In a world where everything has gone to chaos, where there is cannibalism, where food is sacred, and sky is charcoal grey; people will do anything to survive. In order to survive one needs the basic elements: food, water, and shelter. Having others, to help one stay sane; having a sense of direction, in order to know where to go and where not to go: and also knowing who and what to trust is also need in order to survive. In the postapocalyptic novel The Road, by Cormac McCarthy, it displays many themes, but the ones that prevails the rest is sense of trust and compassion; whether it be to trust or not to trust, to be compassionate or not.
Both the father and son have different views on who to and not to trust, and when to be compassionate to others. Times like these are times in which trust is a huge factor in someone’s survival; it is understandable for one not to trust anyone, but themselves and whoever they started off their journey with, like with the case of the father. Throughout the entire novel he did everything possible to avoid contact with other humans, even if the other person didn’t seem like a threat to them.
Father makes it clear that he trust no one in a scene in which they are sleeping and they hear others coming, he and his son have a quick conversation, People on the road. Dont look… Are they gone, Papa? Yes, they’re gone… Were they the bad guys? Yes, they were bad guys. There’s a lot of them, those bad guys. Yes there are. But they’re gone. (91-92)
The father actually has no idea if they are good or bad, he could only assume; he says they are bad just so that his son wouldn’t question him-which changes later on in the novel. Like in the cene in which they encounter “Ely”. The man wanted no contact with him, but the boy realized that he was just a weak old man, and in a way force the father to help him. It is at this point in which the boy starts to have more of a voice, he is able to sway his father into at least helping others. In the case, of the son, it is much different. The boy was born into this world where everything is in ruins. He has mostly likely encountered many bad people, and maybe a handful of good people-according to what they define as good and bad people.
He is used to seeing “bad” in people that when he does see someone that could be good, he gets a different vibe or feeling from them. He trust anyone who seems to be “carrying the fire”. Like in the case of the little boy he saw in the neighborhood, Ely, or even the man he met at the end of the book: How do I know you’re one of the good guys? You dont. You’ll have to take a shot. Are you carrying the fire? Am I what? Carrying the fire?… So are you? What, carrying the fire? Yes. Yea. We are… You dont eat people. No. we dont eat people.
And I can go with you? (283-284) Like the father, the son has no way of knowing if this strange man can be trusted, but he does. “Carrying the fire” is what gives the boy the ability to trust and be compassionate. It is his way help to separate those are are like them and those who are bad. It is the fire within them that gives them the courage and strength to continue because they believe it will lead them to something better. The boy also seems to have much more compassion toward others than the father; the father has almost no compassion.
Like mentioned before, in Ely’s case, the father didn’t want to associate with him, but the boy was able to convince the father to help the poor man out: The boy squatted down and put a hand on his shoulder. He’s scared, Papa. The man is scared… He’s just scared, Papa. Tell him we wont hurt him… We cant stay here. We have to go. He’s scared, Papa. I don’t think you should touch him. Maybe we could give him something to eat… The boy turned and looked at him. I know what the question is, the man said. the answer is no. What’s the question? Can we keep him… 162-164)
Because of the sons compassion: Ely was able to eat for the first time in who knows how long, he gave the man hope-because it was the first time seeing a child since the “end of the world” happened-he and the father gave him warmth and company, and in the end, they split ways but they gave the man food, so that he could survive. He even thought of wanting to “keep” the man. That way he could continue to help him out. The son is young, and hasn’t seen how bad the world can really be, but maybe that is a good thing, because he is able to have compassion of those in need.
On the other hand, the father seems to only be compassionate towards his son. The father does everything to protect his son. The reason they are traveling to try and a find a better life for him. Throughout their journey he constantly tells him that they are the good guys; he is always making sure his son has food to eat, even if he’ll have a little or none; and watches over him until his last day. The following dialogues show that he has compassion towards his son: “What would you do if I died? If you died I would want to die too.
So you could be with me? Yes. Sol could be with you. (11) and, “My job is to take care of you. I was appointed to do that by God. I will kill anyone who touches you. Do you understand? ” (77). The father sees himself as a guardian angel for his son, and is willing to do anything, even kill, to make sure his son is safe. He would rather die than continue on without his son; he can’t bare to live without him since his son is what keeps him going, he is what keeps him sane. He has no mercy and empathy for others. For example, he makes a man strip his clothes off and takes them, as an act of punishment. The son has to convince him to return the cloths.
All in all, the son is what gives the father a reason to rethink his actions, to have emotions, to be compassion. With this in mind, the father and son need each other, in order for their survival. The man has the knowledge to survive, to pinpoint who not to trust, but the man needs the son to survive. The son’s compassion towards others reminds the father that humanity is still a thing, and that there is still hope. The father would have not survived as long as he did if it weren’t for his son, the son gave him courage, strength, a purpose to continue on.
Altogether, trust and compassion are essential for survival. Trust and compassion are both prominent themes throughout the novel The Road; they are the glue that connects all the other other several themes hit McCarthy’s novels, like: survival, memory, family, hope, misery, etc. To many people trust and compassion don’t come easily. So, is living in the world that they do, is it better to be like: the son, trustful and compassionate; like the father, only compassionate to those he trust, and only trusting few; or is having a little bit of both perspectives needed?