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The Road, Cormac McCarthy uses a vivid, dark imagery to portray the
scenes throughout the novel. This is evident in the beginning of the book and
sets the overall suspenseful and serious tone of the story. The story is told
through third person omniscient and there is a sense of interiority with Papa.

He and his son depend on one another in this time of despair because it seems
as though they each hold a piece of each other, “each the other’s world
entire” (6). The man holds his sons sense of adulthood while the son can
be seen as displaying his father’s innocence. From the start, the man keeps
pushing forward for the boy’s sake, and aims to teach the boy all that he can
during their time together. The first sentence in the novel displays his
reassurance that the boy is still there, stating, “When he woke in the
woods in the dark and the cold of the night he’d reach out to touch the child
sleeping beside him” (1). Cormac McCarthy is foreshadowing what is to
come: it may be dark and cold outside, but these two characters’ love each
other. Similarly, the boys well-being is all Papa really cares about at this
point because there is nothing else left for him in the world. In this
essay, I will argue that the man and his son maintain their humanity in the
face of desperation during a post-apocalyptic world, through their loving
relationship with one another.

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            Throughout the novel we see the
relationship between the father and son grow and only receive glimpses of the
woman through the father’s thoughts and memories. The woman offers a
contrasting opinion of the world and what is most likely to happen in the
future than the Man. The woman gives in to the despair and believes that there
is no reason to continue to live on when she eventually will die anyway. She
decides to escape the fate by committing suicide without even saying goodbye to
the boy. On the other hand, the man decides to keep hope and try to survive
with his son, even if there is no hope that anything will get better. This is
one example of paternal love as a common theme occurring throughout the novel. The
man begs his wife not to kill herself, and even says “Just wait until
morning. Please” (McCarthy 58). This shows how much the man wanted his
family to stay together for the sake of his son. By choosing to live, the man
is faced with the internal struggle about whether he’d be able to kill the one
thing that is keeping him going: his son. The man has many questions pop into
his head like, “Can you do it? When the time comes. . .What if it doesn’t
fire? Could you crush that beloved skull with a rock?” (114). This is when
the man believes that death is better than living as a captive to the bad guys.

He comes to the point of two options: does he kill his own son and save him
from something worse than death, or allow himself to be captured and eaten to
possibly save the boy?

            Although the man is trying to be one
of the “good guys”, the humans who avoid violence and cannibalism,
but he is willing to do almost anything to protect the boy. The man
demonstrates consistently that is prepared to take whatever action necessary,
even if violent, to ensure his son’s survival. The man threatens to kill a
bearded man just for looking at the boy. The man states “If you look at
him again I’ll shoot you” (65). The bearded man also puts a knife to the
boy, which is when the man shoots him in the head with his pistol. This shows
how much tension was involved as they were being hunted by murderers. Not only
does the man protect his son in violent ways but also in parentally normal,
caring ways. The man gives the boy his last half of a packet of hot chocolate. The
man also finds a can of Coca-Cola and gives it to the boy as a treat. The boy
loves it but also realizes that he “won’t ever get to drink another
one” (24).

            The man often uses the phrase
“carrying the fire” to the boy as a metaphor to show his perseverance
surviving in this post-apocalyptic world. The man uses this saying as a
metaphor, not only for the will to live, but the will to live nobly. He often
says this whenever the boy feels like giving up and surrendering to death. The
boy asks his father for reassurance that nothing, “Because we are the good
guys. And we’re carrying the fire” (129). This shows the perseverance the
man has to stand up for humanity and goodness even through this time of despair.

Although the man and the boy encounter the most horrid remnants of humanity,
the fire is the “flame” of goodness still left in their hearts. As
they walk down the road, “carrying the fire” gives them hope to keep
walking and perhaps find other likes themselves, although, we see that is very
hard for them. At the end of the novel, the boy wants to take the easy way out
and die with the man. The man says to the boy as he is dying, “You need to
go on, he said. I can’t go with you. You need to keep going. You don’t know
what might be down the road. We were always lucky. You’ll be lucky again. You’ll
see. Just go. It’s all right.” (278). The boy refuses, saying he wants to
stay with the man, but the man states “You can’t. You have to carry the
fire” (278). Even as the man is dying he sees the goodness in the world
and continues to pass it on to his son with love.

            After the man dies, the protagonist
is shifts to the boy and we start to hear his feelings rather than the man. A
man carrying a shot gun appears as the boy is all alone and we get another scene
where the metaphor, “carry the fire” is used. To see if he could
trust this new man, the boy asks him, “Are you carrying the fire?”
(283). The boy also asks him if he has kids traveling with him, which another
sign of trustworthiness from the new man. This fulfills the young boys desire
to find companions of the same age, as he tried throughout the whole novel. It
seems as though the boy became very mature during his life in this world. He
was very brave to listen to his father and continue on without him, in this
world with horrible people who gave in to inhumane ways. This new family seems
as though it is the right fit for the boy.

            In conclusion, throughout the novel
we see the paternal love between the man and the son. Without one another,
neither of them would be able to survive. Each brings something to the table
that the other does not have. We also see that part of the boy wants to be with
his mother, escaping pain through death, while part wants to keep hoping and
traveling with his father. They carry the fire and the hope on the road, their
love for one another pushing them forward. The man decides to live to make it a
point to protect the boy from any source of harm. The novel ends with a rather
promising ending where the boy finds the “good guys” that he and his
father have been searching for. Despite the horrible and gruesome parts of the
novel, the warm parts throughout are what keep the reader hooked. As the man is
dying, he tells the boy, “You have my whole heart. You always did. You’re
the best guy. You always were. If I’m not here, you can still talk to me and
I’ll talk to you. You’ll see.” (279). Throughout the novel, the man and
his son keep hope alive, one step at a time down the long road of despair.