The world as everyone knew it ended years earlier when "the clocks stopped at 1:17" [p 45] and power was lost. Not many people are still alive. The landscape is charred and hostile with "cauterized terrain" [p 12], "ashen scabland" [p 13], and "the mummied dead everywhere" [p 20]. A father and his young son travel south towards the coast. The boy's mother has committed suicide. Papa and the child wear masks and tote knapsacks. The father pushes a shopping cart filled with potentially useful items that he has collected during the journey. The man keeps his pistol close. It only contains two bullets - one reserved for him and one for the boy.

The father and son follow a road towards the ocean, but they scurry and hide like two animals. Papa's biggest worries are marauders, food, and shoes. The world is cold. Rape and cannibalism are common occurrences. Although their goal is to remain alive and reach the coast, father and son wonder if the destination is any more hospitable than the rest of the dying world. Often hungry and freezing, both of them become sick. The boy contracts a febrile illness. The man frequently coughs blood and is wounded in the leg by an arrow.

Father and child ultimately reach the ocean, but it too is cold and dead. Not long after arriving at the coast, Papa dies. A stranger finds the grieving boy and invites the child to join his family - wife, son, and daughter. He assures the boy that he is a good man. He tells the child that his family does not eat other people. He advises the boy to hold onto his father's pistol.


The wreckage of the planet and mankind is fully on display in this bleak and violent post-nuclear world. The environment, society, and human decency are devastated. Yet the instinct to survive is powerful and savage. Men will do anything to live even if it means resorting to cannibalism. Only hope and love seem spared from annihilation. The father's devotion to his son is staggering. The child's empathy for the suffering of other human beings suggests that the spark of humanity has not been totally extinguished. Is the child in this novel a savior? Can the remnants of the world still be redeemed?

The novel has no chapters. The characters are nameless. There is no safe haven. The environment and humanity are equally fragile. Life is on loan: "Borrowed time and borrowed world and borrowed eyes with which to sorrow it" [p 110]. The Road is rough, and apparently has only a single exit.


Alfred A. Knopf

Place Published

New York



Page Count