Eight – The Road Archetypal Analysis

In every text there are symbols. In many books, if it’s by a good author, nothing is put in the book by accident. Everything is intentional and has a meaning. In the case of The Road, there is plenty of potential archetypes, a few I have identified include the symbolism of a sextant, the setting, and the sea meaning death and rebirth.

Throughout the entire story, various archetypes make themselves present. In this example, the readers can identify the symbolic meaning of a rusted sextant,“He lifted it from the fitted case and held it in his hand. Struck by the beauty of it. The brass was dull and there were patches of green on it that took the form of another hand that once had held it but otherwise it was perfect.” (243)  At first, I just ignored the sextant, then it kind of had its own little scene so I just decided to look it up and it’s apparently used for navigation mainly in sea travel by measuring stars to the horizon. However, in this analysis it’s not the point though, I believe that the sextant is a symbol of the man’s acknowledgement to the world long gone. He finds the instrument beautiful (just as he thought the old world was beautiful (he states this in flashbacks of his wife), but the degraded parts represent the uselessness of the item, now. You can make this connection by thinking of the beautiful instrument as the once beautiful earth, and the degraded, rusty parts represent the way their world is now.  

Photo by Camille / Kmile on Unsplash

In addition, the book also features the way the setting is frequently described as a motif to death and despair (fun, right?). One of the examples describes, “Slow water in the flat country. The sloughs by the roadside motionless and gray. The coastal plain rivers in leaden serpentine across the wasted farmland.” (214)  I actually found it interesting that instead of the forest fires causing the world to heat up, the earth actually cooled immensely. The winter’s got much colder, summer was cool and rainy. The way the terrain and setting are described by McCarthy, its portrayed in a very deadly and inhospitable way. Which is very true. McCarthy’s point really comes across when archetypes such as the perpetually gray sky, and the complete lack of colour throughout the book (except for blood red and gray), really pushes the idea of gray meaning despair and death. Cold and snow are also common themes in the book. Both cold and snow and lead to death. That the world they now live in has lost all of its beautiful things.
Not to mention the word ‘serpentine’, the snake archetype is known to mean force, and in this case, the force of death. 

As aforementioned in the previous blog post, children need a guardian to take care of them. Especially in a catastrophe-ridden wasteland-of-an-earth, the boy was very dependent on his father. Towards the end of the book, we are able to see a transformation in the boy, particularly in the way he takes care of himself. “[The Boy] slept close to his father that night and held him but when he woke in the morning his father was cold and stiff… Someone was coming. He started to turn and go back into the woods but he didn’t. He just stood in the road and waited, the pistol in his hand. He’d piled all the blankets on his father and he was cold and he was hungry. The man that hove into view and stood there looking at him was dressed in a gray and yellow ski parka.” (300 + 301) From the previous analysis, we know that the only thing that kept the man and the boy moving was the motivation to get to the coast, to the ocean. That was their goal. The common archetypal meaning for the ocean is death and rebirth, which is reinforced and made true by this scenario; the boy’s father dies on the beach of the sea, and the boy finds a new caretaker. 

1 Comment

  1. Ms. Balen

    Ah, Mary…
    As a trekkie you definitely needed to know both what the sextant is and what it can represent. Good on you for taking the time to dig into the word once you noticed it.


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