30 September 2013
No Heroes On The Road
People live their day to day lives following not only imposed laws but their own moral code as well. In Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, these laws no longer exist, bringing to the forefront the worst that humanity has to offer. Even the seemingly most virtuous of heroes can exhibit horrible and frightening behaviors. The man, depicted as a caring and loving father, does not hesitate to kill and steal for his son. The boy, an innocent and compassionate child, ironically allows the reader to feel a general ambiguity between good and evil. Finally, when viewed from a different perspective, the bandits are not as bad as they seem, especially when compared to the man and child. Thus, it can be said that the line between good and evil within and individual is often blurred.
Over the course of the novel, the man, portrayed as a nurturing and devoted father, exhibits behaviors comparable to those of the bad men. The father’s main purpose in life is the survival of his son. McCarthy states “That the boy was all that stood between him and death” (29). In essence, the boy is his lifeline, the fire that feeds purpose to his painful and desolate existence. Parallels can thus be drawn between the father and the evil men. While the bad men’s main goal is their own survival, the father is dedicated to the safeguarding of not only the boy’s life, but of his innocence and “goodness” as well. As a result, the man is willing to do things of a level comparable to the road rats. For example, the father shoots and kills a masked bandit without hesitation when his son was at risk (256). His cruelty presented itself once again near the end of the novel, as they were both traversing a destroyed town. Upon discovering a young man robbing their shopping cart, the boy automatically pleads to his father to “[not] kill the man” (256). Instead of killing him, the man instructs the thief to “Take [his] clothes off… every goddamned stitch” (256). He later robs and strips him, leaving the emaciated thief naked and alone, surely to die. The father, just like the road rats, is willing to do anything to ensure the survival of his son. He is also the one largely responsible for his child’s caring and compassionate nature. This can be seen in a conversation between the father and son, where the man begins by saying: You have to carry the fire. I don’t know how to. Yes, you do. Is the fire real? The fire? Yes it is. Where is it? I don’t know where it is. Yes you do. It’s inside of you. It always was there. I can see it. (125)
The fire, a symbolic representation of the last shred of humanity left on the world, is how the child, in a literal sense, separates himself from the rest of the survivors. The man’s constant insistence that the boy is good and should behave as such demonstrates the origin of the child’s conditioned level of maturity and compassion. It is the man, through his teachings, that models the child to be, in current day societal values, virtuous. It is thus ironic that he would be so vicious himself. The man has, for the sake of his child, committed theft and homicide. It is significant to note that though the caring of another is virtuous, the caring of an individual at the expense of many others is not. Thus, the man is a prime example of the ambiguity between good and evil within an individual. The innocent and caring nature of the boy, a stark contrast to all other characters of the novel, ironically allows the reader to feel a general ambiguity towards what is good and evil. The problem arises upon realization that the boy is extremely reliant on his father. The child depends on the man to forage and find food (141), and to protect him from harm. Thus, the boy, though indirectly, has his father’s blood on his hands. His virtuous traits may be commendable, but without the man’s skills in combat and