“Barren, Silent, Godless“

Void and Wilderness in Cormac McCarthy’s The Road


  • Gonçalo Dias Universidade do Porto, Porto, Portugal




American studies, nature, wilderness, post-apocalyptic, silence


This paper proposes to explore how, through apocalyptic destruction, a characteristically American landscape in Cormac McCarthy’s The Road has undergone the process of removal of identity, and has, therefore, reverted into the hostile wilderness that marked Early American experience in its attribution of meaning to space. Considering Leo Marx’s “The idea of nature in America,” the journey delineated by both protagonists can be located as the heir to a Puritan tradition and/of American Nature. Yet, in the diegetic postapocalyptic landscape, human senses grow dim and biblical Words grow unspoken, as the potential for civilization turns into silence and a return to dust — and, most importantly, ash. If a characteristically American identity has been obliterated, how can meaning, if any, be found in the same material space it once held? Where can references to the past reside? Ultimately, if a dystopian destruction of both identity and the material plane has subverted American utopian anxiety, in what ways has the possibility of considering American mobility through space in search for meaning turned void? McCarthy’s novel appears to provide no answer. However, as Toni Morrison stated — in “Unspeakable Things Unspoken,” — “a void may be empty, but is not a vacuum.”

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Author Biography

Gonçalo Dias, Universidade do Porto, Porto, Portugal

Is a Junior Researcher at the Centre for English, Translation and Anglo-Portuguese Studies (CETAPS), and is presently enrolled in the Master’s programme for Anglo-American Studies at Faculdade de Letras da Universidade do Porto. He has published on Toni Morrison’s work and is presently writing his Master’s dissertation on a comparative study between James Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and Toni Morrison’s Sula. His main areas of interest include North American and Irish literature of the 20th and 21st centuries, Utopian Studies and Spatiality Studies.


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How to Cite

Dias, G. ““Barren, Silent, Godless“: Void and Wilderness in Cormac McCarthy’s The Road”. Ad Americam, vol. 24, Nov. 2023, pp. 5-13, doi:10.12797/AdAmericam.24.2023.24.01.