The Road (Project 4: Exercise 1)

The Road by Cormac McCarthy

“He pushed the cart and both he and the boy carried knapsacks. In the knapsacks were essential things in case they had to abandon the cart and make a run for it. Clamped to the handle of the cart was a chrome motorcycle mirror that he used to watch the road behind them. He shifted the pack higher on his shoulders and looked out over the wasted country. The road was empty. Below in the little valley the still grey serpentine of a river. Motionless and precise. Along the shore a burden of dead reeds. Are you okay? He said. The boy nodded. They set out along the blacktop in the gunmetal light, shuffling through the ash, each the other’s world entire.”

(McCarthy, 2006, p.4)

The Road has an omniscient narrator.

Re-write a few lines of the extract using different types of narrator:

  • First person narrator – from the point of view of the man (I pushed the cart…)
  • Second person – as if you were the man (You pushed the cart…)

One of the most popular narrative angles is that of the third person but limited to the point of view of one character in the story. This is a sort of fusion between the omniscient and the first person narrator and it works well in letting us get close to the character, but not too close for comfort.

  • If McCarthy had chosen the third person limited point of view, think about the difference between telling this story from the boy’s POV or the man’s.
  • What impact does changing the narrative angle have on the story? Why do you think McCarthy decided to use an omniscient narrator?

First person narrator

I was pushing the cart and both me and the boy carried knapsacks. In the knapsacks were essential things in case we had to abandon the cart and make a run for it. I had clamped a chrome motorcycle mirror to the handle of the cart which I used to watch the road behind us. I shifted the pack higher on my shoulders and looked out over the wasted country. The road was empty. Below in the little valley the still grey serpentine of a river. Motionless and precise. Along the shore a burden of dead reeds. Are you okay? I said. The boy nodded. We set out along the blacktop in the gunmetal light, shuffling through the ash, each the other’s world entire.

Second person

You pushed the cart and both you and the boy carried knapsacks. In the knapsacks were essential things in case you had to abandon the cart and make a run for it. Clamped to the handle of the cart was a chrome motorcycle mirror that you used to watch the road behind yourselves. You shifted the pack higher on your shoulders and looked out over the wasted country. The road was empty. Below in the little valley the still grey serpentine of a river. Motionless and precise. Along the shore a burden of dead reeds. Are you okay? You said. The boy nodded. You both set out along the blacktop in the gunmetal light, shuffling through the ash, each the other’s world entire.”

  • If McCarthy had chosen the third person limited point of view, think about the difference between telling this story from the boy’s POV or the man’s.
  • What impact does changing the narrative angle have on the story? Why do you think McCarthy decided to use an omniscient narrator?

As mentioned in the details of the exercise, the third person limited POV allows us to get close to the character from whose POV we are writing. If McCarthy had chosen the man’s point of view we are in danger of knowing little or nothing of what the boy was feeling or thinking, unless his actions were particularly demonstrative of his inner-self. Even if this were to be the case, we would still have to accept the man’s interpretation of the boys behaviour and actions. Mccarthy could, of course, opt to change the POV at times within the story but this clearly has to be done with care. 

The description of the geography around the road feels a little post-apocalyptic. This would also have an impact on using the man’s POV. We would see and interpret whatever it is that has happened, and is going to happen, through his eyes. Potentially we would gain little experience of, and insight into, the boy’s interpretation of the events. Depending on the age of the boy, we could be missing out on a significant aspect of their journey on the road.

Conversely, if the boy’s POV is chosen we are going to have the opposite problems. We would miss out on the inner thoughts and emotions of the man whilst also only seeing this post-apocalyptic world through his potentially naive and ignorant understanding.

I think McCarthy has chosen his omniscient narrator as these two are the main protagonists in the book and I suspect that he specifically wants us to experience and understand their different responses to the challenges they are going to face.    

 

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