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.
Questions About Compassion and Forgiveness
- The only other decent human being in the novel finds The Boy at the end. This guy also seems a little scary, though: he's got a shotgun, a scar across his face, a weak smile, and a lazy eye. How do you think this man has kept his family alive? Do you think he's done some pretty violent stuff? Are compassion and violence compatible?
- Do you think The Man has compassion for The Boy, or would you call that love? Is compassion something The Boy and The Man only have for strangers? Is their love limited to each other?
- Is cannibalism the worst thing someone can do in the novel?
- The Boy is a lot more compassionate than The Man. McCarthy often tosses in a religious phrase or two when he describes him, e.g. "the last host of christendom," "I am the one," and "chalice." Why does McCarthy describe The Boy in religious terms? Is compassion related to God and religion in The Road? Why or why not?