The Road
Cormac McCarthy
Contributed by Marshall Raine
Page 150-Page 177
Summary

Once the boy feels better they continue on the road in order to find a safe place, a community built by survivors like them. They don't know where they need to go, or even if such a place truly exists, but they are aware that staying in one place is not a smart choice.  They notice footprints in the sand, and when they come back to the shopping cart after looking around, they realize that all their useful belongings have been stolen. They follow the tracks catch up with the thief on the road. The father immediately takes his pistol out and threatens the other survivor. This frightens the boy who begs his father to not hurt him. In the end, the father asks the thief to take of all his clothes and put them in the trolley and they leave him there, naked, in the middle of the road. The boy continues to judge his father way of acting but the father retorts, “You’re not the one who has to worry about everything." (Page 159). The father is now aware that he can't let the child control their actions as, in the end, he is their leader and should act as one.

A sense of guilt overwhelms the father, realizing that his son might be right. So, they turn back to where they left the thief but find no trace of him. They leave a pair of shoes and some clothes before continuing their journey.

The pair eventually reach the edge of a town but are suddenly attacked by an archer, hidden in one of the houses. The father is struck in the leg with an arrow, and immediately retaliates, shooting the flare gun through the window and hitting the archer. After that, he enters the house to check who it was and is surprised to find a woman, cradling the body of the man who had fired the arrow. Desolate and angry, she curses the father, rejecting the idea that they were following the protagonists, arguing that the father and son were the ones who were trailing them. The father realizes that she offers no real threat, so he takes his son and continues their way.

After a few more days on the road the father’s condition becomes so bad, that he can no longer walk. His cough becomes worse and he is no longer able to continue on the road. They reach a place in the woods and set up camp.  Knowing that his father is going to die, the boy begs him "Just take me with you. Please" (page 171). The father refuses, knowing that he would never be able to kill his own son. A few moments later the father falls asleep and the boy realizes that he is gone.

The boy takes his sole inheritance, the pistol, and starts to return to the road – but almost immediately comes across another man. The stranger invites the boy to join him, and his children. The boy agrees, but before leaving with him, he asks to cover his father with blankets and to spend one last moment with him.

"The boy tried to hand him the pistol, but he wouldn’t take it. You hold onto that," (page 175). Here the audience see’s that the new stranger has no bad intentions. He allows the child to see his father for one more time and after that they leave together. They meet the stranger’s children and wife, who embraces him. She tries to ease his pain by talking about God, but the boy prefers to talk about his father instead because he was the closest thing to a God that he had ever known. The author ends his book with a description about trout which once lived in the streams.

Analysis

The author examines both internal and external conflict when the characters catch up to the thief on the road. As well as the obvious external dangers, the father has to wrestle with his decision of taking the man’s clothes, effectively leaving him for dead. As a result of his actions and his son’s remarks, he soon starts questioning if he did the wrong thing. Taking the man’s clothes and food, knowing full well the harsh conditions they face on a daily basis is a death sentence. This makes the father question if he is still a good man and in order to make up for his decision, he returns to offer the clothes to the thief. The only reason he did this was because of his son, a son who represents kindness and charity. The author tries to convey to the reader, that without the constant moral presence of the boy, the father would presumably turn into a cruel survivor too.

There is another moment in which the father proves that his priority is to ensure that his boy will survive. His health doesn't matter, as long as he is able to make sure that nothing will hurt the boy. When they eat peaches together, the boy refuses to eat all of them, saying that “I’ll save your half” but the father replies "You save it until tomorrow" (Page 170). In saying this, he hopes to be able to trick his child into believing that he will eat it tomorrow, when instead he is planning on giving it back to the boy the next day. This is a form of ultimate sacrifice because even though he is starving too, his son matters the most. This differentiates the father from the other people they meet along the way who lost their last piece of humanity when they sacrificed their child in order to survive for a few more days. As a result of this, the author points that indeed the boy and his father are the ‘good guys’, those carrying the fire.

By the end of the book, it can be easily stated that the boy changed drastically. As the book begins, we see the boy as being childish, lacking knowledge and very naive. The father has to continuously take care of him and double check everything to make sure it is done right. By the end of the book, things are different. While his father lies on the ground, taking in his last breaths, it is the boy who takes care of him. He wants to share his food with his father as he gradually see’s him weakening and also starts exploring the land as he learned from him.  His father eventually dies, experiencing some form of peace, knowing that his son will make it, prepared to fight anything, prepared to survive.

We see that the stranger the boy meets is a good man, and parallels exist between the boy’s father. The stranger has two children at home, alluding to his paternal capacities, and skills having kept his family alive all this time. More than this, when the boy tries to give him his pistol he refuses, proving that he has no interest in hurting the little boy, wanting to make sure that he will be able to protect himself when it is needed.  Along the road, the father and son rarely met anyone who was willing to help them for nothing in exchange. The fact that this man appeared in the boy's life, right after his father death, confirms that his role is to continue his work.

In the end, the boy is the one that ends up ‘carrying the fire’, keeping enough humanity and purity despite the words to represent the possible revival of humankind. His father’s mission is complete, the boy now with another group of people, who welcomed him as part of their family and will protect him from upcoming dangers. At the end of his novel, McCarthy shows that he believes that even after such a horrific event, all the world needs is a single piece of humanity to survive, for the earth to be revitalized.

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