Taking the first 24 pages as a sample - how might we discuss Narrative in The Road.
The Significance of the Plot
1) The narrative voice offers no background or exposition – instead it thrusts us directly into an account of the man’s dream. The reader is disorientated, but the scene immediately grips us.
2) The first significant plot event is not a ‘real world’ event but a dream: a confrontation with the Gollum-like (thank you, Mike) monster. In this sense, the story being told is mythical – despite the crushing realism of much of the text.
3) There are few striking events in the opening 24 pages – no moments of extreme action and no interactions with other characters. The most exciting plot point is the ‘slight fizz’ of a Coca Cola.
4) A key plot event is actually a flashback – the ‘perfect day of his childhood’ (page 12 and 13). McCarthy seems to include this, structurally, as a necessary juxtaposition to the current plot.
The Authorial Voice
The narrator affects the story in several different ways:
1) The narrator has an objective third person perspective - which provides a feeling of cold detachment to the plot.
2) But does it really? Looking more closely - the voice seems to frame the plot through the eyes of the man (this is never explicit). The narrative voice does much to convey the characters’ paranoia in lines such as ‘This was not a safe place’.
The voice can be intensely pragmatic, speaking in short, simple declarations – this drives the linear narrative forward (see page 8 “When it had cleared...”).
On the other hand:
3) The voice also fixates on detail, which can be seen in extensive descriptive passages – this has the effect of slowing down the narrative and immersing the reader in the time and place (see page 7 “A quarter mile ...”).
1) The rhythm of the authorial voice can be intensely regular and measured. It creates an oddly lulling voice – appropriate for the dream-like sections of the plot.
2) The regularity of the tone can make the narrator appear unsettling and removed – like the speaker of an ancient poem. In many ways the narrative sounds like a traditional ‘quest’ narrative.
3) The authorial voice dwells upon the rich sounds of words. We can see this ‘Deep stone flues where water dripped and sang’.
4) Sentences are often simple – the story often sounds like an uncomplicated fable or folk take.
1) Many paragraphs seem to open with a description of the time setting – often with the man waking in the ‘blackness’ of night, or ‘the morning’. The time seems to affect the narrative voice in significant ways:
- At night, dawn, or dusk – the voice appears more dream-like, poetic and philosophical. Events have less clarity.
- During the day – the voice appears more practical, logical, pragmatic and detailed. Almost as if the voice wakes up with the characters.
2) A significant amount (I count 15 occasions in the first 24 pages) of the action takes place in the past – in memories, or in an uncertain time:
- ‘In that long ago...’ (page 20)
- ‘From daydreams on the road there was no waking’ (page 17)
McCarthy uses these frequent ‘flashbacks’ as opportunities to explore significant plot elements - ‘In dreams his pale bride came to him’ (Page 17). Even though the man ‘mistrusted all of that’ (i.e. memory) the flashbacks reflect the man’s need to escape into memory - ‘Freeze this frame’ (Page 17).
The place is the real star of the text and McCarthy does everything he can to immerse us in the world of the text. The world of The Road is so important to the progression of the plot.
McCarthy obsessively references chronology - often at the beginning of paragraphs:
- ‘It took two days...’ (page 15)
- ‘In the morning they went on’ (page 16)
- ‘By dusk of the following day’ (page 22)
Despite the frequent references to memory, and the past, these consistent references emphasise how linear the story is – time moves on – the road goes on – the plot moves on – paragraphs follow paragraphs. It seems inevitable.
 The Greeks refered to this technique as ‘In media res’ – beginning in the middle of things.
 For those interested in Master Plots – the frequent references to the death of nature (‘fossil tracks’, page 12), the frequent metaphors of disease (‘glaucoma’, page 1), and the lush memory of ‘the perfect day of childhood’ (page12) make the opening of The Road seem like a classic ‘Rebirth Myth’.
 There is often an iambic rhythm (like poetry), especially in the opening paragraph, lending a poetic and almost lyrical feel to some lines – this can lend the narrative a timeless, epic feel (almost like an ancient poem)