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Skills We Should Know - A Reflection From Cormac McCarthy's 'The Road'

Updated on July 8, 2013
My copy of the novel, 'The Road' by Cormac McCarthy
My copy of the novel, 'The Road' by Cormac McCarthy | Source

The Significance of Cormac McCarthy's Work

Not so long ago I had the regrettable pleasure of reading Cormac McCarthy's novel, 'The Road'. Why so regrettable? While his novel is a wonderful piece of literature, it forces me to grapple with philosophical questions that are simply too deep for me to comprehend.

In a nutshell, the novel follows the journey of an unnamed man and his son as they travel across a post-apocalyptic American landscape, scarred by ashes. Along the way, they are accosted by cannibals, ravaged with starvation, and stalked by unknown terrors.

The man is required to protect his son with an almost religious fervour, as he believes the boy will "...carry the fire" of humanity. In such a desolate landscape, the man and the boy are "...each the other's world entire". They alone seem to harbour a desire for humankind to return to some semblance of conscience.

So now that you're up to speed, you might have a greater understanding of why 'The Road' poses such meaningful meanderings of the mind. For example, ponder this statement, and comment below if you think you know what it means:

"There is no God and we are his prophets"

I think people, that this is a complicated statement. I personally can't figure it out, so think for a few minutes and comment your opinions. Better yet, support Mr. McCarthy by purchasing a copy of his novel below, and read the statement in context.

Have You Read Cormac McCarthy's 'The Road'?

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Why Talk About Skills?

With all the varied questions posed by 'The Road', you might be wondering why I chose to talk about the skills everyone should know. Why not talk about the nature of human existence, or the desire for identity in an ambiguous struggle for righteousness? Why not indeed, and I don't particularly know.

After reading 'The Road', I was left in a kind of subdued sadness, which reminded me of the works of Michael Leunig, an Australian political cartoonist. Both of them consider the human psyche, and question morality. Very deep stuff.

On a more superficial level, I chose to write about skills because reading McCarthy's work highlighted how unprepared I am for a similar disaster. I have little real-world or transferable skills. While McCarthy never specifically states the nature of the disaster that strikes the world, one can only assume it is climate-related. Knowing how to operate a computer quickly becomes redundant if all the computers are destroyed, you know?

Now, on with the actual skills that would be useful in a McCarthian disaster. (I'm coining that term right now!):

The Skill of Teaching

When I say teaching, I don't straight away refer to school teachers, even though the ability to teach in a structured environment would be sorely needed. In a McCarthian disaster such as the one presented in 'The Road', people need teachers with the same influence and goodwill as Jesus, Socrates, or the Buddha.

A teacher is someone who inspires, or encourages and cultivates the ideas of an individual. In such a lonely and confused world - one in which people have resorted to farming other humans - teachers and philosophers would set the world on a brighter path.

The Skill of Entertaining

Just as people need guidance and education, they also need morale. Whether your personal entertainment skills vary from fire-breathing to Shakespearean acting to musical ability, there is a place for people who make the world one shade lighter through humour or wonderment.

The ability to entertain is closely linked in this situation, to the skill of leadership. A good leader, faced with desolate circumstances, should recognise the need for happiness among the people. Therefore, the ability to entertain is as important to morality as the ability to direct or persuade.

The Skill of Finding and Preparing Food

If you've ever read 'The Road', you'll know that a McCarthian disaster is characterised by a lack of food. People are so hungry, some have resorted to herding humans like livestock.

Therefore, if you've got someone who can cook something from nothing, you're much better off. Imagine you have a can of beans, and ashes. To top it off, you've got some more ashes. Now, in any other situation, you'd get ashes and beans, but a good cook will make sure you eat only the edible food.

McCarthy's novel takes place in such a lonely setting
McCarthy's novel takes place in such a lonely setting | Source

The Skill of Leadership

Within 'The Road', a scene is presented:

In those first years the roads were peopled with refugees shrouded up in their clothing. Wearing masks and goggles, sitting in their rags by the side of the road like ruined aviators. Their barrows heaped with shoddy. Towing wagons or carts. Their eyes bright in their skulls. Creedless shells of men tottering down the causeways like migrants in a feverland

Everyone, from the politicians to the beggars, have been reduced to a common ground. Everyone is struggling in this new reality, and everyone seems aimless. Among these people are certain men and women with the ability to lead.

With leaders, the people who are suffering can potentially be united, and the situation of the world corrected. Without direction, some people are doomed to live in their past, reflecting on the people they have lost. For this reason, leaders (especially righteous leaders) would be an invaluable resource to the future of humanity.

The Skills of Manual Labour

When tertiary jobs become redundant, and jobs themselves become a thing of the past, skilled labourers will be in exponential demand. Fences and barricades need to built, machinery torn apart to make all manner of creations, and the manual labourers of the world will be able to satisfy this demand.

When electricity becomes a forgone luxury, even the labour jobs that rely heavily on machinery become harder to source. Therefore, we descend into the era of the carpenter and the blacksmith. In this situation, if you need a box of nails, you'll have to wait the customary period of one week.

Unfortunately, we live in an age where the common man or woman, myself included, is limited in our ability to make or fix practical objects. Anyone with prior experience in the trades will have a distinct survival advantage in a McCarthian disaster.

The Skill of Writing

Writing, carrying on an untold legacy filled with countless characters and forgotten culture. What could be more important than human history in a time devoid of humanity?

The skill of writing would be important in a McCarthian disaster. McCormac even writes:

"He thought each memory recalled must do some violence to its origins. As in a party game. Say the words and pass it on. So be sparing. What you alter in the remembering has yet a reality, known or not."

The ability to remember and record ever detail of a world gone by, would be the only method of preserving great cultural works, or even information as basic as the name of the sun. If you were able to write, and preserve history and opinion and knowledge between the pages of a book, you would be able to teach future generations what they had lost.

Now for my own attempt at being profound: For what are humans without their understanding? Without their humanity?

The Skill of Doctoring

Murphy's law states that In any disaster, people are going to get hurt. It's just an expectation that something bad will happen to someone, and you have to secretly hope it won't be you. If it is you however, or if someone nearby is hurt, society needs people who can clean and stitch wounds, or nurse the elderly, or even take on the role of a midwife.

Fortunately, this is a skill that necessitates a lot of common sense as well as experience. You don't have to be a brain surgeon, (see what I did there?) to be able to stitch wounds, or wash cuts.

Unfortunately, without access to medical supplies, sickness and small injuries will kill more people than we think possible. The job of a doctor in this situation, is only to reduce the amount of inevitable casualties, not to perform miracle surgeries. Nethertheless, it remains an invaluable skill.

Which of these skills is most important in a disaster?

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What Does This All Mean?

In a disaster, apocalyptic or not, your chances of long-term survival is very much dependent on your skill base. If you have any of the above skills, congratulations, because you just increased the likelihood of not only your survival, but the survival of the human race.

No-one likes to consider the possibility of a McCarthian disaster actually occurring, but it genuinely can't hurt to attain some of the above skills - just in case.


Hey guys, thank you for taking the time to read my article. If you enjoyed it, feel free to comment. Also, and this is important, if you enjoyed this reflection, please let me know so I know if I should write any more reflections.

So far, I've got the novels 'White Fang' by Jack London, and 'The Swiss Family Robinson' by J. D. Wyss lined up to write about in the future, so let me know if it's worthwhile.

Thanks in advance everyone, more coming your way.


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    • profile image


      5 years ago

      My favorite book of all time hands down. Aside from the awesome story I found the whole way he writes to be extremely inspiring. He makes his own rules and it works so well.

    • Jared Miles profile imageAUTHOR

      Jared Miles 

      5 years ago from Australia

      Thanks mylindaelliot, I like to try to think outside the box if I can :) I believe that a person's skills could mean the difference between life and death for some, so you're right when you say they're very important :) thanks for commenting

    • mylindaelliott profile image


      5 years ago from Louisiana

      I don't think I have many of these skills. You seem to have a little different take on that type of problem. Most people are worried about collecting enough stuff to survive. Skills will definitely be very important.


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