In this extract, McCarthy conveys the anticlimax of the protagonist and his son’s arrival at the “Cold. Desolate. Birdless. ” environment of the beach. McCarthy juxtaposes the bleakness of the landscape with the boy’s optimism in order to highlight the boy’s inherent goodness. McCarthy tells the story using narrative voice in this section of the text. He contrasts the third person extradiegetic narrator with the man’s interior monologue in order to convey multiple perspectives to the reader. He’d left the cart in the bracken beyond the dunes and they’d taken blankets with them and sat wrapped in them in the wind-shade of a great driftwood log. ” Here, McCarthy constructs the lexis of the third person narrator using what some critics have called a limited linguistic palette. The polysyndeton creates a steady rhythm, which parallels the rhythm of the journey the man and boy are on, which is, like the sentence, seemingly never-ending. Here the narrator presents the reader with a practical account of the man and boy’s response to the disappointment of the beach, detailing their movements with unelaborated, unemotional language.
The pared back language poignantly conveys the sense that the bleakness of the beach was inevitable. In contrast, the tricolon: “Cold. Desolate. Birdless”, is clearly the man’s interior monologue. The three adjectives highlight the extent to which the reality of the beach does not live up to the characters’ expectations of it. Where they had hoped for warmth when heading south, instead they found “cold”. Where they had hoped for a more habitable climate, they found a “desolate” environment. Where they had hoped for life, they had found a “birdless” environment.
Thus, the tricolon convey’s the man’s disappointment to the reader. McCarthy utilizes stream of consciousness in order to enable the reader to understand the man’s emotional response. The narrator is typically unemotive, presenting a pared back account of events and it is thus these rare glimpses into the man’s thoughts that enable the reader to empathise with his perspective. McCarthy also manipulates language in order to convey the bleakness of the beach. The “Cold. Desolate. Birdless” beach has a parallel in the “barren. Silent.
Godless” landscape in the novel’s opening pages, creating symmetry in the narrative. Just as the rest of the narrative is permeated with metaphorical “ash”, so the beach too is describes as “gray”, with the “gray squall line of ash”. This lexical clusters connoting decay suggests that the beach, like the rest of the world, has been irreparably tarnished by the apocalypse. The simile, “like the desolation of some alien sea breaking on the shore” is poignant as the sea is “alien”, belonging to another world, highlighting the extent to which the sea has disappointed the man and boy.
McCarthy also utilizes structure in order to present this anticlimactic moment to the reader. The writer presents uninterrupted passages of narration and then starkly juxtaposes them with almost two pages of unattributed dialogue between the protagonist and his son. McCarthy presents the unadulterated dialogue without narrator intrusion, bringing the reader closer to the narrative as if they are experiencing the conversation firsthand. Although McCarthy does not explicitly attribute dialogue to either character, the reader has become accustomed to patterns within the speech of each of the characters.
This dialogue is to a certain extent typical of the two characters, with the boy expressing his optimism through a series of questions. In spite of the desolation, the boy asks, “do you think there could be ships out there? ” and suggests that other humans could also be “carrying the fire” in spite of negligible evidence that this could be the case. Furthermore, he suggests that “maybe there’s a father and his little boy and they’re sitting on the beach”. Through the boy’s dialogue, McCarthy reinforces the sense that the boy could be an “angel” or a “god” in his unwavering optimism.