In the man and boy’s encounters early on, they meet people that exhibit vile behavior in this ravaged world, where most have lost all goodness to the current brutish natural state. The first person they meet is a man “struck by lightning” who is not a threat (Pg. 50). Instantly, the boy sympathizes for the old man and wants to help, while the father does not give in and justifies not helping simply because “nothing can be done for him” (pg. 50). Here, the boy simply obeys his father’s reasoning, but shows signs of compassion and empathy for the man, while his father stays emotionally unattached from the situation. Surely something could have been done, but the father is more focused on his divine calling from “God” to preserve the boy rather than preserve his own goodness (Pg. 71). Shortly after, they encounter a group of cannibals with impregnated women, and a stranger that the father must kill when he takes his son hostage. This group embodies pure evil seen in man’s state of nature where no moral personhood exists. Instead, they have turned into coldhearted survivalists who treat humans as a means to their own gluttony. In this situation, the father murders a stranger to protect his boy, and we see the man has courage to survive and protect goodness. The killing is justified from his point of view since the stranger was going to kill the son, but now the man is left with the tragic reality of forever being a murderer; a remainder of sorts that has latched onto his moral identity forever. Although, when they encounter the boy and dog, the man refuses to kill the dog because he treats animals and humans as end in themselves, unlike the cannibals. Here, the man’s Kantian principles stand on solid ground. He will never treat humans and animals as a means to an end, and proceeds to expose himself as moral human composed of some good virtues, even though he ignores others.
Ironically, the man preaches “old stories” of good virtue to the boy, but cannot always practice the principles he preaches. The man is caught in a tragic situation where he does not believe he can succeed to survive without compromising some good virtues to protect the boy (Pg. 41). Virtue theory is seen here as the boy notices that the stories being taught are about helping people, “but [they] don’t [actually] help people” (Pg. 268). The boy’s examination of his dad’s teachings further support that the man cannot always act in virtuous ways; he can only teach those ways to his son. Here, the man instills in the boy what he cannot himself fully exhibit, pure goodness. When the man and boy encounter Ely, their responses contrast sharply. The boy wants to keep Ely and give him food, but the father maintains full suspicion of Ely and refuses to let him hold the boy’s hand or continue to survive with them, even though Ely never steals or hurts them (Pg. 164). The father’s hypocrisy is mostly justified in these types of encounters, although he veers on the side of little to no sympathy for others. The father establishes a moral personhood that chooses to show little compassion or friendliness