Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, a novel set in a post-apocalyptic world, features a father and son on a journey through this world. McCarthy effectively depicts the setting of the novel in a bleak world where encounters with life are few and far between. These isolated encounters are many times described as violent and savage. Toni Morrison’s A Mercy, however, is set in the pre-colonial United States where slavery, in its earliest American form, was introduced. Florens, a young slave girl born to Mae (a slave on the D’Ortega plantation), is traded to Jacob Vaark to repay him for a debt that D’Ortega incurred. The girl then lives with Jacob and Rebekkah when Jacob decides to build a new house. To craft the bourgeois gate that Jacob envisioned, a blacksmith was called in. Sorrow, another slave, falls ill with small pox and is treated by the blacksmith who knows a home remedy for the sickness. Later, Jacob dies of small pox and Rebekkah falls ill with the disease. Finally, Florens is sent to find the Smith to help treat Rebekkah as medical treatment was very difficult to find at this time.
The two novels, though very different, both employ methods of drawing the reader into the author’s created world. Both novels contain vast descriptions of imagery and an emphasis on the social norms of the time. Through these means, the time and setting of the novels are developed.
Both novels feature the use of imagery in its various forms. In The Road, McCarthy heavily emphasizes the “bitter cold”, “unforgiving dark”, and “layers of ash” in the world around them. The use of this visual and tactile imagery effectively develops the bleak world that McCarthy intends to portray around his two main characters. Overall, this helps McCarthy achieve the feeling of isolation that the boy and father face. In this isolation, the relationship and the strong love that each has for the other is brought into the spotlight, challenged, and ultimately reigns victorious over the evils of the world. In A Mercy, the setting is described by Rebekkah’s journey to the new land where she “shat among strangers” for several weeks. This helps the reader to understand the time at which the story takes place. Also, when Jacob rides to the D’Ortega plantation, Morrison describes in detail the vast nothingness in the hostile, undeveloped land. Through this use of imagery, the settings of both novels are effectively established allowing for the plot to be built.
Both authors also use the social norms of the time to establish the setting. In The Road, McCarthy describes the cannibalism, rape, and pure savagery that occur around the father and son, while they hold tight to the ethics of a world that no longer exists. It is an interesting comparison that McCarthy brings into the spotlight as the two are held to a greater moral uprightness when in reality; the world they live in is a world of primitive hunters, who care only to survive. In A Mercy, the practice of slavery, the prevalence of foreign explorers/soldiers/traders in the land and their different religious sects all help to establish the setting. Overall, these social norms help the reader to effectively interpret the setting as the author intended.
In conclusion, both McCarthy and Morrison use imagery and social relations to develop the settings of their respective novels. These literary techniques are used heavily in the text so that the setting is unquestionably established; only then can the plot be developed. McCarthy’s world is created from the speculative imagination of the author, while Morrison’s pre-colonial setting is forced to abide by the constraints of history in order to effectively set the scenes. The settings for each novel are of key focus by the author and when used effectively, like in A Mercy and The Road, the reader is drawn into a world created by the author.