The world has been devastated, what it was is not quite clear. But there are ashes everywhere and the few survivors are on their way to the south, where it is warmer. On the road are also a father and his young son. They follow the road to the sea where the father hopes that life will be better. At times, they almost starve, at others, they have to hide from raging groups who recklessly kill everybody in their way. Sometimes, they are lucky, enter houses which have not been cleared completely and where they can rest, eat and rebuild. Sometimes, they become the victim of robbers and find themselves empty-handed. The father tries to live the life of a “good guy” and keep up the ethical standards, albeit they often come across human beings who seem to have forgotten which species they once belonged to.
The focus of the post-apocalyptical story is on the father’s attempt to raise his boy under those very poor conditions and to keep up to the high moral values he had before the destructive event. Seeing the world and the human race in decay does not make it easy for him, at times, ignoring his principles could make life a lot easier, but he wants to be a role model and live up to the boy’s expectations. Along their way, they meet different kinds of people, good ones and bad ones, some who need their help, others who try to harm them. With those encounters, the full spectrum of human emotions is portrayed by Cormac McCarthy and especially the scene in which the mother decides not to share their way is quite heart-breaking.
In 2007, the book was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. I find it hard to classify the novel, it is neither science-fiction, nor a dystopia; some critics called it a kind of fable or even horror story. Yet, it is not really important to pigeonhole it; the novel can convince by the radical focus on the two characters and their way to an unknown future. The only interruptions of their march are the encounters which vary in their length and (emotional) significance. It does only offer one possible way for coping with an apocalypse as the one presented: go on and remain human.