Monday, May 24, 2010

The Road, Cormac McCarthy.

This is an aptly named book concentrating on journey rather than destination, a kind of aimless travelling with no logical place to go. It portrays the confusion and pointlessness resulting from an "apocalyptic" catastrophe. Few have survived, and those who have, desperately resort to whatever it takes to cling to what life is left.
McCarthy’s world in The Road is a world with no hope and no future. It is a world of violence and cannibalism, a world where memory and dreams of the past merely add to the torment experienced by the survivors: Reminders of a world and security that cannot be reclaimed.

It is the story of a father taking his son towards the coast. The only reason for this seems to be to escape the approaching winter and to take care of their immediate survival from the elements. Beyond that there seems to be no purpose. The father motivates his son through combination of fear and hope. Fear of the bad guys and the hope of meeting up with the good guys – however when driven by fear and suspicion how can someone take the chance to distinguish between the two?

The most telling observation comes at the end of the book where the son is advised to stay away from the road – as if the whole journey along “the road” has been misguided. And for me that pointlessness of the journey seemed to apply to my reading experience. It wasn’t the kind of book that kept me wanting to read. When I put it down I wasn’t desperate to pick it up again. Its main saving grace, and the reason I was able to persevere, was the fact that it is divided into short segments which made it easier to tackle. When I picked it up I felt I didn’t need to commit to a lengthy spell of reading at each sitting. This made it seem there was less of a chore ahead of me than would have been the case had I needed to tackle long chapters.

Once again I found myself at odds with the literary critics who seem to be unified in their praise of the book. While I felt parts of it expressed keen insights, on the whole I wondered why I bothered to continue reading.
The term “post-apocalyptic” was used to describe the book’s setting. In using that term critics wrongly applied a term that has biblical origins. They fell for the common usage of “apocalypse”, describing the ultimate destruction of the world and human society. That usage is a misapplication of the biblical reference to the last book of the bible, The Apocalypse of Jesus Christ, more commonly known today as The Book of Revelation.

The word apocalypse does not refer to destruction; it refers to revealing or unveiling, and in its biblical context it specifically refers to the ultimate revealing of Jesus Christ as humanity’s Saviour and Judge at the climax of current human history.
This climax does include massive widespread destruction throughout the earth as God finally deals with evil in the world, but that destruction is not the focal point. The emphasis is on Jesus Christ taking His rightful place in His creation as King of kings and Lord of lords and then ruling over all of it with perfect Justice.

I guess it’s not surprising that the term “apocalypse” has been redefined in such a negative way. To the majority, those who continue to wilfully resist their creator, the genuine apocalypse would not be a thing to eagerly desire. To them it will be a time of destruction and despair instead of the intended joyful, face to face meeting between man and God. To them the apocalypse (or revelation) holds no ultimate hope.

McCarthy’s metaphorical use of the “road” is possibly more appropriate than he realised. We all follow a road and most do so aimlessly, not knowing where their road is heading. The choice of road is ours, but is our choice made solely with the journey itself in mind or should we also take into account the destination?

“… wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life and only a few find it.”
(Matthew 7:13-14)

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