The world Cormac McCarthy describes in The Road is a cruel place. Compassion in this dog-eat-dog (or man-eat-man) world seems all the more precious. Granted, McCarthy mostly associates compassion with the novel's child protagonist. This taints the portrayal of compassion a little, aligning it more with naiveté than goodness. It's hard to maintain such a cynical view, though: just when you think you've read the grossest thing possible, a character will do something really, really kind. In this way, perhaps, the novel defines compassion pretty well: something not required but given.