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The Road: The First-Person Paragraph

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message 1: by Meg (new) - rated it 3 stars

Meg I have been trying to find a reasonable explanation why only one paragraph in the entire book is written in first person, and I haven't been able to find anything that I really believe.

I think I understand what the paragraph is about, but I can't figure out why he chose to write that one small bit in first person.

For reference, it's about a third of the way through:
The dog that he remembers followed us for two days. I tried to coax it to come but it would not. I made a noose of wire to catch it. There were three cartridges in the pistol. None to spare. She walked away down the road. The boy looked after her and then he looked at me and then he looked at the dog and he began to cry and to beg for the dog's life and I promised I would not hurt the dog. A trellis of a dog with the hide stretched over it. The next day it was gone. That is the dog he remembers. He doesn't remember any little boys.
The Road


Beth I read this a couple of years ago and don't remember. I have the book and could check this, but I just can't. This was the most depressing book ever. Just reading your single paragraph brought back that feeling of dread I had the whole time I read it.


Doug My impression is that he was thinking this to himself, and we the readers are sort of just "eavesdropping" in on his private thoughts regarding this dog incident. It seems to be almost a guilty conscience wrestilng with something, in other words more happened here than he is admitting to himself in the memory...


George "He doesn't remember any little boys.".....What does this mean? This book really was scary for me. Too dark.


Doug I just got the DVD of the movie of The Road - will watch soon, see if the film clears this up at all...


Chryse Wymer Wow, that is weird. I've read this book several times and never noticed. Personally, I wonder if the author had written it in first person originally and this was a flub-up in editing. It doesn't look like internalized thought.


Thomas Acland I noticed this passage when I was reading the book and thought it was a little odd. Also in this paragraph who is she?

When I initially read this I thought it was going to be some character that we were possibly going to be introduced to later in the book, but having now finished the book I have realised this is not the case. Therefore my only assumption is the this person must be a member of the "new family" that he meets at the end of the book. It seems they have been keeping track of him throughout his journey without his realising.


Chryse Wymer I thought it was the dog, but maybe I'm reading it wrong.


Thomas Acland The sentence

She walked away down the road. The boy looked after her and then he looked at me and then he looked at the dog

gave me the impression that her, me and the dog were 3 separate things but I could be totally wrong.


Chryse Wymer I just got the impression that he was looking at the dog, then his dad, and back at the dog.


Thomas Acland You could very well be correct with that, I found that paragraph confusing and had to reread it several times and it still didn't make much sense.


Karen If the dog is female, does that solve the problem?


Thomas Acland Not hugely, I still wouldn't understand why one paragraph and one paragraph only is written in the first person or who that person is. But I guess the author put it in for a reason.


message 14: by Jeff (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jeff Chryse wrote: "Wow, that is weird. I've read this book several times and never noticed. Personally, I wonder if the author had written it in first person originally and this was a flub-up in editing. It doesn't l..."
I suspect you are right about the "flub-up." In a previous book I read by McCarthy ("No Country for Old Men") there seemed to be a whole number of editing issues. Random characters were introduced but never incorporated, including the mention of a daughter who died who had nothing to do with the story and was never heard from in the text again. This was dropped into the story very late, toward the end. And then the final chapter is nothing but mostly unrelated musings that occur after the actual story is finished. It's a really awkward coda that seems to be author's notes and nothing that's germaine to the story itself. It definitely left me with the impression that what I read was not only unabridged, but unedited as well.

All that said, "The Road" was nevertheless an excellent read on so many levels. On top of everything else, it was an amazing exercise in writing while being limited to a monochromatic and lifeless landscape. No warmth. No color. No sun. No light. Ash and rain and grey. And yet, the author manages page after page of descriptive paragraphs that keep you mesmerized in fear and anxiety and foreboding. Nice trick!


Santiago L. Moreno It surprised me too when i read that paragraph. Not the "she" question, that i interpreted as his wife (we don't know when that facts happens). It was the enigmatic use of the first person, the only case in all book. Thereafter, my impression that McCarthy was talking about himself was bigger. It was like an oversight, i think.


Brooke I thought the she was his wife also.


message 17: by [deleted user] (new)

Jeff wrote: " In a previous book I read by McCarthy ("No Country for Old Men") there seemed to be a whole number of editing issues."

Jeff, this is totally without malice, but I think you might have missed the point regarding No Country. I don't want to derail the thread, but the random musings, the seemingly superfluous biographical details, and the abrupt ending are purposeful. Sheriff Bell is the main character, or at least the focal character, but this is misdirection on the narrative's part due to the plot's focus on following the bag of money. One of the themes of the novel is the idea of random chance and how the world is utterly chaotic. Random details add to Bell's narrative, culminating in the end when he is delivered the news of the climactic shootout, positioning Bell as the true focal character. He is the lens through which the narrative offers morality or lack thereof.


message 18: by Jeff (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jeff macgregor wrote: "Jeff wrote: " In a previous book I read by McCarthy ("No Country for Old Men") there seemed to be a whole number of editing issues."

Jeff, this is totally without malice, but I think you might hav..."


Thank you for this, macgregor. Now, you left me reason to re-read the book, at least the last few chapters. But even as I write this, I think I recognized the intent to shift the focus to Bell and to use this as a means of summing it all up. I just didn't think he really did a very good job of it. But perhaps in a re-read some manner of discovery will show important clues (or whatever) that show me something I missed the first time. If so, it could make it an excellent and satisfying exercise.

I'll drop this here now so we don't hijack this thread. Again, thanks for the perspective.


message 19: by Lisa (last edited Jun 06, 2012 11:32AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Lisa I think that "she" is the dog in this paragraph.
Although this isolated first-person paragraph is distracting, it may have been McCarthy's only way to identify the boy's screen memory of the father's desire to kill and eat the dog.


message 20: by Melissa (last edited Jul 01, 2012 02:44AM) (new)

Melissa P "She" is not a dog, but in fact his mother. We are getting a glimpse into the mind of the man. This paragraph is a flashback implying that the boy, in his state of shock, did not really see a dog that day but was hallucinating based on a memory from back when his mother was still alive. Note that he mentions there were 3 bullets left in the gun. When the story begins, there are only 2 bullets in the gun, proving this is indeed a flashback. The bit about him not remembering any little boys could be the father voicing concern. He can assume the boy is simply thinking he sees a dog from his memory, but the boy was born after the apocalypse and has never met another little boy, so he has no idea why/how his son could be imagining a boy.


Danielle Maybe that first person paragraph was the man's own voice and he had at some point killed a child to feed his own family and that caused the mother to suicide, knowing that the man would do literally anything to ensure his son's and her own survival and she could not live with the horror of that. Possibly the rest of the book isn't in the first person because he had dehumanised himself by killing in order to keep his boy alive.


message 22: by Will (new) - rated it 5 stars

Will IV Whoa, that's a lot of speculation, Danielle.


Susan Melissa wrote: ""She" is not a dog, but in fact his mother. We are getting a glimpse into the mind of the man. This paragraph is a flashback implying that the boy, in his state of shock, did not really see a dog t..."
I agree, Melissa. This is a flashback. The issue of how many bullets are left in the gun is a crucial one. That there are still three at that point tells me the mother is still with them. [Later in the book, the boy says he wished he'd gone with his mother.]
The father speaks of "a trellis of a dog with the hide stretched over it." This is the dog the boy remembers.

I read this book months ago and it still haunts me.


message 24: by Ruth (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ruth I read this book over a year ago and found I could not put it down until I finished it. Like Susan, this book stayed with me a long time after reading it. I could not stop thinking of the choice this man faced and what would I do in such a situation.


message 25: by Anka (new) - rated it 2 stars

Anka Beth wrote: "I read this a couple of years ago and don't remember. I have the book and could check this, but I just can't. This was the most depressing book ever. Just reading your single paragraph brought back..."

God, that's just how I felt reading it and as much as I hate to abandon a book, I did. I closed it and deleted it (ebook) then I emptied the recycle bin on my desktop. This book didn't bore me, it didn't seem like bad writing at all, but it was simply excruciating to read. And that's all I have to say.


message 26: by Marius (last edited Sep 16, 2012 12:15PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Marius Hancu Meg wrote: "I have been trying to find a reasonable explanation why only one paragraph in the entire book is written in first person"

That's not true. There are several such paras, as shown in this book:

No More Heroes: Narrative Perspective and Morality in Cormac McCarthy
http://tinyurl.com/8dwhfqm

and the explanation is there. Quite good too, IMO.

Hope you can see the pages involved at Google Books.


Chris Campion I don't believe it's written in First Person POV. I think the technique everyone seems to be fluttering around is Stream-of-consciousness.
He doesn't seem to be speaking to anyone but himself, yet you see the "I" in the paragraph. It's the deepest we can get to a character. Check out Ulysses by Joyce or wiki SOC. I'm pretty sure it's Stream-of-Consciousness. I believe I saw other instances of that in The Road in which it seemed as if he was debating with himself whether he could shoot the boy if he had to.


Chris Campion "I" meaning the man. "He doesn't remember any little boys." "He" is the boy. "She" is the dog.


message 29: by Meg (new) - rated it 3 stars

Meg Stream of consciousness doesn't change the fact that it's still the only paragraph that is written in first person.

"first person - a style of discourse marked by general use of verbs and pronouns of the first person"

I have seen multiple examples of stream of consciousness narration that were written in third person.

Typically significant grammatical changes are used to impart some subtle meaning. For example, in The Handmaid's Tale, Atwood only uses quotation marks for dialog that takes place during the central timeline of the story. In all of the flashbacks to earlier incidents, the marks are omitted. Whether she intended this to indicate the inaccuracy of memory or simply to help the reader identify the chronology is purely speculation, but the decision was clearly conscious and is reflected through the entire work.

The fast that McCarthy deviates from his grammatical style in just one isolated paragraph makes it extremely difficult to interpret his intention and meaning.


Chris Campion Meg,

McCarthy is a stylist, and one that has seemed to have changed in style over the years. Not many people, other than say, Faulkner write like him. At least as far as I know of. He doesn't ever seem to be very consistent with POV in his novels. He's very distant yet out of nowhere he'll dive into a characters train of thought or what they are thinking or feeling. He seems to roam somewhere in the middle omniscient and limited POV. The Road, when you look at it, isn't your average novel. It's broken up into countless page breaks and has a lot of scenes where not much happens, but the language itself is very stark and evocative. So the style and language and what they evoke seem stronger than the plot. Not that the plot is bad though.
The passage you've cited is meant to give an emotional effect. So, you'd write something in 1st person or 3rd person to give the reader a certain type of feeling or emotional reaction. Same goes with diction. The same is true with slimmed-down prose or really flowery and poetic prose, jam packed with adverbs and adjectives to overload your senses.
Whether it's 1st person or SOC I suppose is debatable. The point is that you should feel something or try to extract some type of meaning from the passage. The passage adds to the overall bleakness and life-before-the-world-was lost sense that the book conveys. I'm assuming it conveys how deprived the son's childhood has been and perhaps the father is just reminiscing back on that time and trying to make some sense of it. Trying to hold on to the past even though its not a very happy one. Offering a SOC for the man, since the book is mostly written in his POV anyway, save for the moments of describing landscape or when it seems there's an omniscient narrator doing the talking. And I believe after he dies and the boy becomes the central character.
Literature is all about your own personal experience. You have to find out what it means to you. Everyone can give you their interpretation. It's yours that matters. :)
Chris


Chris Campion Here's an excellent essay on POV from the Writer's Chronicle, written by a dude named David Jauss. We had to read it in my master's class on Fiction. Now, I'm in on way saying this is the end all be all of essays. You have to read like at least half a dozen. And no one seems to universally agree on POV. But it breaks it down very well and I'd recommend it first before ever reading Joe Schmoes' blog on POV. Enjoy. It's really worth your time.

https://www.awpwriter.org/library/wri...


Chris Campion Finally, I notice I use "limited" POV a lot. Jauss doesn't even agree with it, but it's a term most readers/writers are pretty common with. He'd use direct or indirect interior monologue So, idk. There you go.
Sorry to be THAT guy on goodreads. I'm glad we can all come together and have a good discussion.


Marius Hancu Chris wrote: "Here's an excellent essay on POV from the Writer's Chronicle, written by a dude named David Jauss. We had to read it in my master's class on Fiction. Now, I'm in on way saying this is the end all b..."

Jauss is a good reference on POV.


message 34: by Marius (last edited Sep 22, 2012 05:38AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Marius Hancu Chris wrote: "I don't believe it's written in First Person POV. I think the technique everyone seems to be fluttering around is Stream-of-consciousness.
He doesn't seem to be speaking to anyone but himself, yet..."


Let's not confuse terminology. POV and SOC don't belong to the same conceptual category, and they are not incompatible.

One can have 3rd-person-POV SOC, not just 1st-person-POV SOC, as shown in these references:

http://tinyurl.com/9fvkhjm

I side with the critic referenced in the above that this is 1st person POV. At the same time, I agree with you this is SOC. However, it's of limited extension.

I further agree with you wrt the purpose the author had in using first person here. It's a matter of being more vivid, of getting the reader deeper into the thoughts of the character, of involving him/her more emotionally/intimately.


Chris Campion Could you clarify why POV and SOC don't belong to the same conceptual category? And why they are not incompatible. Just kind of a confusing statement to me.


Marius Hancu Chris wrote: "Could you clarify why POV and SOC don't belong to the same conceptual category? And why they are not incompatible. Just kind of a confusing statement to me."

From Wiki:
---
Point of view (literature) or narrative mode, the perspective of the narrative voice; the pronoun used in narration.

Stream-of-consciousness writing is usually regarded as a special form of interior monologue and is characterized by associative leaps in syntax and punctuation that may sometimes make the prose difficult to follow.
---

The first is about a perspective/view, the second is about form/implementation.

The river (SOC) is not the same with the angle (POV) from which I am contemplating it.


message 37: by Marius (last edited Sep 22, 2012 09:04AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Marius Hancu One example where the critic clearly dissociates the two notions/concepts:
---
One of the most striking stylistic aspects of "The Jilting of Granny Weatherall" is its unusual narrative perspective. Though the story is written in the third person, its narrative point of view is extremely close to that of the central character, Granny Weatherall. The story is told through stream-of-consciousness. Granny's thoughts are presented in a spontaneous fashion, as if readers had access to her thoughts at the moment each one occurs to her. Porter conveys what it is like to be an eighty-year-old woman whose mind tends to wander by enabling readers to experience some of the same confusion Granny feels.

http://www.bookrags.com/studyguide-gr...
---

BTW, such issues and more are discussed a lot at:
http://www.critiquecircle.com
a very good critiquing/critting site for writers.


message 38: by Joseph (last edited May 26, 2013 10:28AM) (new) - added it

Joseph J. Wood The discussion seems to have moved off topic. If I could bring it back to the question of this paragraph, and its apparent POV being first person.

It's possible that it's quite simple. Many times in the book, a character will speak but there will be no speech marks or anything else to indicate that it's speech. When there's a conversation, the lines are indented. But sometimes the dialogue will just be within the paragraph. (eg, the passage where they are in the house that the man grew up in. Page 25-26 in my copy)

"He felt with his thumb in the painted wood of the mantle the pinholes from tacks that had held stockings forty years ago. This is where we used to have Christmas when I was a boy. He turned and looked out at the waste of the yard."

Before the paragraph concerning the dog and the three cartridges and the 'she', the boy falls asleep. It doesn't say that the man falls asleep as well.

I think that in this paragraph, the man might just be talking to himself. Or maybe in those other instances he isn't speaking and we are given access to his thoughts. Either way, it isn't that it's an inconsistency, it just stands out because it's an entire, isolated paragraph.


Aumber Doug wrote: "My impression is that he was thinking this to himself, and we the readers are sort of just "eavesdropping" in on his private thoughts regarding this dog incident. It seems to be almost a guilty con..."

I like this idea, it feels right.
In all the book was amazing, and horrible at the same time. One of those reads that just gives you a pain in the gut of your stomach. This idea of hearing his private thoughts brings the horrible gut feeling back.


Allie I feel as though the writing style is similiar to the road itself because it's so stark and impersonal. In my opinion, the break in the writing style is to show a glimpse of humanity, something which is as rare as the dog. Just an idea!


message 41: by Meg (new) - rated it 3 stars

Meg Joseph wrote: "I think that in this paragraph, the man might just be talking to himself. Or maybe in those other instances he isn't speaking and we are given access to his thoughts. Either way, it isn't that it's an inconsistency, it just stands out because it's an entire, isolated paragraph. "

I hadn't noticed the other similar remarks. Probably because as you say, they were short comments set amid other text, as opposed to a full isolated paragraph. This is a great suggestion!


message 42: by Judy (new) - rated it 5 stars

Judy It's been a few years since I read this book...but I absolutely loved it...although it was extremely sad and depressing...and I shed a few tears while reading. That's the mark of a good author. He had me so wrapped up in the story. Did anyone read his "Border Trilogy"? Very starkly written as well...and sad. When the kid's horse died, I literally sobbed. Great stuff.


George Hamilton I saw the film for the first time last night. I thought some of the scenes were scarier than in the book, especially the scene in the house of human meat. I held my breath for the boy on several occasions.


Diwali L I'm so glad to find this thread years later. I wondered this myself a few years ago and concluded that the narrator is not the Man but is someone else who has been watching them all along. At first I thought it was the man the boy meets at the end with his wife and 2 kids, but then it would have switched to 1st person when the Boy and him meet. If anyone is still out here, I'd love to hear your thoughts on this theory of mine. I think it was very deliberate, not an error. It was meant to show us the correct version of what happened - that there was a dog. Maybe the real narrator, the one who only knows the Man and the Boy as the Man and the Boy, had a child as well who cried about the dog, and had a woman with him who is the "she" referred to.
I do love this book.


George Hamilton Nisha wrote: "I'm so glad to find this thread years later. I wondered this myself a few years ago and concluded that the narrator is not the Man but is someone else who has been watching them all along. At first..."
I must admit that I hadn't picked up on the narrator aspect. I may have to read it again just to experience that.


Diwali L I'm going to re read it again too. Aren't books great!


message 47: by George (last edited May 03, 2015 01:34AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

George Hamilton They definitely are. Happy reading.


message 48: by Richard (new) - added it

Richard Leyland I've just read this book and found a few of the paragraphs confusing and had to re-read. My take on this was:

A few pages earlier from this paragraph the boy thinks he sees another little boy across the road and he runs over to talk to him. After his father stops him and says there was no-one there, the boy says "we could take him and we could take the dog"...

So moving on a few pages, the man is thinking back to what the boy said here. The boy had merged two episodes together - one with a dog and one with a boy.

The dog episode must have been much earlier on when the mother was still with them. 'She' is the mother.
I think the man used one of the three bullets to kill the dog in desperation of food 'trellis' and blankets 'hide'.
Because earlier when the mother 'goes' it says there were only two bullets left. She was arguing: "I should have done it a long time ago. when there were three bullets in the gun instead of two." ie kill all three of them and have it done with.

I think the man killed the dog out of sight of the boy - hence, despite it following them for two days earlier, they never saw it again.

When it says 'he doesn't remember any little boys' I think he is saying the boy has never seen another little boy - otherwise he would have remembered them. Therefore the boy possibly saw a refelction of himself across the road when he thought that he'd seen a little boy.

Thoughts?


Diwali L I think you're definitely right about having killed the dog for food and out of sight of the boy (who certainly knew what was going to happen). Perhaps this is meant to illustrate how much the boy longed for contact with others - a dog, or another boy - so much that he'd rather have that contact than eat, and would maybe even conjure up an image of some imaginary other boy.

I still don't get though why it's all done in the first person. We see many times when the Man is engaging in thoughts of the past but its still in the third person.

I still haven't gotten around to a re-read - too many other books had caught my attention!


message 50: by TJ (new) - rated it 3 stars

TJ Melissa wrote: ""She" is not a dog, but in fact his mother. We are getting a glimpse into the mind of the man. This paragraph is a flashback implying that the boy, in his state of shock, did not really see a dog t..."
Yes, my take is that this is the man's consciousness. He feels guilty both about not being able to help the dog and not being able to help his wife. Seeing his son disappointed and sad reminds him that he was unable to protect his wife just like he can't protect the dog. These to memories converge in his mind and we as readers are forced to experience the confusion and pain through the sudden switch to the first person and the blurred representation of time .


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