The last music on earth: prehistory and the function of music in The Road


The Road by Cormac McCarthy is a novel that has been the subject of much critical success and debate, perhaps to the point of saturation. The Road tells the story of an unnamed man and boy as they travel south in a post-apocalyptic wasteland, empty of nature, life and safety. It is a struggle not only for their survival but also for what remains of, or what is meant by, humanity. This paper discusses the function of music in The Road based upon the twice-occurring mention of a flute, extrapolating on Randall Wilhelm’s concept of still life in The Road to provide a detailed close reading of this image. The flute is a remnant of the human and humanity, and it is also a link to our prehistoric ancestors. While it may initially appear to be an item of superficial insignificance, this paper will argue that the flute is not only central to understanding the text, but also located structurally within cave imagery present throughout The Road. Despite the amount of literature already produced on The Road, it remains a prescient work, tapping into contemporary fears of nuclear war or environmental disaster. The Road will not disappear, and this article serves to discuss new territory in the form of the flute and music.


Cormac McCarthy; The Road; still life; Plato; music; prehistory; flute

How to Cite

Dale, H., (2017) “The last music on earth: prehistory and the function of music in The Road”, Fields: journal of Huddersfield student research 3(1). doi:


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Henry Dale





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