Imagery in "The Road" by Cormac McCarthy

Essay, 2013

39 Pages



Chapter 1


Research Methodology

Chapter 2

Literature Review

Chapter 3

Descriptive Language

Chapter 4

Figurative Language


Works Cited

Chapter 1


This research paper entitled Imagery in The Road by Cormac McCarthy intends to explore McCarthy’s style in the novel .His style is unique as he makes use of different literary techniques to give credibility and depth to his novel. He used a dark style in the novel which he presents with the help of imagery of death and darkness. In literature, imagery is a huge literary device in the hand of a writer. Imagery is used in literature in order to describe, intensify, enhance or provide sensory experiences to the text. It is a technique that appeals to the senses and brings a realistic or naturalistic quality to characters or settings. Two types of languages are used in literature: descriptive and figurative. Descriptive language appeals directly to the senses whereas figurative language uses more sublime descriptions and often invokes other meanings or themes of a work.

Both types of language are used to create imagery in literature. Descriptive language is direct method of creating imagery in literature. The function of this type of imagery is to create a vivid, realistic description of the natural features of varied scenery appealing to as many of the reader’s senses as possible. This type of imagery incorporates all the senses; visual (sight), auditory (sound), kinesthetic (refers to movement), olfactory (smell), and gustatory (taste). This form of imagery mainly describes the appearance of characters and settings; and gives the sound, smell, taste and feel of the fictional and fancied world. It helps the reader to form a mental image of the object. In addition to its use in description of characters, settings and objects, sometimes imagery is also used to refer to figurative language. Figurative means language being used in a non-literal way: most commonly the writer uses a metaphor and simile to extend the significance of what he is saying. Figurative language is not understood on a literal level. Metaphors and similes are also used in literature to create images. These phrases intend to compare one object to another. A simile uses the terms "like" or "as.” Metaphors are considered to be authoritative and important as they convey tighter word economy, but similes have their uses as well. Besides the writer also use symbolism and personification to make his novel poetic.

This research paper intends to highlight the technique of imagery employed by the writer with the help of which he has created the ghastly environment in making this post apocalyptic tale, The Road, morbid and diseased. The fore coming chapters focus on the two forms of imagery applied by the writer that is descriptive language that appeals to the senses of the readers and figurative language that describes one thing in terms of another. These two types of languages help the writer to create imagery.

In The Road, everywhere McCarthy uses bleak imagery to describe how hopeless, dim and gray everything is. He gives such vivid scenery that reader could visualize what they were seeing and he presents very morbid, hopeless and desolated looking world with the help of imagery. The novel is bleak and frightening, but beautifully written. He draws the story with graphic images of the surroundings, strong characters, and effortless poetic prose that make an impact on the readers. His writing style is simple. The characters stagger across the cold, wretched, wet, corpse-strewn, ashen landscape of a post apocalyptic world. The imagery is frightening.

The Road is a post apocalyptic novel that tells the dejecting story of father and a son after a catastrophe, left unspecified, that has devastated the United States. The people left in this world are savage, ferocious cannibals who represent the typical human living on the planet. This novel describes the straight, well-trodden path or road of human life itself, the progress of entropy, degeneration, gradual decline and eventual extinction. This novel is not only a Pulitzer Prize winner but it also won the James Tait Black Memorial Prize for fiction, the Believer Book Award and was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award for fiction.

Cormac McCarthy (July 20, 1933) is an American Pulitzer Prize laureate novelist and playwright. He was a son of Charles Joseph. Initially he was named Charles, but later he changed it to Cormac meaning “son of Charles”. He was an Italian catholic and therefore for further education attended Catholic High School. After that, he studied liberal arts from the University of Tennessee. He used to call himself C. J. McCarthy, Jr. during his stay at university. He left the university without completing his graduation and went to Chicago where he worked as an auto-mechanic and also started work on his very first novel. On his return to Tennessee, his marriage was going through a rough patch, it could no longer be sustained, and therefore he and his wife separated. He had one son. His wife also wrote several books including Desire’s Door. Further’ he became a part of US Air Force in 1953 and served at Alaska for two years of the four years in Air Force. In early 60′s, he received a traveling fellowship from the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

He published two short stories A Drowning Incident and Wake for Susan in the student literary magazine, The Phoenix and also won the Ingram-Merrill Award for creative writing in 1959 and 1960. He wrote ten novels covering the Southern Gothic, Western, and Post-apocalyptic genres. The readers were first introduced to McCarthy’s difficult narrative style in the novel The Orchard Keeper (1965) that was about a Tennessee man and his two instructors in an isolated community of Tennessee. Societal rejection has been highlighted in the novel Outer Dark (1968). Child of God (1973) is about a rejected person in the society and ultimately becomes an inhumane, Suttree (1979) an autobiography with the technique of flashbacks is about a man who gets over his fixation on death, Blood Meridian (1985) a violent frontier tale, a critical sensation, acclaimed as his masterpiece. It tells the story of 14-year-old boy who joins a gang of outlaws or rebels hunting Native Americans along the U.S.-Mexico borderlands in the 1840s, All the Pretty Horses (1992) winner of the National Book Award, the first volume of The Border Trilogy. It is the coming-of-age story of John Grady Cole, a Texan who travels to Mexico. The second installment, The Crossing (1994), set before and during World War II, and the third Cities of the Plain (1998) interweaves the lives of John Grady Cole and Billy Parham through their employment on a ranch in New Mexico. , No Country for Old Men (2005) about an illegal drug deal that goes wrong in a desolated location and The Road (2006) post apocalyptic novel.

His first novel won him the Faulkner Award and The Road won him Pulitzer Prize in 2007. Every writer has his own way of presenting things and his own distinctive voice. In the same way his novel are noted for dense prose, and stylistic complexity and The Road is noted for its dark violence.

Research Methodology

This research paper aims to explore imagery in The Road by Cormac McCarthy . As this is a literary research so the methodology used is ‘qualitative method’ and the approach used is interpretive.

Chapter One entitled ‘Introduction’ includes the introduction of the writer, the novel under research and other works of the writer.

Chapter Two contains Literature Review that has tried to incorporate all the available print and web criticism on the author, his works and the topic under research.

Chapter Three elaborates the type of imagery which is conveyed with the help of descriptive language. These mainly include images that make use of the five human senses -vision, auditory, olfactory, kinesthetic and gustatory that explains the themes of the novel. Varied themes are presented by these senses that give the novel a realistic touch and make the reader believe what the writer has written.

Chapter Four deals with the figurative language that includes metaphors, similes, symbolism and personification with the help of which the writer draws images because these literary devices lend a hand to writer in giving a prose a poetic feel. The title itself represents the metaphor of journey from life to death. Similar images are used by the writer to make the prose more close to reality. The writer uses similar images in his other works as well.

Chapter 2

Literature Review

Cormac McCarthy is known for his distinctive and straightforward prose style. He reveals his craftsmanship in various novels and so he does in The Road by using simple language but powerful images that appeal to the senses and is filled with abundance of similes and metaphors. The Road is considered to be his masterpiece because he has drawn a picture of a world that has only darkness in it. What other newspapers or writers think about him or his works particularly about The Road is as follows:

McCarthy has that knack of courage and determination that a narrator should have to make him a forceful storyteller that is why the writing throughout his career is forceful and brilliant: “McCarthy is a gutsy, powerful storyteller. . . . The writing throughout is magnificent” (Chicago Sun-Times).

This novel The Road is one of McCarthy’s best novels and is autobiographical; therefore the writing style is considered to be the most touching and poignant: “One of McCarthy’s best novels, probably his most moving and perhaps his most personal” (Los Angeles Times).

The Road is a story of a father and a son who manage to survive in a devastated, desolated and evil world but McCarthy never denies or repels the idea of goodness, virtue or kindness and paints it in the form of the boy who despite of the bleak environment compels his father to help others. This raises McCarthy’s position as a spiritual teacher. This element of human goodness adds a new dimension to the book and this is therefore among the best books of the year. “His tale of survival and the miracle of goodness only add to McCarthy's stature as a living master. It's gripping, frightening, and, ultimately, beautiful. It might very well be the best book of the year, period” (The San Francisco Chronicle).

This novel The Road is clear, alive and expressive in nature therefore it’s among McCarthy’s most readable works. It presents fancy of the posthumous conditions and devastation of natural landscape, culture and human race: “Vivid, eloquent . . . The Road is the most readable of [McCarthy's] works and consistently brilliant in its imagining of the posthumous condition of nature and civilization” (The New York Times Book Review).

The novel is enlightened by unusual or remarkable sensitivity of the loss of the world that makes it completely clear and transparent. The novel does not let its readers and characters to evade and avoid the harsh realities of life: “Illuminated by extraordinary tenderness. . . . Simple yet mysterious, simultaneously cryptic and crystal clear. The Road offers nothing in the way of escape or comfort…..” (The New York Times).

The novel is set in a natural environment: everything is set in a raw form and therefore is very forceful or intense that uncovers the foundation of sadness, terror and pain so beautifully that the misfortune or calamity has never been perceived this much before: “The Road is a wildly powerful and disturbing book that exposes whatever black bedrock lies beneath grief and horror. Disaster has never felt more physically and spiritually real” (Time).

The novel, being a post apocalyptic work, has been finely written and the Biblical references have been amalgamated in the story to make it real. It looks so realistic that it appears to be painted by the brush of an artist and with perfection, this he has achieved with the help of the technique of imagery. That is why it grasps human imagination completely.

It's hard to think of [an apocalypse tale] as beautifully, hauntingly constructed as this one. McCarthy possesses a massive, Biblical vocabulary and he unleashes it in this book with painterly effect. . . The Road takes him to a whole new level. . . It will grip even the coldest human heart The Star-Ledger (Newark) The Road is desolated and gloomy but beautifully and finely written that it seems to have magical spell. The language throughout is simple yet poetic and has passionate and flaming eloquence. McCarthy has exhibited his ferocious or wildest view to display the violence or ruination of the destructed world. He writes in such a way that it seems that he has put the unutterable or unexplainable truths into words in this brief, frightened but powerful story in spite of the shocking damages it causes. He is thought to bring Biblical wrath in the form of this tale that a common man could never understand.

This is an exquisitely bleak incantation -- pure poetic brimstone. Mr. McCarthy has summoned his fiercest visions to invoke the devastation. He gives voice to the unspeakable in a terse cautionary tale that is too potent to be numbing, despite the stupefying ravages it describes. Mr. McCarthy brings an almost biblical fury as he bears witness to sights man was never meant to see (Janet Maslin , the New York Times n.pag)

This novel is a winner of the National Book Award and the National Books Critic Award. It is a story more about nature in its raw form .It is a tale of hope, compromise and acceptance of extinction of everything living thing. The novel is full of life although there are only two characters that are nameless but McCarthy has written it in a way that it feels like he has taken a picture of the scene and pasted it on a book. The use of metaphors in the novel shows that there is a deep understanding showing that literature is a replica of real life and it’s something which is felt by the heart while reading the book.

Winner of the National Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award…Essentially, this is a story about nature vs. nurture, commitment and promises, and though there aren't many characters, there is abundant life in the prose. We are reminded how McCarthy has mastered the world outside of our domestic and social circles, with each description reading as if he had pulled a scene from the landscape and pasted it in the book. He uses metaphors the way some writers use punctuation, sprinkling them about with an artist's eye, showing us that literature from the heart still exists (Library Journal n.pag)

This novel is different from McCarthy’s other works. He makes use of short, simple sentences in a rhythmic manner and combines it with the predictions of future by giving images that cannot be removed: “Even within the author's extraordinary body of work… Though the sentences of McCarthy's recent work are shorter and simpler than they once were, his prose combines the cadence of prophecy with the indelible images of poetry….” ( Kirkus Reviews n.pag)

Existing criticism focuses on the overall imagery in the novel that gives the novel a beauty and makes it believable and close to reality. This research paper concentrates on the descriptive and figurative language employed by the writer to create imagery because it plays a pivotal role in literature in perceiving various themes. Varied themes have been highlighted with the help of descriptive language – sensuous imagery as well as through figurative language that is by the use of similes and metaphors. Imagery in literature is considered to be important because it gives depth to the work of the writer and gives novel credibility. This dissertation focuses on descriptive and figurative language used in, The Road, in order to provide the present body of literature the explanation and interpretation of this literary element ‘imagery’ in the novel.

Chapter 3

Descriptive Language

This chapter focuses on the descriptive type of imagery in which the writer has incorporated five senses to give his novel plausibility that is; He, by using this technique of imagery, gives the novel a realistic touch because it makes the readers to clearly visualize what the writer is intending to show. It gives aesthetic and artistic beauty, feeling and emotion to the text. It is thoughtfully used in order to give purpose to the image by amalgamating the five senses. McCarthy uses this language to compose the text and makes it believable to the readers. The themes of the novels are presented with great deal of imagery pertaining to senses – vision (sight), auditory (hear), kinesthetic (touch) olfactory (smell), and gustatory (taste) that are repeatedly used in this novel.

The novel is all about the destruction of the world and the writer has introduced the world that has turned into an ashen world by offering this visual imagery:

When it was light enough to use the binoculars he glassed the valley below. Everything paling away into the murk. The soft ash blowing in loose swirls over the blacktop. He studied what he could see. The segments of road down there among the dead trees. Looking for anything of color. Any movement. Any trace of standing smoke […] Then he just sat there holding the binoculars and watching the ashen daylight congeal over the land (The Road 4-5)

There is destruction everywhere and the world has turned into ruins, ashes making gray and dark environment. The protagonist in the novel used binoculars to take a view of the gloomy world but sees everywhere, the blackness that is present in the form of ash, dead trees, smoke, stagnant life. All these images suggest end of existence. The ‘binoculars’ show the advancement of technology with the help of which the protagonist glassed the valley where everything is obscure and in complete darkness. He is using the image of ‘paling’ that refers to the dead trees. Then the imagery of ‘soft ash’ that moves in a circular movement on the top of the metaphorical road that signifies the journey between life and death. Ash is something that refers to the mourning or lamentation.

The imagery of ‘dead trees’ refers to the wastage of natural resources –everywhere he could see nothing just the gray color that is associated with the dull, gloomy or depressing environment and see the grayish sunlight sets the whole land. Gray is a color that is associated with solitude and emptiness which this chaotic land of America is showing. This visual imagery refers to the theme of destruction of the world. This is how the writer has incorporated the senses to present the themes of the novel and made it appear real to his readers. The imagery is very graphic and lifelike.

As the writer is presenting a realistic picture of the extinction of the world, he is also of the view that memory and past is something that cannot be forgotten .He is actually recalling past experiences. Although the protagonist who belonged to the extinct world but still he dreamt of his dead wife:

From daydreams on the road there was no waking. He plodded on. He could remember everything of her save her scent. […]. She held his hand in her lap and he could feel the tops of her stockings through the thin stuff of her summer dress. Freeze this frame (The Road 19)

The man was in a position that he could not forget his wife and often dreams about her and the thoughts, images and sensations of his wife encircle him and he could even smell of her scent and perceives that she touches his hand and puts it in her lap and he could feel the top surface of her stockings through her summer dress. He does not want to change the picture and makes the time to stop where it is: he urges not to leave his wife in a dream. McCarthy merges the different senses to make a scene and gives it an actual depiction and presents himself as a magician who seems to show a movie that is running in the mind of the reader.

As it is a post apocalyptic novel-a novel that is set after a calamity, the writer has mentioned certain objects from the existing world as versions of reality and presents it with the kinesthetic imagery.

On the outskirts of the city they came to a supermarket. […] In the alleyway behind the store a few shopping carts, all badly rusted[.] By the door were two softdrink machines […]. He withdrew his hand slowly and sat looking at a Coca Cola. What is it, Papa? It's a treat. For you […] He put his thumbnail under the aluminum clip on the top of the can and opened it. He leaned his nose to the slight fizz coming from the can and then handed it to the boy. Go ahead, he said. The boy took the can. It's bubbly, he said (The Road 23)

In the novel, the man and the boy remains on the road that is a part of their journey but the stoppings are the part of their crossing that make them to find something for them to eat or wear. They came to a supermarket and found carts; all rusted .The carts show that the world has again reduced to pre civilized world where people used carts to carry things.


Excerpt out of 39 pages


Imagery in "The Road" by Cormac McCarthy
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
imagery, road, cormac, mccarthy
Quote paper
Shafaq Sabeeh (Author), 2013, Imagery in "The Road" by Cormac McCarthy, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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