Reading Group Discussion Questions from the 25th Anniversary Edition of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road

the road

Reading Group Discussion Questions from the 25th Anniversary Edition of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road

by Evan Kingston

-Why do you think people wanted to read this book before the end of the world, when they could have just focused on enjoying the few days they had left with processed foods and working plumbing?

– How well do you think the book prepares someone for post-apocalyptic living? Do you think Cormac left out useful, informative sections full of straight forward information about trap building, tracking, and other survival skills in order to insure his knowledge was still scarce enough to trade for when the end came?

-Why do you think we few left-living literates still want to read what one reviewer called “a bleak warning” even after our last chance to do anything about it has long since passed? Wouldn’t it make more sense for us to seek out and preserve vivid descriptions of attractive, healthy people bathing in working showers, or scenes evoking the pleasures of microwaving a hot-pocket? Do you have access to any such writings?

-If you had to burn the pages of one scene to boil water to clean an infected wound, which scene would you choose? And why?

-Though there are probably less humans alive now than there were visiting most larger Chapters Books locations on the weekend that this novel was first published in 2006, it is still immensely popular, especially when compared to the greatly diminished readership for pre-apocalyptic novels about pre-apocalyptic living. Do you think that the novel’s stark pleasures and brutal insights gave its fans an edge that caused disproportionately high survival rates, or are many just pretending they liked McCarthy before he was cool? (I liked him even before Oprah, and I remember a lot of people calling him (and me) a fusty old crank—but I guess they all died, huh? And if he’s always been your favorite author and you treasured The Road even before it proved true, why do you have to borrow one of my copies?)

-What do you think the term “carry the fire” means to the characters in the novel? Is preserving and disseminating this book enough to count as keeping the flame alive? Or do you have to do stuff like kill bad guys, help kids, and carry on philosophical internal-dialogues, too?

-Cormac describes his apocalyptic landscape as “largely populated by men who would eat your children in front of your eyes” [p. 181], but we all know that eating children will make you sick due to pollution in their mothers’ drinking water during pregnancy. In what other ways has he over- and/or under-estimated how bad things actually are?

-What do you make of Cormac McCarthy’s use of minimalism? Especially in light of the fact that this is one of the few books to survive the apocalypse. What does it mean for the future vocabulary of the human race? Did you ever think people would say “macadam” so often again?

-Oprah’s discussion question in the back of my original copy referenced McCarthy’s spare punctuation as well, including his lack of semicolons. Can anyone remember exactly what a semicolon was or how it was used? Is it possible that the apocalypse was caused by semicolon abuse or mismanagement?

-Don’t you wish this was printed on something with nutritional value? Or does it add to the novel’s atmosphere that I’ve hand-copied it into the blank pages of a dead stranger’s diary?

-Regardless, it was a pretty good read, eh? Took your mind off your own troubles for a bit while also making you realize we all share in the same struggle. How much would you say that feeling of transcendent empathy is worth to you? Two cans of food? A survival skills manual with hand-copied diagrams? One dented can?

photo credit: pursuethepassion via photopin cc

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