(Note: I know very well that The Road was written as a kind of “man’s man” story in the tradition of Hemingway: it’s tribute to the father-son relationship which McCarthy dedicated to his son, John Francis McCarthy. (After reading the book, however, I was left with a distinct WTF? feeling regarding McCarthy’s treatment of women throughout the novel. I did a cursory search on-line and couldn’t find a real “feminist” reading of The Road, though numerous blogs reported that McCarthy’s mother figures could be problematic. Therefore, bear with me as I hope to God that McCarthy isn’t simply a raging misogynist.
(Also, if anyone out there has any insight, it is MORE than welcome. I’m struggling here. Am I reading too much into it? Not enough?
(Oh, and SPOILER ALERT, obviously.)
For those women who are unfortunate enough to survive on the road, their bodies, once vessels of creation, become possessions: “Behind them came wagons drawn by slaves in harness and piled with goods of war and after that the women, perhaps a dozen in number, some of them pregnant, and lastly a supplementary consort of catamites illclothed against the cold and fitted in dogcollars and yoked to each to each” (92). In order of importance, they hold less value than “goods of war” but more value than “catamites,” male sex slaves.
In fact, when the mother calmly discusses her own suicide, she correctly predicts these occurrences: “Sooner or later they will catch us and they will kill us. They will rape me. […] They are going to rape us and kill us and eat us and you wont face it” (56). In some ways, her brutal acceptance of the world-as-it-has-become is much braver than the father’s I’m-sure-everything-will-be-fine-when-we-get-to-the-coast brand of denial. Her willingness to murder her own child to protect him from one of the cruelest worlds in recent literature stands in direct opposition to the father, who, when finally faced with the decision, says, ” I cant hold my son dead in my arms. I thought I could but I cant” (279). The mother briefly touches on this difference when she says, “They say that women dream of danger to those in their care and men of danger to themselves. But I dont dream at all. […] My heart was ripped out of me the night he was born so dont ask for sorrow now. There is none” (57). Though she brought her child into the world, she knew the world was no place for either her or him, a fact that the father looks back on with some bitterness.