to relate the flashback in chronological order?

 

p. 61, line 12-74

1 How are the men coming down the road described?

2 What is the man’s reaction when he sees them?  Notice the verbs.

3 What is the boy’s reaction? Find keywords in the text. 

4 “ Eyes collared in cups of grime and deeply sunk. Like an animal inside a skull looking out the eyeholes.” (p. 65, l. 13-14). Comment on the man’s appearance.

5 “Why are you looking at him?” (p. 67). Why indeed?

6 How does the boy react after the killing of the stranger? Find keywords in the text. How does the man react?

7 “You will not face the truth. You will not.” (p.71, l. 1) Who is talking?

8 What does the man find when he returns to the place where he shot the stranger?  What do his findings indicate?

9 Why doesn’t the author state what has happened explicitly?


III


p. 115, l. 14 - p. 118, l. 10

1 Why are the people in the basement?

2 Comment on the way McCarthy describes the scene p. 116, l. 8 - p. 117, l. 17. How do you react as a reader?

3 “This is the moment. This is the moment” (p. 118). Explain.

 

 

Overall questions

1 Comment on the narration and point of view.

2 Why do you think McCarthy has chosen not to give his characters names?

3 Are the characters flat or round? Give examples.

4 What kind of people do you meet in the excerpts?

5 What is the structure of the text? Why is the story organized like that?

6 What is the setting?

7 Why do you think McCarthy is not very specific about the catastrophe that has occurred?

8 Where does McCarthy’s main interest lie?

9 How is violence described in the excerpts?

10 What is the theme of the story?

  • man’s impulse to survive in the face of hopelessness             
  • love  
  • man’s destruction of nature        
  • social and environmental collapse                     
  • a man’s love for his child            
  • evil in man             
  • human goodness    
  • good versus evil     
  • endurance              
  • the persistence of hope

11 In what ways do the style and the layout of the novel contribute to its thematic content?

12 Is the description of the world (un)realistic? Give examples.

13 What are the most horrifying features of this world and the people who inhabit it?

 14 Which genre does the novel seem to belong to?

science fiction      fable     parable   lyrical epic    fantasy

15 Are there any redeeming features in McCarthy’s nightmare vision?

16 How do you explain the title?

 

Post-reading

Learning check

Individually or in groups. No study aids.

1        Translate the following sentences into Danish and, if asked to do so, identify who or what the passage refers to.

 

Danish translation and English identification

“He knew that the child was his only warrant.”

Translation:

 

 

“He” is:

“Charred and limbless trunks of trees stretching on every side.”

Translation:

 

 

“Have you a neck by which to throttle you?”

Translation:

 

 

Says who to whom?

“They came shuffling through the ash casting their hooded heads from side to side.”

Translation:

 

 

 

Who are “They”?

“Eyes collared in cups of grime and deeply sunk.”

Translation:

 

 

Who is being described?

“…the boy clutching his forehead, covered with gore and mute as a stone.”

Translation:

 

 

“He shoved the boy through the hatch and sent him sprawling.”

Translation:

 

 

Which hatch?

“We’re the walking dead in a horror film.”

 

 

 

 

Translation:

 

 

Who says this? 

And in what context?

 

 

2        Find the word to match the explanation.

 

an acceptable reason for doing something, justification

 

 

the end of the world as described in the Bible

 

 

(of a situation) not encouraging or giving any reason to hope;  (of the weather) cold and unpleasant; (of a place) empty, or with no pleasant features

 

 

the state of suffering and death caused by having no food

 

 

the quality that makes you continue trying to do something even when this is difficult

 

 

the destruction of the world

 

 

the feeling of having lost all hope

 

 

a sudden disaster or violent event that causes change, for example a flood or a war

 

 

an imaginary place or state in which everything is extremely bad or unpleasant

 

 

morally bad, wicked, evil

 

3        Word classes

adjective

Noun

adjective

noun

bleak

 

 

 

disaster

 

Apocalypse

 

 

catastrophe

devastated

 

 

horrible

 

 

Despair

 

 

environment

 

 

Wider contexts

  1. Literary context: written assignment: translation.

Cormac McCarthys romaner […] rummer ingen politiske budskaber. Han stemmer heller ikke. Det bør digtere ikke, mener han. I mange af hans bøger er tonefaldet næsten gammeltestamentligt, men man finder ingen Gud at hælde sit hoved til. Medmindre man da ligefrem identificerer selve verden med en slags guddom. Den bibelske klangbund i hans romaner er så stærk, at Guds fravær må give kristne læsere grå hår i hovedet.

Sammen med J.D. Salinger og Thomas Pynchon har Cormac McCarthy i årtier været den mest gådefulde eremit i amerikansk litteratur. Hvor de to andre har skjult sig for offentligheden, har McCarthy bare holdt sin mund og ladet værket tale. Et princip han imidlertid har ændret på de allerseneste år.

Det kom mildest talt som et lyn fra en klar himmel, da Cormac McCarthy i juni 2007 af alle steder valgte at dukke op på skærmen hos Oprah Winfrey. Det skete efter, at ‘The Road’ fra 2006 vandt Pulitzer-prisen 2007. Det er ikke nogen hemmelighed, at det har haft enorm betydning for ’The Road’, at Oprah Winfrey til almindelig forbløffelse valgte denne dystre dystopi til sin Book of the Month Club i april 2007. Dermed nåede ‘The Road’ videre omkring, end nogen havde troet muligt for så mørkt og kompromisløst et værk.

 

(Uddrag af Kim Skottes omtale af Cormac McCarthy i Politiken 19. september 2010)

  1. Reception

Read the following excerpts from reviews of The Road:

 

a. “His tale of survival and the miracle of goodness only adds to McCarthy’s stature as a living master. It’s gripping, frightening and, ultimately, beautiful. It might very well be the best book of the year, period.”

San Francisco Chronicle

 

b. “Part of the achievement of The Road is its poetic description of landscapes from which the possibility of poetry would seem to be stripped, along with their ability to support life.”

Adam Mars-Jones, The Observer, 26 November 2006

 

c. “Cormac McCarthy’s The Road is a harrowing tale of determination and hope in the face of desperation and near-insurmountable obstacles. […] Although it certainly positions itself as a novel, The Road adopts a cadence and rhythm that nears prose-poetry at times. McCarthy’s attention to rhythm, detail and language make this novel both palatable and fun to read […]  In addition, this writing style, sparse and barren on the page, contributes to the novel’s thematic and plot content.  […] It’s difficult to overlook the political importance of this book. Given the global dialogue about regarding environmental concerns and the future of our biosphere, this novel, on some level, seems to address this issue. McCarthy envisions a world in which the global environment is no longer intact. It can barely sustain life.”  http://americanfiction.suite101.com/article.cfm/the_road_review

 

 

d. “A few weeks ago I read what I believe is the most important environmental book ever written.[…]  It contains no graphs, no tables, no facts, figures, warnings, predictions or even arguments. Nor does it carry a single dreary sentence, which, sadly, distinguishes it from most environmental literature. It is a novel, first published a year ago, and it will change the way you see the world.                     

Cormac McCarthy's book The Road considers what would happen if the world lost its biosphere, and the only living creatures were humans, hunting for food among the dead wood and soot. [….] McCarthy makes no claim that this is likely to occur, but merely speculates about the consequences.                                                                                                                                                  All pre-existing social codes soon collapse and are replaced with organised butchery, then chaotic, blundering horror. What else are the survivors to do? The only remaining resource is human…” 

George Monbiot, The Guardian, 30 October 2007. http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2007/oct/30/comment.books

 

e. “What kept me reading was neither the boy’s precious goodness nor the dark allure of total annihilation – it was Mr McCarthy’s writing, the sheer beauty of the language.” 

Adam Begley, New York Observer, 9 Oct 2006

 

f. “…The Road follows two of the last people on Earth, an unnamed man and his young son, as they walk through an incinerated wasteland foraging for food and hiding from gangs of starving cannibals. “The night now only slightly less black ,” he writes. “By day the banished sun circles the earth like a grieving mother with a lamp.” This marks a significant departure for McCarthy, but it’s hardly a departure for apocalyptic fiction and film, which have trafficked in these dark visions for decades[…] Without its rich voice, The Road would read like a remake of “Night of the Living Dead.” Indeed as if to acknowledge that debt, the man remembers his late wife saying, ”We’re the walking dead in a horror film” […] But there’s just no getting around it: The Road is a frightening, profound tale that drags us into places we don’t want to go, forces us to think about questions we don’t want to ask. […]Ultimately, my cynicism was overwhelmed by the visceral power of McCarthy’s prose and the simple beauty of this hero’s love for his son.”

Ron Charles, Washington Post, October 1, 2006

 

 

    1. Discuss whether you disagree with any of the views presented.
    2. Discuss which excerpt you would find most useful if you were to write your own review of the passages you have read from The Road above.
    3. After you have answered questions a. and b., write your own short review of the excerpts of The Road you have read. Get inspiration from the words in the box below or add your own words. Look up the words you don’t know. Remember to include a star rating and make sure that your review matches your rating.

 

Critics have used the following words about The Road:

moving     remarkable     heart-wrenching    stunning     gripping     frightening    beautiful    poetic    grim     bleak     depressing    mesmerising     haunting     unforgettable     frightening     profound    awesome    consistently brilliant

 

 

 

3 Author interview

Cormac McCarthy is a very private man who rarely gives interviews and talks about his own works. Many critics and people who know Cormac McCarthy personally were very surprised when he agreed to appear on Oprah Winfrey’s show The Oprah Show.

  1. Think of eight questions to ask Cormac McCarthy if you were to interview him.
  2. Compare your questions and the questions Oprah Winfrey asks Cormac McCarthy. Were there any you would not have asked? Do you find some of your questions more interesting? Why/why not?

Oprah Winfrey’s questions

-          Why have you never done [a televised interview] before?

-          Did you always know that you were a writer?

-          Are you passionate about writing?

-          Do you write methodically? Do you have a schedule?

-          When you started The Road did you know where it was going to end, or did it end itself?

-          Where did this apocalyptic dream come from?

-          Is this a love story to your son?

-          What is it like being a father at this particular time in your life?

  1. Go to www.oprah.com and search for “Cormac McCarthy”. Listen to the interview and take notes. What does McCarthy answer and which of McCarthy’s answers do you find most interesting?

 

4 Literary context: other genre: Read William Blake’s poem “London” on page 214. Do Blake’s poem and McCarthy’s novel have anything in common? Discuss.

 

Wider contexts

2. Other media: The film The Road

1. If you were a film director, what difficulties would you face if you wanted to make a film of the book The Road? Mention at least three. How would you solve these difficulties?

2. Read Kim Skotte’s interview with John Hillcoat in Politiken, lørdag 30.januar 2000 (find it at infomedia) and watch the televised interview by Alex Billington, Nov 24, 2009. http://www.firstshowing.net/2009/interview-cormac-mccarthys-the-road-director-john-hillcoat/

Were your points and solutions the same as those of the film’s director John Hillcoat?