I just finished reading Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. The novel portrays a post apocalypse America and a man and his son struggle to survive. Their lives are consumed with finding food and shelter and staying out of danger. I wonder if McCarthy used the plight of the homeless to inform his readers on what it would take to survive in the novel’s setting.
The protagonist and his son even use a shopping cart to move their meager possessions. It’s a symbol of plenty in an age of scarcity. A lot of homeless people use shopping carts. They are constantly searching for their next meal as the characters do in the novel. The people the protagonist and his son run into are dangerous. They have to be constantly vigilant of being robbed or having their provisions stolen. The man and the boy have to hide their shopping cart so they can sleep without losing their stuff. Like the homeless, they risk everything when they sleep. They avoid contact with other people because they can’t trust others. In the novel, the man and the boy avoid houses and towns because they may harbor dangerous people. The homeless people at the drop-in center where I used to work avoid homeless shelters and assisted living facilities because it’s too dangerous. Like the novel, the folks at the drop-in center experience constant obstacles to getting their basic needs met. Like the homeless, the man and boy in the novel have few opportunities to attend to basic hygiene.
In the book, the cities and towns are abandoned because of some kind of apocalypse, but homeless people live that apocalypse every day and their numbers are growing. There are no authorities left anymore in the book and there are none for the homeless today. They can’t trust the cops and most of the folks still lucky enough to have a place to live don’t want them around so the homeless are in effect without protection. Imagine how much worse it is for someone already tormented by their own perceptions to also live in a kind of hell on earth. I sometimes wonder which came first for the clients of the drop-in center, homelessness or mental illness.
The Road won the Pulitzer Prize. It’s gripping and McCarthy’s prose is beautiful. If you want to walk in the shoes of a homeless person this is the book to read.