The Road is a post-apocalyptic novel that will engage and captivate your students. Cormac McCarthy presents a story that unearths the very core instincts of humanity and its cruelty. Students may not be able to relate directly to the events that occur, but they can clearly map the decline of sophisticated human processes to the desperation of a desolate country.

The Road broaches various topics that will encourage thought-provoking discussions; students will be eager to share their own opinions and thoughts. The topics range from the likeliness of a post-apocalyptic America to the bond between a father and son. Your class can analyze how McCarthy creates a bleak mood using the imagery of a barren, scorched landscape. Students can also examine McCarthy’s distinct writing style and its effect on how the text is read—why the author uses minimal punctuation, does not separate the text into chapters, and does not name the characters (instead referring to them as ‘The Boy’ and ‘The Man’).

This novel has its fair share of grief and despair; however, it is also packed with excitement, drama, and adventure. Moreover, it serves as a reminder of just how much people need other people—and how love can act as a shield from even the most brutal events. Share this slice of truth with your students.

Summary of The Road

Key Facts

  • Publication Date: 2006
  • Length: 304 pages
  • Lexile® Measure: 670
  • Recommended Grade Band: 11-12
  • 2007 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction; New York Times Bestseller; Oprah Winfrey’s Book Club Selection; James Tait Black Memorial Prize; Believer Book Award

In post-apocalyptic America, a father and son journey south through a desolate landscape so they can weather the winter in a warmer climate. The Man is suffering from a serious cough, but remains determined to protect The Boy. During their trek, the father and son encounter bad guys, including cannibalistic gangs. As they fight to survive, The Boy needs to be reassured that he and his father are the good guys and are “carrying the fire.” After The Man is shot with an arrow and succumbs to his injuries, The Boy is taken in by a wandering family, who convinces him that they are good people and will protect him.

Content Warning: The Road contains instances of suicide, graphic violence, murder, and cannibalism.

What Your Students Will Love About The Road

  • Observing how the bond between father and son can survive in a post-apocalyptic society
  • Following the father and son on their harrowing journey and hoping for their survival

Potential Student Struggles With The Road

  • The graphic scenes described in the novel; for example, the image of a newborn baby on a spit.
  • McCarthy’s lack of punctuation in some instances and the lack of quotation marks around the dialogue

Learning Objectives for The Road

  • Explain how the author’s writing style contributes to the tone and accentuates themes of the novel.
  • Discuss The Road as a meditation on morality.
  • Evaluate how the characters’ lack of names affects how readers relate to them.
  • Identify how the father and son maintain their loving relationship despite brutal conditions.
  • Analyze the post-apocalyptic novel as an allegory for the present.

Literary Elements in The Road

  • Allegory
  • Foreshadowing
  • Imagery
  • Simile
  • Style
  • Symbolism
  • Tone

Major Themes in The Road

Journey — Throughout the novel, it’s interesting to see the father and son’s journey and how their bond evolves and endures through the worst circumstances.
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Survival — To survive in the post-apocalyptic world, cruelty and killing appear to be necessities, though The Boy believes he and his father should help everyone.
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Cruelty — The Man continually reassures his son that they are the good guys, but it becomes clear that it’s impossible to remain good in the terrible world they now inhabit and that killing and cruelty are inevitable.
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Other Resources for The Road