“Justified in the World”: Spatial Values and Sensuous Geographies in Cormac McCarthy’s The Road

  • Anthony Warde University of Sheffield


In contrast to the conventional division between "early" and "late(r)" works, the development of Cormac McCarthy's oeuvre is typically described in geographical terms, with critics subsuming his first four novels under the heading "Appalachian Works" and his subsequent novels under the title "Western Works". Far from merely constituting a convenient categorising or framing device, these positional terms reflect an increasing concern with space and place in McCarthy's novels.[2] In this article, I address spatial concerns that are specific to McCarthy's 2006 novel, The Road, demonstrating how the protagonists' desire for positionality and directionality is both heightened and hampered by an apocalypse that has reduced the world to dust and ashes.

Like many of McCarthy's previous works, The Road employs mapping motifs to explore the distinction between space and place, and to represent protagonists' struggle to both master and move through space. In the post-apocalyptic world of the novel, however, maps are associated with a visual, abstracted and purportedly objective understanding of space that is shown to be both illusory and wholly inadequate.[3] In place of traditional cartography, The Road asserts a more holistic human or sensuous geography, a manner of constructing space that highlights the interaction (and interdependence) of the human body and its surrounding land, rather than the dominance of the former over the latter.

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