The 2007 Pulitzer Prize winning novel, The Road, is about the journey of a father and son who try to survive the harsh weather as they travel from one area to another in search of shelter and food. Throughout the story, the readers are never let known of the father and his son’s name.
The beginning of the plot shows the two sleeping in the cold under no roof. Suddenly, the father wakes up from his sleep; he has had a dream about himself and his son having an encounter with an enormous beast inside a cave. At the end of the dream, the beast melts into the darkness, leaving them alone. At the crack of dawn, the father scourges his surroundings, trying to decide where to go next with his son. He does not have any bearing of time due to his not having any access to any calendar of any sort. He neither knows the month nor the day of the present time. We gradually discover the reason behind this dystopian society. Ashes continually fall from the sky and adorn the lands below, the result of a nuclear holocaust. Most of the population has been made extinct due to the incessant bombings and the few survivors, who are left, like the father and the son, must wander around amidst all the death and gore.
After the boy has also wakes up, the duo start on their new journey, taking a path into the countryside. They travel light since they have to walk the whole way, carrying a grocery cart and several backpacks. There is an imminent fear of danger in the air and they are ready to flee in case there is the slightest signal of threat. On their way, they come across an old uninhabited gas station so they stop and search the premise in hope of food or any other things they can make use of. They do not find any food items but they do get hold of some motor oil that they use to power their night lamp. At night, they set camp and the father confirms that they are traveling to the south because he believes that it will be less cold out there.
Thus, the journey continues. They take short breaks and walk for countless months and days towards the south. Unfortunately, the weather does not seem to get better and they suffer through an incredibly cold winter consisting of endless rain and hales. The father does not talk much but he goes through many flashbacks and dreams, which help unravel his life before the apocalypse. When he was a little boy, he used to go fishing with his uncle and when he grew up, he got married to his wife. It is hinted that his wife had committed suicide in face of a life after the nuclear bombs. He often dreams and sometimes, he has good dreams. Surprisingly, it is the good dreams that scare him more since he has a theory that happy memories bring with them the call for death. Although he is miserable and does not have much care for his current life, he cares for his son and worries about his future should he lose his father. The father also spends his time obsessing about daily necessities such as shelter, food and warm clothes. He is always on the lookout for any sign of danger and it is finally revealed what this danger is. Due to lack of food, many of the survivors have turned to cannibalism and are not above eating the flesh of their own kind. The father owns a gun with three bullets inside it as a weapon against these cannibals in case they come after their belongings or themselves.
As they walk, they enter any house, stores or abandoned buildings they can find in order to increase their horde of food and other goods. During one such adventure, the father finds an old can of Coca-Cola and gives it to his son to try the taste. The son is amazed at the flavor since he had never tried the soft drink before. This comes as a surprise to the readers since they realize that it must have been a good number of years since the world had been a normal habitat. Afterwards, the father shows his son the house that father had spent his childhood in but despite encouragement from his father, the son is reluctant to go inside. His own childhood has taught him that these houses are always filled with people who are on the lookout of victims to steal from, kill and then eat up. Thus, they leave the area and take a short visit to the nearby waterfalls, a place that the father remembers fondly, and then they continue towards their original destination: south.
The father does not stop having flashbacks as they walk forward. As he progresses more towards his destination, the flashbacks become more and more recent. He remembers the time during the first bombings when they started to lose the world they had to come to take as granted. His wife had a harder time adjusting to the post-apocalyptic world especially since she had her son after the holocaust. We realize that the son was born after the wars and has no idea of the world before. However, he is very curious about the old times and always pleads his father to tell him tales of the normal world. Although he has many questions about the previous world and its people, he is careful not to mention his deceased mother or her death, as it is a sensitive topic between the two of them. One time, he expresses his wish to see her by killing himself and his father forbids him to speak like this ever again.
The second half of the novel introduces more characters such as the cannibals who have been mentioned continually throughout the story. The father and son have such an encounter with one of these people. The man tries to grab hold of the boy but the father uses his gun against the man by shooting him on the forehead. As the father and boy run away from the scene, the boy observes the dearth of good people on Earth and wonders if there is any left anymore. Soon, they run short of food and out of desperation, they enter a big house in search of food. They do not find any food but after going into the basement, they find several humans who have been caught and imprisoned to be eaten up afterwards by the cannibals. The father and son leave the premises just as the cannibals arrive at the plantation.
They keep running out of food and enter shelters in order to not prevent themselves from dying out of starvation. On their journey, they meet a survivor named Ely who spends one night with them. Although the father is suspicious of the man, the boy is grateful for the company and befriends Ely. Finally, they reach the other end in hope of a better habitat; instead, they find that the weather is the same everywhere and there is no sign of life here either. They place their belongings inside a boat and take ownership of the food items they find inside. The father feels more and more disappointed now that he has realized that there is no hope of a better life anywhere.
Once, the boy becomes ill and the father tends to his son until he shows signs of recovery. When the boy feels better, they take a walk to the beach but come back to find that someone has stolen their belongings and food items. They search for the thief and soon, they find him. The father scares the thief into giving up his loot by using the gun as duress. The father makes the thief even give up his own clothes and leaves him to die alone in the bitter cold without any warm clothes to protect him from the cold. The son is scared and feels pity for the thief but the father is remorseless. They leave the boat and start on their way further to the south. On their way, an unknown man shoots the father on the leg with an arrow. The father attacks back and they survive but there is no cure for the wound.
Still, they continue to walk but it only gets more and more cold as the journey progresses. Due to the harsh weather and lack of treatment, the man’s wound gets worse and he realizes that he does not have much time left. In such a case, he had planned to shoot the boy in order to save him from the possible torturous death that awaits him but he cannot bring himself to kill his own son. The father dies.
The boy walks the path for a few days before meeting a family of survivors. They ask him to join them and the boy takes a leap of faith but agreeing to join them. They take off and the novel ends on a ambiguous note, leaving no hint about the fate of the boy.