by Cormac McCarthy
Good vs. Evil Quotes in The Road
How we cite our quotes: Citations follow this format: (Section.Paragraph)
He [The Boy] sat there cowled in the blanket. After a while he looked up. Are we still the good guys? he said.
[The Man:] Yes. We're still the good guys.
[The Boy:] And we always will be.
[The Man:] Yes. We always will be.
[The Boy:] Okay. (120.7-120.11)
This exchange happens pretty soon after The Man had to kill the roadrat. The Boy wants to know if they're still "good guys" after killing someone. Despite his doubts earlier that morning, The Man thinks they are still "good guys." We agree. But we also think McCarthy plays around with his terms here. There are actually no "good guys" in the strictest, most traditional sense. There are just the "sometimes-morally-compromised-but-mostly-good guys."
An army in tennis shoes, tramping. Carrying three-foot lengths of pipe with leather wrappings. [. . .] The phalanx following carried spears or lances tasseled with ribbons, the long blades hammered out of trucksprings in some crude forge upcountry. [. . .] Behind them came 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 illcothed against the cold and fitted in dogcollars and yoked each to each. All passed on. They lay listening.
[The Boy:] Are they gone, Papa?
[The Man:] Yes, they're gone.
[The Boy:] Did you see them?
[The Man:] Yes.
[The Boy:] Were they the bad guys?
[The Man:] Yes, they were the bad guys. (141.4-141.10)
It seems like another giveaway of the "bad guys" is that they keep slaves with them. The Man and The Boy, on the other hand, spend a lot of energy trying not to harm others. We think good and evil in this book have a lot to do with how one responds to desperate situations: do you prey on those weaker than yourself, or do you avoid others and try to retain some sliver of decency like The Man? Or, like The Boy, do you go above and beyond the call of duty and care for those worse off than yourself? We think the gap between this bloodcult on the road and The Boy seems nearly unbridgeable.
Look at me, the man said.
He turned and looked. He looked like he'd been crying.
[The Man:] Just tell me.
[The Boy:] We wouldnt ever eat anybody, would we?
[The Man:] No. Of course not.
[The Boy:] Even if we were starving?
[The Man:] We're starving now.
[The Boy:] You said we werent.
[The Man:] I said we werent dying. I didnt say we werent starving.
[The Boy:] But we wouldnt.
[The Man:] No. We wouldnt.
[The Boy:] No matter what.
[The Man:] No. No matter what.
[The Boy:] Because we're the good guys.
[The Man:] Yes.
[The Boy:] And we're carrying the fire. (195.12-195.29)
[The Man:] And we're carrying the fire. Yes.
[The Boy:] Okay.
We're not exactly sure what the fire is, but it seems to have to do with human goodness and decency. The dialogue here further explains the difference between the "good guys" and the "bad guys." It's a major difference, let it be said: the "good guys" don't eat other people, no matter how hungry they get. This is a code of basic moral decency The Man has constructed that can't be broached. ("No matter what," as The Man says.) Does The Man have any other basic, unbreakable principles? What about The Boy – does he have his own set of principles?