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Reading Comprehension: Cormac McCarthy's The Road

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Reading Comprehension: Cormac McCarthy's The Road

Old 07-05-08, 01:39 AM
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Reading Comprehension: Cormac McCarthy's The Road

I hope I can survive this thread without getting flamed and riducled to death.

I have excellent reading comprehension skills. Back in high school I scored over 700 on the English SAT, and took many literature courses in college all of which I excelled in.

I have read a good amount of classic and modern "literature", but I do not specifically search out literature to read. Truth be told, I really enjoy fantasy and much of my reading is devoted to that genre.

Having said all that I have just finished my first Cormac McCarthy book, The Road. I enjoyed it, as much as someone can "enjoy" such a singularly bleak and disturbing book.

The book seems to alternate between very concise, cogent and well written descriptions of the actions of the book, with short highly dense sections of almost impenetrable writing.

I must admit that there are certain sections in this book, where I have absolutely no strong idea whatsoever what the author is saying and that has never really happened to me before.

Example: (Spoilers for those who have not read it as this first is the last section of the story)



Quote: [B]Once there were brook trout in the streams in the mountains. You could see them standing in the amber current where the white edges of their fins wimpled softly in the flow. They smelled of moss in your hand. Polished and muscular and torsional. On their backs were vermiculate patterns that were maps of the world in its becoming. Maps and mazes. Of a thing which could not be put back. Not be made right again. In the deep glens where they lived all things were older than man and they hummed of mystery.[/B]

As this is the last paragraph in the book it obviously encapsulates an important theme or message of the book. But for the life of me I really have little idea what he is saying. I have some ideas based upon everthing else that the story was about, but nothing that directly comes from the excerpt itself.

Then this one:

[B]He got up and wlked out to the road. The black shape of it running from dark to dark. Then a distant low rumble. Not thunder. You could feel it under your feet. A sound without cognate and so wothout description. Something imponderable shifting out there in the dark. The earth itself contracting with the cold. It did not come again. What time of year? What age the child? He walked out into the road and stood. The silence. The salliter drying from the earth. The mudstained shapes of flooded cities burned to the waterline. At a crossroads a ground set with dolmen stones where the spoken bones of oracles lay smoldering. No sound but the wind. What will you say? A liiving man spoke these lines? He sharpened a quill with his small pen knife to scribe these things in sloe or lampblack. At some reckonable and entabled moment? He is coming to steal my eyes. To seal my mouth with dirt.[/B]


Again, no real clue. I could analyze and guess and make intelligent conversation on the shifting point of views in the paragraph, and how he is talking about sounds that you only feel but not hear or something, but to be honest I have no idea what he is saying. It is impenetrable. Maybe some would not admit though, or think the vagueness and nebulousness of the passage is some stroke of literary genius. I am not saying it is or isn't.

I only know that I have read a book that has passages in it that even when reread many times, I have no idea what it means.

Do other people experience this? What do these passages mean to you? Do you have passages you read recently that have you equally confounded. I would be curious to hear people's thoughts.
Old 07-05-08, 09:00 AM
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Thanks for starting this thread! The Road is my favorite book.

Anyway, regarding this passage:

Originally Posted by johnnysd
He got up and wlked out to the road. The black shape of it running from dark to dark. Then a distant low rumble. Not thunder. You could feel it under your feet. A sound without cognate and so wothout description. Something imponderable shifting out there in the dark. The earth itself contracting with the cold. It did not come again. What time of year? What age the child? He walked out into the road and stood. The silence. The salliter drying from the earth. The mudstained shapes of flooded cities burned to the waterline. At a crossroads a ground set with dolmen stones where the spoken bones of oracles lay smoldering. No sound but the wind. What will you say? A living man spoke these lines? He sharpened a quill with his small pen knife to scribe these things in sloe or lampblack. At some reckonable and entabled moment? He is coming to steal my eyes. To seal my mouth with dirt.
The first few sentences are to be taken literally as things observed by the narrator. The "black shape of the road" disappearing into the dark horizon, the "low rumble" of buildings collapsing (or bombs falling...either way awful sounds that defy description) in distant locales, the incessant and enduring cold, the "mudstained shapes of flooded cities"...just wonderful imagery by McCarthy.

Then the narrator, I think, has an epiphany of sorts when observing the bleakness of his surroundings and then the "dolmen stones" (ancient burial stones, or in this case, perhaps just improvised tomb stones) at the crossroads. The impending death of civilization results in the death of literature, philosophy, recorded history, etc. There is no one left (or willing to) "scribe" their observances...no "oracles" ("agents of divine communication") left to connect people with God, provide hope, bear witness. The war and its destruction have thus left humanity blind and essentially buried ("seal my mouth with dirt"). Fearful of being silenced, the narrator scrawls his thoughts in the "sloe."

Yeah, I've got nothing.

Last edited by TimeandTide; 07-05-08 at 09:11 AM.
Old 07-06-08, 04:56 AM
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Originally Posted by TimeandTide
Thanks for starting this thread! The Road is my favorite book.

Anyway, regarding this passage:



The first few sentences are to be taken literally as things observed by the narrator. The "black shape of the road" disappearing into the dark horizon, the "low rumble" of buildings collapsing (or bombs falling...either way awful sounds that defy description) in distant locales, the incessant and enduring cold, the "mudstained shapes of flooded cities"...just wonderful imagery by McCarthy.

Then the narrator, I think, has an epiphany of sorts when observing the bleakness of his surroundings and then the "dolmen stones" (ancient burial stones, or in this case, perhaps just improvised tomb stones) at the crossroads. The impending death of civilization results in the death of literature, philosophy, recorded history, etc. There is no one left (or willing to) "scribe" their observances...no "oracles" ("agents of divine communication") left to connect people with God, provide hope, bear witness. The war and its destruction have thus left humanity blind and essentially buried ("seal my mouth with dirt"). Fearful of being silenced, the narrator scrawls his thoughts in the "sloe."

Yeah, I've got nothing.
OK. The big problem I have with your analysis is that the narrator is not the man in ths story, and then to ascribe epiphanies and the scrawling to the narrator makes no sense at all.

Especially when the point of the story ultimately is that civilization is not dead and will not die and that civilization will continue on.
Old 07-06-08, 09:46 AM
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Originally Posted by johnnysd
OK. The big problem I have with your analysis is that the narrator is not the man in ths story, and then to ascribe epiphanies and the scrawling to the narrator makes no sense at all.
It's been about a year and a half since I last read the book. All I had to go on were the context-free excerpts you posted. You asked for help and I did my best to provide it. Considering that I'm probably the only person that will respond to your request, you should thank me for the few minutes I took out of my day to try to, y'know, help you.
Old 07-06-08, 01:16 PM
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Originally Posted by TimeandTide
It's been about a year and a half since I last read the book. All I had to go on were the context-free excerpts you posted. You asked for help and I did my best to provide it. Considering that I'm probably the only person that will respond to your request, you should thank me for the few minutes I took out of my day to try to, y'know, help you.
I do appreciate you posting, and was just trying to have a conversation on the passage.
Old 07-08-08, 02:48 AM
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Not sure if it'll help, but there was some analysis/discussion in this thread last year.
Old 05-30-10, 06:52 AM
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Re: Reading Comprehension: Cormac McCarthy's The Road

"I am so glad to see you. She would talk to him sometimes about God. He tried to talk to God but the best thing was to talk to his father and he did talk to him and he didnt forget. The woman said that was all right. She said that the breath of God was his breath yet though it pass from man to man through all of time.

Once there were brook trout in the streams in the mountains. You could see them standing in the amber current where the white edges of their fins wimpled softly in the flow. They smelled of moss in your hand. Polished and muscular and torsional. On their backs were vermiculate patterns that were maps of the world in its becoming. Maps and mazes. Of a thing which could not be put back. Not be made right again. In the deep glens where they lived all things were older than man and they hummed of mystery"


I think the book was about passing the "fire" from the man to his son and that we live in our children, that we are a part of them. This was hinted at when man said that he could still talk to the boy though he would be passed on, and in other places throughout. The second to the last paragraph then says that it is God that is passed from man to man, basically that God is the Fire and that we live in God as He lives in us when the last woman says " God's breath is God's breath yet though it pass from man to man through all of time". The focus here is on the motion through time of the passing of Gods breath and the passing on from one man to the next and the passing of one world to the next.

The last paragraph then summarizes the motion through time in a moment by describing a point in time ("Once...") when the world was bountiful and brimming with life, overflowing from the seas, the origin of life symbolized by the fish, into the mountains. In this moment the future and past are painted in the backs of the trout, "of the world in its becoming". "Of maps and mazes," alluding to the combination of the randomness and determinism of the universe which is woven into its fabric. The end of the world was then both inevitable and an accident. Either way it cannot be "put back...made right".

But the ending is optimistic. As the Fire of God is eternal, so too is the life through which it flows. Somewhere, somehow, it will go on. We dont know what caused the end of the world. It could be a natural event like a meteor or comet. Extinction events like that have happened before and still life went on. That life could go on is suggested when the boy asks the father if there might be other worlds or other beaches where others might exist in some way and when the man realizes that he is from a world alien to the boy's. It's also implied by the acceptance of the boy by the woman. The Last Woman represents life itself, comfort and hope for new life, as women often do to men/boys. When the wife/mother left before it was as though Life itself had committed suicide and left a world cold and barren and this was a part of the story that was put right in the end. But it's most strongly suggested by the association of God with Life. As each is in the other and the first is eternal, so too the second.

In the deep glens where they LIVED these things "older than man" (greater than man) hummed of mystery. The Mystery is God, existence and life which cannot be communicated in words, by man's voice; it can only be hummed as the Breath of God vibrating in one's being. The humming of The Mystery is the voice of God that sustains the universe; His Life and Breath are voiced in the child.

"If he is not the word of God God never spoke."
Old 06-25-10, 12:22 AM
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Re: Reading Comprehension: Cormac McCarthy's The Road

throw in McCarthy's "Blood Meridian" as well, there were plenty of wtf passages in that novel.
Old 06-28-10, 10:00 PM
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Re: Reading Comprehension: Cormac McCarthy's The Road

I'm not someone who likes overly flowerly or dense prose, but The Road was excellent. I've rarely felt such dread reading a book.
Old 06-30-10, 02:59 PM
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Re: Reading Comprehension: Cormac McCarthy's The Road

Originally Posted by Osiris3657
throw in McCarthy's "Blood Meridian" as well, there were plenty of wtf passages in that novel.
Both are great books but Meridian is more challenging for sure.
Old 07-01-10, 12:40 PM
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Re: Reading Comprehension: Cormac McCarthy's The Road

I finished The Road recently. Honestly, with the passages that got too convoluted for my simple pathetic brain, I just pictured a beatnik, smoking a doobie and snapping his fingers as he throws a bunch of poetic crap down on the page, rolled my eyes, and moved on... Good book overall though.

Same thing happened with the end of No Country for Old Men and Tommy Lee Jones's speech. I'm just like, wtf? Must be a McCarthy thing...

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