Narrative style in McCarthy’s novel “The Road”

Joday’s fiction writers are invading the literary realm through their genre fictions, and Cormac McCarthy’s novels are no exception. He used his unique storytelling technique to re-conceptualize today’s world and calculate our place in it.

The experimental narrative structures of his novels are to explore the new post-modern humanism, which culminates in his novel “The Road”. There are the three inexplicable narrative elements that stand out as a glaring example of his style, noticeable in the much-talked-about novel, “The Road.” These distinctive features are the characters, the description of the horror and the spatial setting of the novel. McCarthy uses a post-modern narrative technique to send shivers down your spine. By amplifying the imperative need to keep at bay the danger that lurks behind the enduring safety and security of this planet’s natural environment in the wake of an apocalypse, this novel is an example of that. The characters in his novels like “The Road” are an illustration of people who are stripped of their identity and sense of belonging after a catastrophic decline in all but the lonely few survivors.

The narrative depiction of the devastated environment ensuring gargantuan disasters that wiped out the vast majority of human civilization is laid bare through its vivid pictorial presentation. These survivors are treated as literary archetypes of the new humanism in a post-apocalyptic society leading a new primitive life starting afresh.

The novel ‘The Road’ presents itself as a quintessential McCarthy genre. The moral gloom and enveloping mood of desperation along with a stylistic lack of revelation of thought characters, is a style consistent with him. The third person narrative style,
typical of his works often turns into a limited voice in the first person. Third-person narration often shifts to first-person narration in order to reveal the characters’ perspective.

McCarthy’s narrative world uses three main genres, namely western, post-apocalyptic and southern gothic. In a typical post-apocalyptic world, revelations of the internal ethical struggle of a moral man like the father in “The Road” simply illuminate his flawed heroism. What makes McCarthy a standout writer is his unique style with less punctuation and graphic depiction of horror and violence in his works. His minimal use of punctuation marks as he very often avoids it by using conjunctions in place of the comma is his typical style. This is probably used by him to give space to a rapid flow of thoughts. This method of using conjunctions instead of using punctuations is known as polysyndeton.

It uses simple, assertive sentences, periods, capitals, and colons, but does not use semicolons. He skips over the quotes separating the dialogue as he considers the punctuation that tires the paper with odd little marks. Since there are no punctuation marks to distinguish them, McCarthy’s dialogue lacks consistency, although it still retains the sense of dialogue. But his use of language and his choice of dictions are still literally overwhelming.

He does not stick to the conventional style and prefers frankness and lively delimitation of his thoughts. It uses simple colloquial language instead of formal language. It does not follow grammatical rules such as punctuation and spelling. This is supported by the following lines from ‘The Road’, ‘The blind dogs of the sun in their race. The crushing black void of the universe……….borrowed time and borrowed the world and borrowed the eyes with which to mourn it. In the examples above, the word “run” is used as the noun and “grief” as the verb. They accentuate the rapid flow of the text.

The theme of morality used by McCarthy in “The Road” has a softer connotation
edge. His pursuit of the concept of morality is unconventional as he goes beyond the usual characters like the poor, homeless and dispossessed, criminals and degenerates and outcasts. He discovers a deep humanism even among these unfortunate and desperate characters, and the most despicable in society. He attributes their conditions in part to contingency, bad luck, or the operations of a respectable society.

One of the dominant themes of ‘The Road’ is the struggle for survival. It shows in the ash landscape, in the bands of marauding men, in the disagreement between father and son over whether to help the other survivors. ‘The Road’ is an authentic document that offers us a dark world that would arise if conflicts could escalate unchecked.

Against the backdrop of a dark world, McCarthy poses the theme of tender filial love. Father and son are “each other’s whole world”. Man’s desire to survive is for his son. Man is not afraid of his death; he yearns to love in order to seek life for the boy. Unlike his wife, the man does not wish to save his son from cannibalism by killing him. He leaves the gun to the boy. Another theme that ‘The Road’ accentuates is the theme of good versus evil. The boy who asks his father for confirmation that they are “good guys” is proof of that. The father assures her that the good guys are the ones who “keep trying, they don’t give up”.

“The Road” is a revolutionary fictional creation in the post-modern literary world that breaks and creates genres. Besides being apocalyptic fiction, “The Road” is also critically thrown into the frameworks of the horror and sci-fi genres at times.

(This is written by Researcher Sandipani Choudhury under the guidance of Dr. Swayam Prabha Satpathy, Associate Professor, Department of English, SOA University)

Irene B. Bowles