Throughout the novel, a father and his son walk alone heading south in a post apocalyptic Earth. It is dark, barren, grey, and cold. They have nothing to eat except what they might find along the road. Not knowing where their next meal might come from, if there will be another meal. The man and boy are always striving to stay alive, encountering many obstacles. From the beginning of the novel to the end it is clear that the man’s primary objective is to keep his son alive. As they continue to head south they see many horrific things from death to actual cannibalism. The boy is so young it is difficult to ascertain how he can recover from this. But the earth being what it is, to just survive is a great thing. For the “good people” to survive is a wonderful thing, especially if one imagines what would happen if only “the bad people” survived.
If our surroundings influence our life and our character the man in this novel is a study of unrelenting love and survival. Incessantly trying to keep his wife alive, talking intellectually about suicide, trying to stop her from killing herself was hard to come by. She was not only tired of the nothingness of earth, but very afraid of being captured and raped by the bands of evil gangs. The author does not make many things clear. We do not know the what happen to make the world like this. However because the boy is young and it does not appear he remembers how it was before, it seems they have been living like this for many years. It is hard to ascertain a timeframe. It is so constantly dreary and dangerous for the boy and the man. What keeps the reader’s attention is the constant vigil the man has for keeping his son safe.
The father has to often make hard choices that the boy may question but that the reader understands are the only choices he can make if they are to survive. From the start it is clear that the boy’s safety is the mans only concern. He feels he is entrusted by God to take care of the boy. Keeping his gun with him at all times, though it only has two bullets in the chamber, it still protects the boy and him. Although he ponders whether he can take his boys life if it is necessary, with one of the bullets, and realizes he would not be able to hold his dead son in his arms. The love the father has for his son is abounding and provides the only optimism in this very bleak novel.
The boy too is all alone except for his father. “He held the boy close to him. So thin. My heart, he said. My heart. That the boy was all that stood between him and death.” (Cormac McCarthy 29) He has only the man to keep him safe from harm. He sees the hard choices and sacrifices his father makes for him only questioning him if he feels it may hurt someone else. The man keeps them moving even though he is not sure if there is a better place to go to. The one thing for sure is it is never safe where they are. It is a daily existence of trying to stay alive.
They come across cities and towns that are mere shells of what they used to be. They look for any food, water, clothes, or blankets that they can use. They have a simple grocery cart that holds everything they own in the world. Everywhere they come across is a direct contrast to what it was before the devastation. And often their lives are in peril from marauding gangs or bad people. It is apparent the author is contrasting also how some people retain their humanity in the face of peril, while others completely lose it.
The man and the boy are getting thinner and weaker by the day. The man has a continual cough and is spitting up blood. It is by shear strength that he keeps them going and by some luck that he finds things along the way that keep them alive. If there are things along the way that can add even a moment’s pleasure for the boy, like one old can of Coke he finds in a vending machine, he lets the boy experience whatever small pleasure there may be left in the world.
The most horrific example of what the world they are living is is like is when they come upon a large house. As usual the boy if afraid of exploring because he is afraid they will run across bad people. The father knows he has to look for anything that may keep them alive so they must take the chance. When they enter they see piles of shoes and clothes and a bell attached to a string. He breaks the lock on the door figuring there must be something of worth inside. Instead they find a room full of naked people chained to the wall being held has food for others to eat. “Huddled against the back wall were naked people, male and female. On the mattress lay a man with his legs gone to the hip and the stumps of them blackned and burnt.” (McCarthy 110) This is the little taste the man and boy see, understanding they could end up there where if their not careful.
The man finally succumbs to his illness. He knew he was going to die but felt that somehow the boys goodness would keep him alive. The boy stays with his father’s dead body for days. He finally walks back to the road and a man ask him if the man he was with is gone. The boys says yes. The mans tells the boy he thinks he should go with him. The boys asked if there are other children with him and the man replies yes , a boy and a girl. The father has delivered his son to safety and there are other “good people” in the world. The boy will be able to carry “the light”.
While these seemingly insurmountable challenges faced his son, the man helped shaped who his son was, and who he was going to be. The dad gave him unconditional love no matter what circumstances they were facing together. He taught his son how to avoid the bad men and to not give into what they did to survive, not to kill other people for food and not to go to the dark. During the novel, the son learned alot from the dad how to find somewhere safe, how to cook with a little and how to live in these harsh conditions. The son will know what to do when he comes in contact with the bad men and how to handle them because of his father. Once you receive the love , care, and skills from someone with such overwhelming love and guardianship, it shapes who you are in the world.