The shape of stories

I spent a little time this Friday evening thinking about Vonnegut’s theories on the shapes of stories.

I pulled Cormac McCarthy’s The Road off the shelf and plotted out the graph using some quotes from the book.  The Road was my first introduction to Cormac McCarthy.  I’ve read it through twice and picked it up often to read random passages every now and again.  Now that I’m a parent, I can’t read the book without feeling like someone has punched me in the gut over and over and over again, so I tend to stay away from it.

Since I feel like I know the book pretty well, I figured I’d map out the story’s shape.  Seeing as how it’s all post-apocalyptic and stuff, you can probably predict what the graph will look like.  Here’s a picture to help:

Figuring the shape of The Road

It’s really not a happy story.

I used a few short passages from the book to illustrate the lows and the lowers.  Here are the four passages I selected (from L to R):

“Nights dark beyond darkness and the days more gray each than what had gone before.”

I’d say that suggests ill fortune, no?

“He looked down at the boy and when he looked back toward the road the first of them were already coming into view.”

Things get worse.  Novels, movies, comics, etc. suggest that the last thing you want to encounter in a post-apocalyptic world is other people.

“He got out a bowl of biscuits covered with a handtowel and a plate of butter…”

Food is found.  Things are looking up.

“They went on.  Treading the dead world like rats on a wheel.  The nights dead still and deader black.  So cold.”

Walking with no particular destination sounds pretty awful.  Enduring dark, cold nights knowing there’s a child to protect sounds awful still.

If you’re unfamiliar with The Road it’s about a boy and his father.  The two are on the road, heading south along the east coast in hopes of finding a place that hasn’t been decimated by an unnamed disaster.  Despite the bleakness, there is beautiful tenderness between the father and son.  The father, I think, has the same wants as any parent.  He wants the best for his kid.  He wants his kid to be safe.  This quote has stuck with me since I read the book back in 2006: “He knew only that the child was his warrant.  He said: If he is not the word of God God never spoke.”

Imagine the pressure if there are cannibals in the picture.


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