Better Life

Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road” is a contemporary novel written in 2006 detailing the journey of a father and his son through a post-apocalyptic world, both of whom remained unnamed.Throughout the novel, they see a huge amount of chaos: cannibals, murderers, rapists, people starving, and more.At first glance, the novel seems to be about this apocalypse and the society that develops due to it.However, that is not the case; it is really about the growing relationship of the father and son and how they interact with each other and those around them.The companionship between the father and son is developed through ideological arguments that they have with each other, their relationship to the environment/society around them, their growing reliance to survive and stay sane, the other people on the Road that they meet, and the interesting experiences they have together.This companionship helps to reveal the overall meaning that although tragedies may occur to people, strong relationships help people cope and get through it.

The relationships of the characters in The Road are set up by the background of what happened before the story began.The reader knows that there was some sort of apocalypse that killed many people, but is not told what caused the apocalypse to happen, when it took place, or anything else.Since the boy is still considered a child, yet his mother is dead, it is safe to assume that the catastrophic event took place sometime in the last 10 or so years.According to Josephs, many consider the apocalypse to be man-made (23).This could imply nuclear warfare, the spread of a disease, a world war, or a wide variety of options.However, McCarthy himself has stated that he has no opinion on it (23).McCarthy has said that the reason the world fell into chaos is not important, since that is not the main focus of the novel.It could have been a nuke or a volcano, yet it does not matter in his eyes (23).This helps to show that The Road is truly about the relationships of the characters, not the apocalypse as it would initially seem.

The main conflict of the story is not related to the surroundings, but the characters and how they interact.To begin, there is the man/father.He is one of the main characters in the story, and is extremely protective of his son.His son is the last thing that he has left in the dying world that he lives in.The Man lost his wife, presumably to the apocalypse, and is just trying to hold onto his sanity.According to Sanchez, the father almost always has terrible dreams and nightmares.Most of the time, when people wake up after nightmares they feel better.However, the Man wakes up to a world that is just as nightmarish as his dreams.The tragedies that occur to him make him cynical.He tries to keep to himself and not ask for help or help other people, even when times get extremely desperate.He becomes weary of all strangers because he has lost almost all faith that people on the Road have any good left in them.

Another main character in The Road is the Son/Boy.Cooper states that since the Boy has never truly lived in a normal world, he doesn’t know how to interact with things that we would consider simple (222).He doesn’t know about “shopping, sitting at a table, even waking up stairs” (222).Although he and his father love each other and would do anything for each other, the Boy is the antithesis of the Father.While the Father constantly sees the bad in the world, the Son sees much of the good.While the Father is constantly pessimistic and cynical, the Son is optimistic and is always willing to give people a chance.According to Sanchez, the Boy is considered to be a beacon of hope in a hopeless world.Although there is no reason for the boy to have hope, since he has known nothing other than the apocalypse his entire life, he still has the will to survive and make both himself and the world around him a better place.Despite all of the corruption that is contained in the terrible world around them, the boy is considered to be pure.

There are several religious undertones related to the Boy in The Road.Elaborating on what I said previously, since he is so pure, many people compare him to a divine being, similar to Jesus.According to Cooper, the boy can be considered a “grail”, which is something people strive for, since he himself represents hope and light in a very dark, hopeless world (224).He represents the far off hope that one day the world could once again be normal, and people could once again be happy and caring.Throughout the novel, it is very obvious that there is something “different” about the boy, since his hope and faith that the world would get better never once wavered.

Although some people consider there to be religious undertones throughout the text, other things in the novel contradict the existence of religion.Josephs questions whether a god can exist in this world at all.If there truly was a god, would any of the terrible things that happened still occur (21)?Would a god not keep its people from suffering and becoming evil?In the story itself, there is a character named Ely.He is sometimes compared to Elijah from the bible, although Ely himself said that “there is no God” on the Road (23).

Throughout the novel, both the Boy and Father mostly keep to themselves, not talking or interacting with other people on the Road much at all.The majority of people remaining on the Road are evil; they are often murderers or rapists, and have no regards for other humans.However, they still meet other good characters along the way which allow both the Boy and the Father to develop as characters.At one point, they see an old man who is very malnourished and wants food.At other times, they see children that are around the Boy’s age.These people are just trying to survive on the Road like the Man and the Boy, yet it is difficult.Nobody can trust anybody else for fear of being betrayed, and ending up dead.Every character is skeptical of one another, and mostly keep to themselves.

These interactions between the Man and the Boy and other people help to develop the main focus of the novel, which is the relationship between the Man and the Boy.Obviously, the Man and the Boy are extremely close to each other, and have extreme love and care for each other.For the Man, the most important thing in his life is making sure that the son is safe.It is how he motivates himself to get up and strive for a better life.According to Guo, the father manages to hold onto the basic human values of love and compassion, so that he is able to care for his son and keep bad things from happening to him (3).Without his son, the Man would have most likely given up and died long before any of the events of the novel.The son is his motivation and his light at the end of the tunnel.The Boy looks up to the Father and loves him equally.Cooper states that the boy is intrigued by his father’s stories and wants to be like one of the heroes in them (222).Thus, they depend on each other mutually in order to survive and to cope with the horror around them.

While the Man and the Boy are extremely loving and protective of each other, they still argue and disagree consistently throughout the novel.Their difference in ideals and morals is a huge theme in the story.At one point in the story, the boy spots another boy that is near his age, and wants to go talk to him.The father is extremely strict in this regard and refuses to let them interact with the other boy and their group.According to Pizzino, this represents a fundamental ideological difference between the Boy and the Man (361).The Boy is inclined to see the good in people (361).He believes that the boy will be nice to him and that they could possibly work together.He is quite optimistic, and is always inclined to help people when they need help.The Father is very different in this regard.He views the Boy’s views as naïve, and very likely to get them in serious danger, and possibly killed (362).The other boy they meet could have cannibals in their group or some other huge danger.The Man’s point of view is consistently pessimistic.He doesn’t see the same good in people as the boy (362).These arguments they have are both valid, and show why they are good for each other.The Boy keeps the Father from descending into evil like most everybody else, and the Father keeps the Boy from killing himself due to a naïve and foolish decision.

In The Road, society has largely broken down.People are either loners and travel/survive on their own, or they exist in groups similar to tribes whose only goal is to survive, no matter what it entails.Guo elaborates on the role of ethics and morality in society in the novel (3).What used to be a huge part of human life is now laughable.All sense of morals are gone in people, as everyone is only working for themselves in order to make it through the day.What used to be terrible deeds that could have you sentenced to prison and shunned for life, such as murder, cannibalism, or rape, are now normal things that are done regularly in the apocalypse.The old society of Earth is gone, and will most likely never return.The Boy himself was born in the apocalypse and never had a chance to experience society beforehand.The father is torn, as he has to try to protect his son while staying ethical in the world around them (4).

Throughout the story, the Man, Boy, and many other people only have one goal; to have a better life.That is why the Man and Boy are travelling down the Road in the first place.They are not going to a specific address or to find a specific person.They are just looking for something that could improve the conditions around them. Although the Man and Boy have different ways that they think they should go about to achieve this, both of them want the same final goal.

In The Road, there are huge political undertones.According to Jergenson , one of them that is particularly prominent is the idea of late capitalism (127).The Marxists used this term to describe the political concept of capitalism and the free market coming to an end.Things that used to be valuable pre-apocalypse are now worth nothing.The man finds money on the floor, and he finds a coke, neither of which hold any relation to each other (123).Each of them are just objects and are considered worthless in this cruel new world.Jergenson elaborated that this could be what Earth today would become if we continue down our road of Capitalism (127).

Unfortunately, there is no “end” of the Road.Josephs talks about how the story never reveals a light at the end of the tunnel, or some solution to the massive problems that they have (28).Many people expect this since it is a novel, but the story is not about saving a broken and dying world.There is no happy ending that leaves the reader feeling warm inside.The story is truly about the end of the world, and the society and relationships that develop due to it.That is part of what makes this novel great.It doesn’t need an exciting climax or wonderful outcome in order to entertain the reader and get across the message that it is trying to get across.McCarthy is able to do that through meaningful interactions and conflicts, and heartfelt dialogue.Even with all of the clouds of chaos described in the book, the sunshine that is the relationship between the Man and the Boy still shines through.Although tragedy may occur to people, that is not an excuse to give up.Tragedy is a reason to keep fighting in the face of terror.This is greatly helped through meaningful relationships, which allow people to cope with their problems and persevere in order to conquer them.The Road embodies that ideal, and is able to masterfully display and develop the relationships in order to make it seem authentic to the reader.