Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Once upon a time there was a father and his son... (Annotation)

The Road by Cormac McCarthy is about the struggles of a father and son as they try to survive in a post-apocalyptic society. If we think about the typical relationship between father and son today it might go a little like this: the father wants to be a good influence on his son, he makes sure he grows up with steady morals, and love in his heart. The father usually plays ball with his son when he is young with high hopes that he will grow to be a star athlete, but ultimately he wants his son to be happy. While the son is young, he usually becomes attached to his father and strives to be like him. As he gets older, the son may become more distant and independent from his father. In a typical father-son relationship disagreements are expected to happen and strains begin to push the son towards his own freedom, this is not the case in The Road. Janet Maslin of the New York Times describes the relationship best, “The father’s loving efforts to shepherd his son are made that much more wrenching by the unavailability of food, shelter, safety, companionship or hope in most places where they scavenge to subsist.” This relationship between the father and son surpasses the norm in the twenty-first century.
Although the reader does not know the son’s age, because there is no sense of time, we can assume that he is still a young boy. He is small enough that the father, in his own weakness, is still able to carry the boy when times get tough. Yet it is evident that the boy is old enough to experience fear, ask questions about the past, and challenge his father on decision-making. One simple word sticks out to me in all of the conversations between the father and son, “okay.”
From the very beginning of the book whenever disagreement is evident between the father and son, one of them always relents, whether they want to or not, with one word: “okay.” Whether it is convincing or sincere is up to the reader to decide based on the context of the word in that chapter. Regardless, it is a word that always pops up in conversation and somehow seems to play a significant role in the dialogue.
Oxford English Dictionary defines okay as an adjective, “all correct, all right, satisfactory, good; well, in good health or order. Another definition (verb) is “to endorse, esp. by marking with the letter ‘OK’; to approve, agree to, sanction or pass.” If we look at the word at its surface we see that it is just a term of reassurance that everything is in good order, but in The Road it breaks the norm of the use of the term in the 21st century because the reader knows that everything is not alright.
The beginning of the book is where we see the first example play out on page ten and eleven when the boy asks his father what he would do if the boy died. The very last word of the dialogue is when the boy responds with “okay.” It would be very easy for the reader to miss out on the importance of this term because it is the first time we see it appear in the text. Next, on page forty three when the father and son are discussing the bareness of the road the son responds with “okay.” There are a total of thirteen instances so far where the only response the boy gives to his father is “okay,” and is usually occurs at the end of the dialogue. In the text, “okay” is ironic because the reader recognizes that everything they are going through is far from okay and that the struggles they experience could potentially be the end of their life. We have to assume that the term “okay” in the story is not one of endearment and understanding but of acceptance regardless of whatever trials the father and son must go through. The boy begins to understand but fear still overcomes him in most circumstances. The “okay” is implying that the father and son will keep fighting for their lives as long as possible. But how much longer will the son be able to respond with this term without reality catching up to him and overwhelming him with a desire to give up? How can the father prevent this from happening?

Works Cited
Maslin, Janet. September 25,2006. Online. October 12, 2011.
McCarthy, Cormac. The Road. 2006.

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