Explain how the Road is essentially a metaphor that explains how we live our lives. Consider the fact that the "journey" undertaken by the father and son has no clear destination and if we can view their experience as a passage through life.
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"You have to carry the fire."
"I don't know how to," says the son."(278)
The man and the boy learn to illuminate themselves and their surroundings with the fire they carry together. By living in a place filled with black and grey, they understand the truth, and their role, in humanity. The man's and the boy's journey in McCarthy's novel "The Road" illustrates how, through interactions with others, we mature goodness by accepting the existence of depravity, by realizing the limitation of goodness, and by constantly practicing ethicality.
The man and the boy have become used to the inhumanity in the post-apocalyptic world. They encounter cannibals. The man, the father kills, who with his "diesel truck" comrades, had been "slouching along with clubs," (62) is found left with "[his] bones and skin piled together with rocks over them," and "a pool of guts" (60). His comrades are quickly willing to rip off, "[boil]" and eat the meat from the man who had been working with them (71). This is horrible. The boy and the man have become aware of people betraying one another for their self needs, and they have to be cautious about who they interact with. The man and the boy "then moved on," and "neither spoke nor called to each other." (67) In addition, even parents are eating their own child. As the boy and the father cross the bridge, they see "three men and a woman...the woman [is] pregnant." Afterwards the boy finds "a charred human infant headless and gutted and blackening on the spit." (198) The boy realizes the dark reality the world has become, that people have completely abandoned their goodness due to the desperate conditions, and the father is "sorry" about what the boy has to experience. (198) People have become the incarnation of evil: "Bearded, their breath smoking through their masks... The phalanx following [carries] spears or lances tasseled with ribbons...Behind them [come] wagons drawn by slaves in harness and piled with goods of war and after that the women, perhaps a dozen in number, some of them pregnant and lastly a supplementary consort of catamites illclothed against the cold and fitted in dogcollars and yoked each to each." (91) Even though the father tells the boy to "keep [his] face down," to prevent the boy from seeing the parade, the boy still knows the people in the parade are the "bad guys, and he admits "there's a lot of them." (92) He has a clear sense of "good" and "bad," and throughout the novel he keeps questioning his father for confirmation about whether they are still the "good guys," "carrying the fire." Regrettably, in such a wicked world, the fire, goodness, cannot always be used.
At times it is futile to practice goodness, and the boy understands the limitation of goodness as he travels along the road. The boy asks his father, "can't we help him?" when they discover a "burnt looking" person who has been "struck by lightning." (50) Though the boy "[keeps] pulling at" his father's coat, hoping for his father to help the man, the boy shows his understanding that they "have no way to help" by "[nodding]" his head and "[going] on."(50) He knows their ability to help others is limited by what they have, and they barely have enough food for themselves. The boy further realizes the weakness of the fire when the man and the boy discover the "naked people" beneath the hatch in one of the houses. In order for the fire to be redirected, and perpetuated, the man "[drops] the lighter," temporary abandoning the fire and runs away with the boy because they will be putting themselves, the carriers of the fire, in jeopardy if they try to help. (111) However, to sustain the fire, the man and the boy must keep feeding wood, goodness, into it.
Knowing that there is wickedness, the boy and the man have to keep their goodness by constantly practicing it. Though the boy and the man do not know how long Ely, an abused, "small and bent old man", will live, they still cultivate goodness by giving Ely food before his inevitable death, to create moments of group amity for Ely to live. (161) Unlike previous incident with the man who is struck by lightning, the boy and the man have enough supplies for themselves, and they share it with Ely. Giving Ely food surprises him, because he has "not seen [the fire] in a long time." (172) Unfortunately, the father loses his sense to be good when they catch up with the thief who steals everything they have. As if seeking revenge, no matter how the thief begs for mercy, the father, with a gun, forces the thief to take off all his clothes, including his shoes, to "leave [him] the way [he] left [them]". (257) The father's priority is the boy's survival. He "worries that he cannot protect and sustain the boy. On the contrary, the boy has been taught to carry the fire, and he "[worries]" that his father will lose his sense of goodness. (259) Part of being good is to understand, and to forgive others. The boy understands that the thief "[was] just hungry" and "scared." (259) He retains his father's ethicality; they go back for the thief, returning the thief's clothes and shoes. The father becomes increasingly conscious of practicing ethicality. Later on the father is able to refrain from his ferocity after shooting the flare at the man who attempted to kill them. After the necessary protection, instead of torturing the woman who the father found alongside the man he shot, asking the other's whereabouts, "he turned and went limping down the stairs," leaving the woman alone with the man. (265)
In the book the destination is not a physical place. Obscurely heading toward west coast, the father and the boy have an abstract destination -to be good, and to keep humanity moving. Along the journey, the destination is in every moment we live. We have to accept the existence of wickedness, and the occasional futility of goodness. Through interactions with others, the repugnant side of humanity reveals itself, which enable us to learn from each other, and to practice ethicality. With people, we grow.