In Cormac McCarthy’s The Road (2006), an unnamed catastrophe has destroyed civilisation. The remaining human population scrabbles for a bleak livelihood in a grim, postapocalyptic landscape. The novel tracks the journey of a father and son through this setting as they struggle for survival. The Road strips away the trappings of civilisation to explore human nature. The reader sees humanity at its worst in the marauding gangs who turn to cannibalism, and at its best in the desperate, poignant love of a father for his son.
One common anxiety about analysing a previously unseen extract in an exam is being confronted with a text where there is ‘not much to analyse’. In truth, all unseen extracts will contain interesting features to discuss, but the more familiar figurative language techniques, such as metaphor or simile, may not feature heavily. The sparse prose style of The Road, for example, reflects the bleakness of its post-apocalyptic setting. However, as the novel won the 2007 Pulitzer Prize, it clearly has other significant stylistic features that can take you beyond the routine ‘feature-spotting’ which is the bane of all examiners. In order to access the more subtle elements of the text, let’s take a look at an extract from The Road and explore how you can approach an unseen extract with confidence. The chosen extract runs from ‘They began to come upon from time to time…’ to ‘the ancient dark beyond’ (McCarthy 2007, pp. 193–94).
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