Essay on How Nightmares Become Reality in Cormac McCarthy’s The Road

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In Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, in the post-apocalyptic world that the man and the boy live in, dreams begin to take on the form of a new “reality.” As the novel progresses, the man’s dreams, initially memories remnant of his pre-apocalypse life, become “brighter” as the boy’s dreams become darker and nightmarish. Through the use of color and distinct language, McCarthy emphasizes the contrast between reality and dreams. The man’s reliance on bad dreams to keep him tied to the harsh reality alludes to the hopelessness of the situation; he can never truly escape. McCarthy suggests that those who strive for a life that no longer exists are deluded with false hope. Having dreams is a natural human tendency, but in a world that has become so inhumane, the man can’t even afford to retain this element of being human. The loss of the past is a concept that the characters living in this ashen world struggle with, and McCarthy presents memory as a weakness to be exploited.
Though dreams are usually considered to be pleasant distractions, the man believes that good dreams draw you from reality and keep you from focusing on survival in the real world. The man’s rejection of dreams and refusal to be drawn into a distraction from his impending death exemplifies the futility of trying to escape; McCarthy presents dreams and memories as an inevitable conundrum not to be trusted. The man’s attitude towards dreams is established from the beginning of the novel. When battling with a recurring dream of his “pale bride” the man declares that “the right dreams for a man in peril were dreams of peril and all else was the call of languor and of death” (18). To the man, the life he lives in is so horrible that he believes that his dreams, in turn, must...

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...he “dead white and sightless eyes”(1); this creature represents the evils of humanity and its failure to exist. McCarthy blurs the border between dreams and reality in order to emphasize the inherent weakness of humans to let their realities be taken over.
Through the use of recurring ideas of death, hope and reality, McCarthy conveys that there is no escape; either from the universal destruction caused by the apocalypse or the emotionally destructive effects of dreams. In The Road, dreams reveal the human nature of the characters. McCarthy illustrates the gradual dehumanization of people when life completely changes; he argues that all the terrible things that people could do have already been done, underlining the frailty of our existence. McCarthy ultimately shows us how reliant we are on the past and that we must let go of the past to make way for the future.

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