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The Road: Character Analysis

Updated on December 2, 2012

The Father

In Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, the father displays three distinct characteristics that shape his personality throughout the entire novel. The father’s continual rhetoric about the son “carrying the fire” gives the reader perspective on the man’s solid moral foundation. When the man speaks of “carrying the fire” to his son, he means that his son carries the load of civilization, compassion, sympathy, and an ever present moral order. The theme of the father’s love for his son exists during every moment of the entire novel. The father explicitly expresses many times that he lives for his son, and only for his son. The world of The Road is complete anarchy, and the man exhibits immense amounts of bravery while trying to face it. Whether the challenge be hiding from cannibals, or wandering into dangerous abandon houses, the man always displays a vast amount of bravery.

Even though the man’s son is born to the chaotic and anarchic world and experiences nothing of the prior world, the boy still displays a strong moral order. An example of the boy’s compassion occurs when he pleads his father to feed Eli, the man who struck by lightning. The boys amazing sense of right and wrong came from his father. The man constantly influences his son by telling him that they are the good and guys:

Look at me, the man said

He turned and looked. He looked like he’d been crying.

Just tell me [The Man]

We wouldn’t ever eat anybody, would we? [The boy]

No. Of course not.

Even if we were starving?...

But we wouldn’t [The boy]

No. We wouldn’t

No matter what?

No. No matter what.

Because were the good guys.


And we’re carrying the fire?

And we’re carrying the fire. Yes.

The exchange of dialogue here between the man and his son shows directly how the man has shaped his son with an ever-present compass of good and bad. Although the man believes his son learns this from being of the divine nature, I believe the boy learns this from his father’s example.

Love exists as the most powerful theme in the novel. The man lives, protects, and fights out of love for his son. The father will also kill his own son out of love. Numerous times throughout the novel, the man exclaims that his child, and the love he has for him, remains the only thing that keeps him alive and away from death. The man contemplates if he will kill his son to save him from being tortured and eaten by cannibals when they are hiding in a ditch:

They lay listening. Can you do it? When the time comes? When the time comes there will be no time. Now is the time. Curse God and die. What if it doesn't fire? It has to fire. What if it doesn't fire? Could you crush that beloved skull with a rock? Is there such a being within you of which you know nothing? Can there be? Hold him in your arms. Just so. The soul is quick. Pull him toward you. Kiss him. Quickly. (172)

In the awful and lawless world that these two characters live in, the father killing his own son to save him from brutal torture and cannibalism, exists as the ultimate act of love. While contemplating, the man realizes that the act of killing his own son will be horrifying and treacherous, but he has to put away his own selfishness and realize what the boy will suffer from if he does not kill him. Although love is the most obvious characteristic that the man displays, it sometimes comes in unexpected forms.

Bravery came as a necessity, not as an option to the man. The man did not have the luxury of being a coward because he had to be brave, strong, and courageous for his innocent and scared son. The boy had enough terror for the both of them, so the man had to have the bravery. When an evil man grabs hold of the man’s son, the man acts swiftly and with bravery:

The man had already dropped to the ground and he swung with him and leveled the pistol and fired from a two-handed position balanced on both knees at a distance of six feet. The man [the "bad guy"] fell back instantly and lay with blood bubbling from the hole in his forehead. (102)

As his son faces death with a blade to his neck, the father is absolutely afraid. The difference though, remains that the man has his bravery triumph over his terror. The man shoots the perpetrator in the head without even hesitating. Bravery runs through the father’s veins, and he is willing to do anything to protect his son.


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    • joshd88 profile image

      Josh 5 years ago from Boston

      Thanks for reading!

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      mewlhouse 5 years ago

      That is pretty much why I think they ate him. Thanks for the conversation. There are not too many people here (yet) who read these types of books and also talk about them intelligently.

    • joshd88 profile image

      Josh 5 years ago from Boston

      Yes, but the father and son were struggling tremendously towards the end of the novel to find food. Since the sun hadn't shined in something like 10 years, then what would be the peoples source of food because nothing could grow without sunlight. But yes he did leave it open to interpretation

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      mewlhouse 5 years ago

      I feel the book left it open as to what would come of him. McCarthy is a very dark writer and not too generous with goodwill. (See the Judge in Blood Meridian.) But others have supposed that being that the book was dedicated to his son, John (I think that is his name), that a better outcome would be in store for him. If so, I think McCarthy would have made it clear. But alas, he didn't.

    • joshd88 profile image

      Josh 5 years ago from Boston

      No. I think the new family are good people, but they will all die pretty soon because there is no food left.

    • profile image

      mewlhouse 5 years ago

      You think the new family ate the kid?