Cormac McCarthy uses many different techniques to tell the story in his novel ‘The Road’. He uses a very limited palette in an attempt to make the reader interrogate the plot themselves, as I found myself doing so whilst reading it for the first time.
The book itself is one of a dystopian nature, and this is applied through McCarthy’s choice of setting. The location itself isn’t specified at all throughout the book, but the reader is poised to believe that it is set in a post-apocalyptic America, but other than that it is unspecified. The use of the title is used to provide us with the image that all is left is this ‘road’ which leads to the coast, believed to be on the south of the country which may aid the character’s bid for freedom. Other than this, McCarthy uses day and night, so that the reader comes to the realisation that time is the only thing that the characters have left, as the majority of the continent has suffered. He also uses flashbacks so that we have a better concept of the time that the book is set in. By using these, it shows that the year of the story is within the man’s lifetime (pre-apocalyptic setting, normality) and therefore not too far into the near future.
On the topic of a dystopia, McCarthy uses the idea of ‘drama’ and ‘tragedy’ as techniques within the book to symbolise the fact that the two characters involved are only human, and will therefore deal with the same scenarios expected by the reader. It also shows that they are liable to make mistakes and more importantly show and feel emotion towards either one another, or other participants in the story. Although the setting may be different to that of every day life in the reader’s case, it is still possible to inflict or feel pain and happiness.
As mentioned earlier in the essay, McCarthy uses flashbacks as a method of telling the story, but other than this he uses linear chronology in a way that makes it less confusing for the reader to follow. This is the case at some points in the book, as there are no chapters or methods to split the story into sections, therefore if it wasn’t in chronological order it to would be considerably hard to comprehend what’s occurring within the story. There is the occasional lapse in time however, where time leaps forward days at a time.
There is also the main issue of narrative. The narrator within ‘The Road’ is detached from the characters, and will therefore give an unbiased view towards the proceedings of the plot. There are events in the story, such as the ‘man struck by lighting’, that can cause emotional distraught to the reader. The question may be asked, would the reader feel their own emotions towards these events if the narrator was biased? This allows the reader to draw their own interpretation throughout the story, without having their view shadowed by others. McCarthy also uses the man as the focal point throughout the story, following him through the surroundings as well as using his flashbacks to tell the story. This changes at the end of the book, where McCarthy then makes the boy the focal point, as the man unfortunately passes away.
McCarthy is also good at using descriptive elements in his writing, using words such as ‘granite’ which provides the reader with the thoughts of cold, hard, grey and other words as such. This is a good method as post-apocalyptic America would be those words. Also, the use of ash is repetitive throughout the book. Ash in some cases may be used as a symbolic reference to a new beginning, e.g. the phoenix rising from the ashes. Although, in this instance, it is used as a method of representing destruction. Ash being the only thing left behind through debris and weathering. He also uses smaller sentences in comparison to other authors such as Scott Fitzgerald, which also provides a smaller dialogue between the two characters. The repetition of words such as ‘Okay’, ‘Yes.’ and ‘No.’ shows that in a world where everything has been destroyed, conversation has also suffered with a lack of the societal necessities such as standard dialogue between a father and son.
To conclude, McCarthy uses many different techniques to tell his story. These range from the simple use of setting (post apocalyptic America, dystopia), descriptive elements of writing such as concrete and abstract nouns and the ideology of a broken society within the book.
The Road can be interpreted as the setting for the result of a nuclear war and/or disaster. This could be the case on a close examination of the text. At first I believed this to be wrong, and that it was in fact the result of a mass volcanic eruption throughout America, but towards the end I believed that this may not have been the case. Firstly when the boy was born, the father looked out of the window and saw that the city was on fire. There was also no light, or a lack of sun rather, and everything was considerably covered in ash. This could have been the ‘nuclear winter’ and this was the permanent setting. Bodies were burnt to a crisp and the rivers and nearby lakes were foaming with ash. The father was also dying, as this was stated earlier in the book, this could have been the result of radiation poisoning. The reason the boy wasn’t dying was because he was born into a world where this was the norm, and therefore wouldn’t have known any different. This could have been a collision with an asteroid, and not anthropogenic such as a nuclear war. But this is still debatable and it is more than likely due to a war than anything else.
There are many messages within The Road, and many are to do with the way we handle situations as people. I believe that the main point that McCarthy is trying to make, is that it doesn’t matter what scenario that us as humans are placed in, we will always survive through the toughest times. This is also relative in terms of family, and the power and the bond that the boy and man have between each other. Regardless of what they have to do, and the hard task the have been set, they will always fight through the toughest of times. The ‘fire’ that the father hands to his son to keep burning is symbolic of hope and shows that humanity will continue, generation after generation.
‘On this road there are no god spoke men. They are gone and I am left and they have taken with them the world’ – This suggests that all of the good has been sucked out of the planet, and it is literally a ‘free-for-all’. This is shown when the boy is ‘taken hostage’ by the man, and he has to shoot the man to free him. This shows that there is no humanity left, and it is a fight to survive. In terms of the ash, this is a result of burning. In some cultures it is suggestive of a rebirth, and the on-going fight, but realistically it shows that what’s left is the end product of the fire.
Three writers that I have been privileged to have studied over the last seven months are Scott Fitzgerald, Christina Rossetti and Cormac McCarthy. All of which have used a completely different style of narrative to one another, and this is done through the use of setting. This is done through descriptive elements of writing such as adjectives, figurative language and more importantly, sensory description.
Scott Fitzgerald is the author of ‘The Great Gatsby’ – the story of Nick Carraway and his tale through a post-world-war New York City. Fitzgerald carefully picked his setting as the 1922 era was one of prosperity in the United States, known as the ‘Roaring Twenties’. This could be seen as a key use of narrative as it sets the tone for what type of book the reader is expecting. This helps with narrative as Nick will be placed within the ‘jazz years’ of the US and will therefore as a consequence have to deal with scenarios that you would be likely to find. An example of this would be Gatsby’s party. With drinking, gambling and scenes of sexually explicit nature, this helps Fitzgerald with the story as it show’s Nick’s ability to cope in these situations. There is also a symbolic side to this, with the ‘Valley of Ashes’ being used to signify the either the re-birth of the area at the very least, or the divide between the ‘poor and rich’ sides to New York. This aids the narrative behind the main plot, with middle class morality and the divide between them and the working class, as well as how it affects the civilisation of the City.
Christina Rossetti on the other hand uses places in her narrative to set the tone in a completely different manner. Goblin Market for one uses the setting of a typical fairy-tale land in order to give the idea to the reader the perception that everything is ‘good’. This is used through descriptive language which provides vibrant imagery and colourful surroundings. The setting is also used in an attempt to mask the underlying messages of which a poet such as Rossetti wishes the reader to read in-between the lines. In terms of the narrative, this is aided through the description of the actual ‘Goblins’ who I believe are supposed to be her interpretation of men, as she believed strongly in feminism and it’s values. Another poem in which Rossetti uses a place would be Sister Maude. There isn’t actually a setting for the poem, but more of a diary entry or as though the Narrator would be talking to you. It is rather the mention of certain places that lead me to believe this is an ideal poem to write about. Rossetti was a very religious poet, and her uses of biblical references help this point. ‘My father may sleep in Paradise’ is suggestive of her love for the dad, whilst ‘My mother at Heaven’s gate’ suggests that although there is affection for her, it doesn’t match the love for her father. Either way, the symbolically religious places are brought into the poem with intention and the uses of them in her narrative are significant.
Cormac McCarthy is the author of The Road, and as a post-apocalyptic book, it is quite understandable that the setting is rather grim. Other than assuming that the story is set in North-East America, there is no actual reference to the location, only that the Boy and Man are heading south. It is described as a place with a significant amount of ‘charred and limbless trunks of trees’ and ‘sagging hands of blind wire, strung from blackened light poles’ – This sets the tone rather nicely! A comparison to draw with Fitzgerald … They have both used the idea of ‘Ash’. The idea of a ‘phoenix from the ashes’ could be used, but realistically Fitzgerald’s use of the phrase differs from McCarthy’s. McCarthy has used this for descriptive purposes, but also as clarification of destruction, and that the surroundings are vanished into dust… or in this case ash.
To conclude, the three authors that I have studied use the place to help the narrative in many ways, one different from the other. Rossetti uses hers as a disguise for what may be considered as subliminal, whilst Fitzgerald uses it for morality. Morality in the sense that there is a divide between the two sides of the city, the more financially better off and those who aren’t. McCarthy uses this to help describe, as without the places illustrated in the reader’s head, the reader may find the story difficult to comprehend as they persevere.
What is a dystopia exactly? Well as a definition, ‘an imagined place or state in which everything is unpleasant or bad, typically a totalitarian or environmentally degraded one’ – or so the Oxford dictionary believes it to be.
In terms of The Road, it is clear to see why the thoughts of a dystopia could be taken into consideration, with a post-apocalyptic setting and a small variety of characters to choose from. Friedrich Nietzche believes that in order to actually ‘live’ your life, you must frequently persevere through ‘suffering, desolation, Ill-treatment and indignities’. This could be compared to The Road in many ways…
McCarthy paints the world of which the characters are alive through the use of dark and depressing imagery, which unfortunately provides the ideology of suffering and loss of dignity. This aids Nietzche’s quote above and linking back to the original theme, also constantly shows the divide between the reality of which the reader is in, and the character’s post-apocalyptic dystopia. It almost signify’s the idea of hell-on-earth and the occurrences that ‘the Man’ and ‘the Boy’, as they are commonly referred to as, have to deal with.
The author through the use of adjectives and the surroundings does indeed hint at the idea of a dystopia, but it would almost be wrong to define it as one as the story behind the Earth’s decline isn’t mentioned. It could potentially be anthropogenic in terms of a nuclear war, or natural through meteorite and collisions. A dystopia would not be keeping the reader in the dark concerning it’s happenings.
The world may have become a bleak and hostile environment for one to live in, with the contemplation of a possible death throughout the opening pages of the book, but this is only used as a setting. This is only used as a background for the more heart-warming idea of the story of a young lad and his father, and their search down ‘The Road’ to salvation.
The dystopia for which the book is described as, leads me to believe that there is more than one meaning behind it. I have been toying with the idea that the setting is the harsh reality of the world we’re living in now, just without such dyer consequences. McCarthy may be hinting at this idea in particular, or maybe another in the sense that this is what the world could come to in the near future.
Just a thought.
Christina Rossetti has a very unique style of writing. Not only does she add a lot of descriptive elements to her writing, but with clever use of religious or biblical references, she separates herself from many different poets. You must take into consideration the era of which she lived in, where women were seen as nothing but objects and rights were almost non-existent, and more importantly where they weren’t allowed to have a voice. She took advantage of such matters by distancing herself from the stereotype, and by being as literary as she possibly could became one of the best poets of all time.
Now what was the significance of her writing? Well, there was much importance in terms of the descriptive writing she used in many of her poems. The first poem we studied in class to its full extent was Goblin Market. In this poem in particular, many uses of description allowed her to provide the reader with the imagery required to build a picture in their heads, although it is arguable that this was done with metaphorical meaning. The first use of this in Goblin Market is the descriptive writing used to give life to the fruit at the market. ‘Plump unpecked cherries, Melons and raspberries, Bloom-down-cheeked peaches’ etc… This is stretched out from the fifth line and realistically doesn’t finish until the thirtieth. This adds repetition to the poem, and lets off bright and colourful imagery into the reader’s head. Also, with the repetition of ‘Come buy, come buy’ it ‘drums’ it continuously to enforce the significance of the saying.
‘Laura bowed her head to hear, Lizzie veiled her blushes’ – this suggests the feminist side of Rossetti, almost insisting that this is the stereotype of which women were supposed to live by, bowing and veiling to men as they are considered inferior, or at least this is my view. Her views are also brought upon again ten lines further down, where the goblins are referenced with ‘Their hungry thirsty roots’. This leads me to believe that it is nothing more than a representation of a typical man, described within the poem as a Goblin. ‘Their offers should not charm us, Their evil gifts would harm us’ is yet again questionable concerning Rossetti’s idea of men. Maybe the girls aren’t allowed to look at the creatures, and this becomes sexual in the sense of seduction that they may provide, or in the modern day referred to as prostitution with their offers not being enough to bring them to bed. These are just a few examples of such descriptive writing, with her other poems suggesting the same, if not more.
Cousin Kate starts off with her confessing that she is ‘Contented with my cottage mates’ whom already gives the reader a suggestion about how full of regret she may be. There are many examples in this poem which suggest such feminism again. ‘He lured me to his palace home’, ‘He wore me like a silken knot’ and ‘He changed me like a glove’ being three lines that come to mind. This shows how much she believes that men are possessive of women and use them for nothing other than what a typical man would do. This doesn’t differ throughout her poems and this one in particular is a prime example of such. She is referenced to as an ‘outcast thing’ and is angry by this, with the motive being to ‘spit into his face’.
Jessie Cameron is the third poem we have analysed over the last week or so, and close reading of this gives me an insight into the use of descriptive and religious language that she has used. The first thing that comes to mind, is that she refers to her boyfriend as the ‘neighbour’s son’ which primarily gives the reader an idea of how cold hearted she is. Her boyfriend on the other hand, ‘begs’ for Jessie not to leave him and therefore shows how weak he is, yet so full of love for her. ‘Some say that he had gypsy blood’ and ‘Some say his grandam was a witch’ is a biblical reference, with her suggesting that the ‘neighbour’s son’ has blood of a witch and a traveller.
Once again, the timing of the poem must come into the point, with how frowned upon a witch would be. On correction, frowned upon wouldn’t be the words to use, as if you were considered to have this blood during this time period, you were likely to be killed as it defied God. ‘The sea-foam swept higher’ is very descriptive of the setting of which they are placed, and can help the reader to determine the ending of the poem as it is rather unclear. ‘Shrilly screaming cleft the air, That was all they heard’ also aids this point, as there is no definitive ending to the poem, and by use of clever descriptive writing, it leaves the reader to come to his own conclusion, and draw his own interpretation of events.
Rossetti uses many forms of religious imagery spread throughout the poem, with the reader being able to interpret the contrasts between heaven and hell, sin and virtue. ‘Blood’s a bar I cannot pass’ – with bar representing a barrier, or rather threshold to keep within the theme of the poem, that she simply cannot cross. Rossetti is very insistent on the repenting of her sins, almost a suggestion that she does not consider herself to be as pure as she once was. Rossetti’s monologue also gives the reader an idea of her intentions, with the lines ‘choose the stairs that mount above’ as she is climbing ‘Stair after golden skyward stair’ towards the place she describes as ‘paradise’. In terms of religious imagery, this could be interpreted to be biblical, with the image referring to the Book of Genesis, where Jacob dreams of stairs from earth that one can climb up to heaven on. ‘Stairs are meant to lift us higher’ also suggests this, almost envisioning her body staying on earth while her soul climbs the ladder. ‘My face was pinched, my hair was grey, And frozen blood was on the sill, Where stifling in my struggle lay’ – This suggests, more specifically with the blood itself, that Rossetti may have sinned or at least in her eyes, possibly in a sexual nature. By performing the act of sex to someone out of wedlock, she may feel guilty and need to repent this sin in particular. This is supported with the quote ‘My sheets are red’ and the contradictory line ‘You sinned with me, a pleasant sin’ – suggesting that as much as she enjoyed this act, it wasn’t the right thing to do. This is further supported with the line ‘At length I rose and knelt and prayed’ in attempt to repent her sins, as pleasant as it may be.
Christina Rossetti was born in 1830 and passed away in 1894 at the age of 64. As demonstrated in the majority of her poems, she took a rather religious stance whilst writing them. She used this as ‘inspiration’ to write, with examples of such biblical poems being The Convent Threshold and Goblin Market. She considered her faith as devotion, and had hidden many different meanings into a variety of poems, leading not only to critical review but also to many different reader interpretations. Goblin Market for instance can be considered either a typical children’s rhyme, or a sexually explicit poem depending on how the reader views it. Linda H Peterson, a critic in this expertise, views a completely different side of the poem, a religious one. This is a poem which puts ‘temptation, fall and redemption’ into perspective, with biblical references to the religious story of Adam & Eve. In that story in particular, they succumb to the temptation of eating the forbidden fruit from the tree after much persuasion from a snake, portrayed to be evil. In Goblin Market on the other hand, the same story applies in the sense that they were told not to eat the fruit of the Goblins but still do, with a number of repercussions.
The critic believes that Rossetti suffered with both depression and ‘hysteria’ which meant all of her work had more to it than the naked eye may see. As discussed in class, her poems give off the view of feminism that she may have carried. She was a devotee of poetry and many women may have read these and been inspired. She gave women what was to be considered at the time as a ‘voice’ and one may argue she was one of many who shaped the way women are viewed in modern day society with equality. Rossetti’s writing style cannot always be clear, but when discovering the many different meanings behind them, it becomes intriguing. Furthermore, when discovering her background, one gets to understand what may have been going through her mind at the time of writing and therefore gives you a peripheral view and allowing you to think outside the box.
On my first reading of Goblin Market, it was easy to interpret it as a poem written for children. On closer inspection, it becomes harder to maintain this view. The text within this poem led me to believe this at first, with the use of repetition as such with phrases such as ‘come buy, come buy’ and the use of description for objects such as fruit eg: Bloom down cheeked peaches, Swart-headed mulberries and Wild free-born cranberries. It has all the elements of a children’s poem. It does however change my view when you take into consideration that the two main characters and sisters in Lizzie and Laura, position themselves in more sexually explicit situations.
When visiting the market for the first time, the ‘this is written for a young audience’ tone is still particularly persistent but the language in which this is so becomes rather adult. It becomes clear that Rossetti is attempting to merge the ideas of desire and temptation with the concept of sexuality. When it is taken into consideration that this was written in the 1800s and would be frowned upon to have written it openly, it begins to make sense that Rossetti is exploring the idea subtly and therefore leaves it to the reader to interpret her meaning. In this manner, Goblin Market becomes more of a feminist text with the exploration of female desires.
It also became a lot more apparent that she links the story to the biblical one of Adam and Eve. When Laura eats the ‘forbidden fruit’ and becomes immediately ill it draws comparisons to the temptation of something an individual isn’t allowed to have, and the fact it is so delicious doesn’t aid the idea of staying away. Alike the story of Adam and Eve, it appears that the sisters are located in a deserted place which consists of only them two, with no reference to other living beings other than the goblins. At the beginning of the poem (line 42), the line ‘We must not look at the goblin men, we must not buy their fruits’. This draws even more similarities with those of the Christian beliefs with the ‘we must not eat the fruit from the tree’ mentality.
The only major difference between the story and this poem would be the desires for sexual arousal that are particularly prolific from the opening of the poem. Line 35 of Goblin Market shows ‘With clasping arms and cautioning lips, with tingling cheeks and finger tips’. This immediately ignites thoughts of sexual desire and feminist ways, as this behaviour proves that as much as Lizzie wants to succumb to such powerful arousal, she is the strong one of the two. When the goblins draw closer, Laura escalates to the point where she must ‘have the forbidden fruit’ and pays with her ‘previous golden lock’ which also refers to the biblical story of Samson and Delilah, and the referencing to these stories becomes more common.
When eating this fruit, Rossetti is once again considerably descriptive, and uses the phrase ‘She sucked and sucked and sucked the more, Fruits which that unknown orchard bore, She sucked until her lips with sore’. When reading this, it became immediately visible that this could be taken to be a reference of a sexual nature, although this may be due to the world of which we live now, in comparison to one of the 1800s, to which this may be a common occurrence (This is shown on Line 134).
The confusing bit of the poem would be that it didn’t take much convincing for Laura to be persuaded to try the fruit, unlike in Adam and Eve when the snake has his evil input into the situation. In this case, Laura changes her opinion simply by the sight of the goblins, and there is much of a sudden desire to do so. She doesn’t feel guilty by eating the fruit, but is rather annoyed at the fact that she has no more to eat. This could be portrayed as the desire for sex, and what could be seen as the female view of such acts in the 1800s. As much as Laura believes it is wrong to partake in such acts of a sexual nature, it doesn’t take much convincing but purely the sight of an attractive man to do so. The only frustrating bit in this context would be that the man has left, and her desire for more makes her ill.
The way in which this poem ends has surprising similarities to the ending of Adam and Eve. At the end of the biblical story, the two are forced to endure the pain of childbirth on their own. Lizzie and Laura are quoted to have married and had children, with the only difference being Rossetti’s interpretation of the two. Here, Rossetti replaces the man of the scenario with a woman, in aid to feed her sexual desires. It also gives the woman a lot more power than she would have been entitled to in the 1800s, with her being able to cure the illness and have her own sexual desires. This leads me to believe that Rossetti may have wanted to write a message within the story, along the lines of ‘A woman can be free to express herself in any way she desires, whether it be sexually, with either a man or woman’ in a world which was historically dominated by the male figure. Rossetti makes it clear that it is possible to be who you want to be without repercussions, and also makes it easier to believe that although this was written in a more sexually and explicit way than it possibly should have, it still has the makings of a children’s poem, with its morals, as well as it’s ‘happily-ever-afters’.
Welcome to your student blog, where you will be able to use the power of technology to display the power of your mind. I cannot wait to read your postings and to communicate with you about your work. All the best, Ms Turner.