History has had little conscience when it comes to human suffering and struggle. The world has brought us murder, torture, and terror in the packages of war, politics, and everyday human relationships. Religious battles keep racism, greed, and suffering real. The positive is not always apparent when one looks at human existence. Aside from the physical struggle humans had to endure and overcome, emotions also challenge us in hard times. Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, a story set after an apocalypse, takes the characters beyond physical challenges like cold and hunger.
In their dystopia, the characters must also face their emotional struggles. As they journey across the dark, barren land, the boy and his father experience the feelings of desperation, fear and hope. The first emotion that urges the pair on in their journey is desperation. The father and son are desperate for many things; food, warmth, and not to be caught and raped by others. As well; the two are desperate to find and share with other good guys.
The man and his emaciated bay have such a strong desperation to find food and food is so scarce that the pair finds “the bones of a small animal dismembered and placed in a pile, possibly a cat”. (McCarthy.2006.Pg26) This find is proof that other survivors have turned to alternate forms of food to try and give themselves energy for the trek. Warmth is another huge luxury that the father and his boy wish they had. After a find of supplies in an abandoned house, they ‘sat wrapped in the quilt naked while the man held the boy’s feet to his stomach to warm them. (McCarthy. 2006.Pg31). The man is obviously willing to do anything; he is determined to keep his son warm and comfortable, even if it takes away from his own comfort. Hiding from people looking to catch others to eat is a further element of despair the two are forced to cope with.
Cannibals roam this dystopia. After finding people in a cellar, some with limbs chopped off, the son is left horrified. The man and the son are desperate to find other ‘good guys’ like them so that they aren’t alone. Moreover, there are many other emotions the trekkers are desperate for; however these four are some of the most pressing. Ironically, this ugly emotion helps to keep the two going. The second, and most important emotion that drives the father and his son forward, is Fear. The apocalypse has given the man and his son reason to be fearful of many things: Strangers, Starvation, and being alone. The father is so afraid of strangers that every time they come across another person he becomes very hostile. When they came upon a traveler, they followed him, perhaps because “The traveler was not one for looking back. They followed him for a while and then they overtook him.” (McCarthy.2006.Pg161) The man has changed drastically since his wife left him, and he has become very protective of his son.
Starvation is another fear that drives them forward; food is very scarce and when they find food they do what they can to keep people from taking it from them. When the pair sees an old man called Ely walking down the street the father says I see and “the boy turned and looked at him. I know what the question is the man said. The answer is no. What question? Can we keep him? We can’t.” (McCarthy.2006.Pg.164). After the death of his father the boy is discovered by a family that had been following them. Even though the man had taught him to be very cautious around other people, the boy was very lonely and feared having to travel by himself ,so after making sure that they were “good guys”; he asked them “are you carrying the fire? Am I what? Carrying the fire. You’re kind of weirded out, aren’t you? No. Just a little.
Yeah. That’s ok. So are you? What, carrying the fire? Yes. Yeah we are.” (McCarthy.2006.Pg283/284), he decides to travel with the family. And while fear is one of the most important emotions the pair faces in the book it is also one of the most important that people have faced since we first developed emotions. And even though fear plays a big part in their movement forward there is still another that is just as important. The Third and final emotion that is expressed in the novel is hope. The boy’s character is a sign of hope to the father throughout the book. In the father’s view the boy is almost described as holy, “if he is not the word of god, god never spoke”, which gives the sense that the boy is precious to the man and that the boy is the father’s hope like a god is a religious person’s hope. The boy also gives a sense of hope to the reader. This is from his sense of goodness and innocence, the way he gave food to the old man at the side of the road, which in this world the reader gets a sense that goodness and innocence is unheard of. This gives this bleak, horrific, world a feeling of humanity, a feeling that gives the destroyed world a future “Goodness will find the little boy.
It always has. It will again.” In the road there is a repeated reference to ‘carrying the flame’ which is a symbol of hope. It is a symbol that mankind will always live on throughout any circumstances. When the man dies he tells the boy the he is now carrying the flame which shows the man’s hope of a better future or merely a just a future for the boy. The food is a sign presented by Cormac McCarthy of hope, when the food is low the scene is shown grimly and when the food is plentiful. When they find the bunker full of food, page 146, the text is full of short sentences ‘Canned hams.’, ‘Corned beef’ which show the father’s joy and almost disbelief of how hopeful the future will be with this plenty. Other than the boy the father has hope in very few things. But one thing which is shown throughout The Road is the father’s sense of morals.
The father always reassures the boy and himself that they are the good guys, because they aren’t turning to cannibalism, which gives them the hope to keep them going because they are, to the father, keeping goodness in the world alive, ‘carrying the flame’. In the father’s dream, page 2, the father and the son are holding a light, ‘Their light playing over the wet flowstone walls.’ Which could be interpreted as a reference to the ‘carrying the flame’. The mother is a character presenting hope that has been lost. The mother commits suicide as this is what she sees as the brightest option. The mother says “as for me my only hope is for eternal nothingness and I hope it with all my heart.” (McCarthy.2006.Pg58/59), this shows how the mother has lost all hope of a future and nothingness is better than life on borrowed time.
The last paragraph in the road is full of hope for the boy and the earth’s future. Cormac McCarthy presents the theme of hope in many different ways. He shows the lost hope of people in end of the world situations, the mother and the cannibals. The hope for the future, carrying the flame and the last paragraph. The hope for goodness and generosity in the world, the father’s view of the boy and carrying the flame. Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, a story set in a post-apocalyptic earth, showed the journey off a Man and his son: as they faced physical challenges, such as, Cold and Hunger, they also faced emotional challenges through Desperation, Fear, and Hope. This is a story that shows the perseverance of a man and his son, as they fight to survive.