The Bumps in The Road


Today in discussion a comment really piqued my interest: there is no conflict in the story.  I would have to respectfully disagree because aside for the external conflicts like their hunger, lack of a stable shelter, and the harsh elements, there are deep internal conflicts battling inside the father. 

Some conflicts we already see include:

  • Memories of the past – His reminiscing of olden days gives us a taste of what life like in contrast to the misery and pain he and his son are going through right now.  These flashbacks show that his mind is not completely ready to let go of the past, and he is afraid what might lie in the road ahead of them, so he clings on to the little remaining humanity that is left – his memories.  This is evident when they go into the father’s old home and have this exchange: “We should go, Papa, [the son said]. Yes, the man said.  But he didnt.”
    • His wife – She is a recurring memory and is clearly one that affects both the son and the father
    • Apocalyptic transition – The clear obstacles of an apocalyptic world are lack of the basic necessities, but what I mean by this transition is that the man knows how the world was like before, but the son does not.  This difference in knowledge is a conflict because while the son was born into this new world, the man must carry the burden of knowing what was lost.  It’s almost a blessing that the son does not know the old world because he now doesn’t have to remember and reopen old scars as his father does.
  • Safety (and comfort) of his son – Although he is concerned about his son’s safety, he also realizes the world they live in is unforgivable, so he asks himself if he would have the strength to kill his own son when the time comes.  This is implied on page 29 when he asks himself if he could ‘do it’: “He watched the boy sleeping.  Can you do it?  When the time comes?  Can you?”

These very real, personal, and ethical conflicts just draw us into this heart-wrenching story.  That is why many people did not find this “plodding” story boring.  Now I’m just anxious to see their journey unfold as they continue to the end of their road.

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7 comments

  1. I would definitely have to agree. Although the main superficial and easily identifiable conflict is avoiding the “bad guys” and staying alive, the deeper conflicts are “man vs. self” conflicts. the man has to stay positive for his son. For example, when his son tells his father that he wants to die, the man has to talk his young and innocent son out of this dark and scary feelings. However, it is very probable that the man has had these exact same feelings, but cannot act on them because of his commitment to keeping his son safe. I believe that this is one of the main conflicts of the novel: keeping up the façade for his son that everything will be okay and that they are not going to die.

  2. Another conflict I think should be added to the list of internal conflicts the man is suffering through is the line he’s trying to tiptoe between being a hero who’s saving his son and becoming just another marauder of the apocalypse. For example, when the man takes the food that belonged to someone else, the son has a point when he wonders if their stealing is immoral. The man justifies his actions because the people who the food used to belong to are probably dead, but what’s stopping him from rationalizing the killing of “the bad guys” and using them as food for him and his son? As we can see by the presence of horrible situations like the cellar of slaves, many humans have simply thrown away all morals in favor of survival. In the back of his mind, the man must be fighting off this path with every moral fiber of his being.

  3. I agree that those conflicts are definitely present but I want to focus on the conflict between the man vs the “bad guys”. I do not think that it was given ample credit for its importance.
    Although people seemed surprised at the first meetings between the man and these “bad guys”, they seemed unaffected by the fear of pursuit. This might be because we live in a society that highlights action and danger and we have become desensitized to the feelings of fear these characters face. This desensitization of violence seems to connect our society to the man. I feel like most people of our society are like the man in the book because we may not necessarily like the violence but it seems almost natural to us. I say “like the man” because he makes a very difficult shot and kills a man without much thought. “…The man had already dropped to the ground and he swung with him and leveled the pistol and fired from a two-handed position balanced on both knees at a distance of six feet. The man fell back instantly and lay with blood bubbling from the hole in his forehead” (66).
    The reaction to this book might imply that people of our society are not extraordinarily affected by the idea of violence even if we do not particularly like it.

  4. There definitely are a lot of conflicts in this book. One of the most interesting ones is trying to raise a child in such an unforgiving environment. It seems that the man is constantly trying to protect the innocence of the boy, whether that be through giving him hope by telling him to “Carry the Fire” or by shielding him from the violence and deprivation of the world. However, even with all the effort to preserve the boy’s innocence, it seems to be futile. On page 191, the father tells the boy that he doesn’t want him to look at the burned bodies on the road. The boy responds “They’ll still be there”. The boy speaks the truth because no matter what the man does, he will never be able to erase the imagery in the boys head or bring the people back to life. This moment is much like the one in “Catcher in the Rye” when Holden finds out he can’t erase all the swear words in the world. This conflict is very interesting because it brings raises questions as to why the father would even want to preserve the innocence of his son, especially in a world so devoid of hope. One would think that he would want his son to grow up and get used to the grizzly scenery, which he does at some moments like when he tells him to hold the gun. This moment and conflict gives true complexity to the man and the novel.

  5. This post was written at the start of the novel. I wanted to wait until we finished the novel to examine and explore the similarities and differences regarding my perception of the novel at the beginning and end of the story. I too would agree that at the beginning of the novel, many overlooked the bumps in the road, however they were always there. Just because the conflicts were not external or interpersonal, being made visible to the reader through direct actions or dialogue, they were still there. They were internal. I believe the true understanding of the novel involves the reader putting his or herself into the perspective of the characters. By doing so, the world of conflicts, struggles, and bumps along the way is made mind-blowingly evident and heartbreaking. Only through sympathizing with the characters by taking on their perspective are these seemingly absent conflicts made overwhelmingly apparent. Now, with a new perspective on the finished novel, it is clear to me that even after seeing more concrete and emphasized external struggles, such as run ins with “bad guys,” I still argue that the internal conflicts that the man and boy face are the most important for readers to understand. Anyone can write a book about running into trouble with “bad guys.” That is the premise of a large chunk of stories and movies; Batman and the Joker, Superman and Lex Luther, Snow White and the Queen, and the list goes on. We are taught to see conflict through physical interactions of characters by reading books and watching movies. And while these run-ins did happen in the novel, I still argue that even at the end, the biggest of conflicts were those that occurred internally. I believe the greatest struggle was that of continuing to “carry the fire,” and the end of the story strengthened this belief! The fight to continue being moral creatures in a dog-eat-dog new world, the struggle to carry on hope, love, and light in a dark, desolate, and emotionally cold world, and the battle to keep alive faith in the future of humanity in a hopeless world are bigger than any physical struggle the boy and man encountered. In reflection, at the end of this novel, the inner conflicts the two dealt with every second of every day, trudging on day after day, were far greater than anything we could imagine. I believe that this is what the author wanted us to see. More than creating an entertaining novel with exciting conflicts and fights, he wrote this story with the intention of us readers to read between the lines and put ourselves in the shoes of the characters. He wanted us to feel their inner turmoil and struggles in order to really understand the story he had written.

  6. I actually hadn’t read your post until just now, but I would also have to agree that even at the beginning of the story- before the plot really started to contain the major, obvious conflicts- there were already many internal conflicts at the beginning. From the first few pages, I felt this heavy feeling in my chest that I can’t really describe except to say that I felt sad and afraid for the man and his boy. I’ve enjoyed everything we’ve read in this class, but this was the first piece of work we’ve read that has really made me feel strongly for the characters within the first few chapters. I would definitely agree with Alex’s comment that “the deeper conflicts are “man vs. self” conflicts.” I could for sure sympathize with them regarding the initial conflicts you mentioned (memories of the past and his wife, apocalyptic transition, etc.) just as much as I felt for them regarding their more obvious conflicts (no food or shelter, fighting for their lives, staying hidden from the bad guys, etc.). I think McCarthy’s style of writing and the tone he sets from the beginning made this possible: the short sentenced conversations, the descriptions of the land and the fact that we don’t actually know what caused this apocalypse all drew me into the story early on. You had a great interpretation of the beginning of the story and its conflicts and why it hooked us as readers in from the start. I also really, really love your title for this article “The Bumps in the Road”- very nice play on works with the title of the book. I’m sorry I’m just now reading this!

  7. I agree with your list of all of the conflicts in the story. At first glance, I could also see how someone would feel that there is not much conflict until later though. This is because there is no action-packed, fear-driven scene that keeps the readers on the edge of their seats until many pages later in the plot. The first fast-paced scene that really stood out to me was when the man and the boy found the cannibals’ house and almost got caught by them. Today as a society, we are constantly bombarded with scenes right away that catch our attention. From movies to novels, this way of portraying a story has become commonplace. However, I believe by waiting until so late in the story to incorporate one of these scenes, Cormac McCarthy allowed the plot to mimic that of real life. When you think about it, our lives are not as crazy or funny all the time, although we wish they were. In a way, moviemakers play off of this and give audiences what they want: an appealing break from their own lives, so they can pretend to live like the actors seen in movies or characters read in books if only for a little while. McCarthy’s slower plot progression did not do this outright. He instead chose to show us what would actually become important or noteworthy during life in a post-apocalyptic world rather than giving a grandiose version that we are used to. For this reason, The Road causes us to search for conflict that is more realistic, yet not as common in the literary and film worlds.

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