Sunday, December 7, 2008

The Road, by Cormac McCarthy: Possible Young Adult Literature

The Road, by Cormac McCarthy, was not written for high school students, it is an adult book. However, its content, as well as the way the story is told, is appropriate for high school and undergraduate college students alike. The Road is a post-apocalyptic story of the survival of a man and his son is told through very roughly formatted text, but in beautiful fashion. McCarthy, the author of No Country For Old Men (which is definitely NOT appropriate for school reading of any age), has struck a chord with this book among both science fiction and literary circles alike.

This book forces one to ask, can science fiction be heralded as a work of classic literature, or if this book even qualifies as science fiction. I wanted to originally classify this book as a dystopia themed one, much like 1984, A Brave New World, and such post-apocalyptic tales as The Planet of the Apes, I Am Legend, and Earth Abides, books that have all found their way into high school classrooms at one time or another. However, after reading it, I found that it fit with none of these books, although I was able to make connections that I found fit. This book defies classification in a clearly defined sub-genre, but is most definitely a work of science fiction and of the highest form of literary art, in my opinion.

This story involves no brutal murder, blood and guts, or even adult situations (other than the ongoing topic of death and suicide, which is not an uncommon theme in works of adult literature, especially such dark tales as this one). I can see high school juniors or seniors, as well as college undergraduates, delving deep into the possibilities of this book, including the origins of the apocalypse that took place, the relationship and goals of the man and boy, and the meaning of this story as a whole.

The prose of the book is especially interesting. McCarthy is known for his interesting style, and this book is no exception. The stripped down writing, with its incomplete punctuation, sometimes erratic structure, and bare bones dialogue are almost poetic at times, but on a deeper level, are a part of the story itself. When the man and boy are on the brink of despair and starvation, the grammatical structure of the story begins to thin, but when they are in higher spirits, it reads more like a novel (which isn't much). I think this would be an intriguing idea to show to students to let them think about on their own, it certainly interested me.

I am writing about this book in part because I thought it was of stunning beauty. It was a work of art, and engrossed me in every conceivable way. Its content is not inappropriate for high school students, and its vocabulary is not beyond 17 and 18 year olds. I recommend teachers take a closer look at this book, both for its value as a true masterpiece, and for its value in the classroom. Hopefully someone sees this and runs with this book. If I taught senior English/Composition, I definitely would.

I would draw possible parallels in the young adult and pre-adolescent literary worlds to this book through the following two books:

Life As We Knew It, by Susan Beth Pfeffer - The story of a girl and her family struggling to survive after a massive meteor strikes the moon, knocking it out of its gentle balance with the earth, causing apocalyptic events (ages 10-14). See my review of Life As We Knew It.

The City of Ember, by Jeanne DuPrau - Some sort of unnamed apocalypse occurs, and a group of people are taken to safety in The City of Ember. This story is one of survival through dark circumstances, but is told in a fashion that is appropriate for children (ages 8-12). See my review of The City of Ember.


HSandra_Miss said...

After reading this book, I debated whether it would be a good book for my seniors to read in the Advanced Placement classes. I still don't know, you make some good points, but I wonder about where it would fit in curriculum wise.

The Buss said...

The thing about curriculum, especially in the interpretation of standards and benchmarks in language arts is that they're usually vague to a certain extent. If it doesn't lay out specifics right down to the texts you have to use, it's up to you to place the right materials in there to teach the skill. Where The Road fits in exactly, I'll have to think about that a little more. Maybe this evening I'll try to get back to you on this.