by Cormac McCarthy
Good vs. Evil Quotes in The Road
How we cite our quotes: Citations follow this format: (Section.Paragraph)
They began to come upon from time to time small cairns of rock by the roadside. They were signs in gypsy language, lost patterans. The first he'd seen in some while, common in the north, leading out of the looted and exhausted cities, hopeless messages to loved ones lost and dead. By then all stores of food had given out and murder was everywhere upon the land. The world soon to be largely populated by men who would eat your children in front of your eyes and the cities themselves held by cores of blackened looters who tunneled among the ruins and crawled from the rubble white of tooth and eye carrying charred and anonymous tins of food in nylon nets like shoppers in the commissaries of hell. [. . . ]Out on the roads the pilgrims sank down and fell over and died and the bleak and shrouded earth went trundling past the sun and returned again as trackless and as unremarked as the path of any nameless sisterworld in the ancient dark beyond. (250.1)
There's a ton here, but we want to focus on the slow dwindling of the pilgrims. (We think McCarthy uses the words "pilgrims" and "good guys" more or less interchangeably.) At first, after the "long shear of light," there is still some human affection out there: people write messages to each other with patterans (coded signs). As the stores of food disappear, "blackened looters," the ruthless and unprincipled, seem to take over. Soon enough, most of the pilgrims or "good guys" die on the road. Which brings up a nagging question – if The Boy and The Man are "good guys," how are they still alive?
Standing at the edge of a winter field among rough men. The boy's age. A little older. Watching while they opened up the rocky hillside ground with pick and mattock and brought to light a great bolus of serpents perhaps a hundred in number. Collected there for a common warmth. The dull tubes of them beginning to move sluggishly in the cold hard light. Like the bowels of some great beast exposed to the day. The men poured gasoline on them and burned them alive, having no remedy for evil but only for the image of it as they conceived it to be. The burning snakes twisted horribly and some crawled burning across the floor of the grotto to illuminate its darker recesses. As they were mute there were no screams of pain and the men watched them burn and writhe and blacken in just such silence themselves and they disbanded in silence in the winter dusk each with his own thoughts to go home to their suppers. (261.1)
This is a scene The Man witnessed in his childhood. We wonder if the evils perpetrated in McCarthy's post-apocalyptic world continue to occur simply because no one knows how to deal with them. Consider this sentence: "The men poured gasoline on them [the snakes] and burned them alive, having no remedy for evil but only for the image of it as they conceived it to be." Pretty heavy stuff.
Perhaps no one imagined the evil people could do to each other, and thus had no remedy against it? What happens when evil changes shape? How do you deal with a new evil? And what if we only know the various shapes of evil – and can destroy them – but can never destroy evil itself? McCarthy thinks you'd end up in a world similar to the one in The Road.
[The Boy:] Do you remember that little boy, Papa?
[The Man:] Yes. I remember him.
[The Boy:] Do you think that he's all right that little boy?
[The Man:] Oh yes. I think he's all right.
[The Boy:] Do you think he was lost?
[The Man:] No. I dont think he was lost.
[The Boy:] I'm scared that he was lost.
[The Man:] I think he's all right.
[The Boy:] But who will find him if he's lost? Who will find the little boy?
[The Man:] Goodness will find the little boy. It always has. It will again. (384.1-384.10)
This is a pretty complicated exchange. The Man is dying and The Boy knows it. (In fact, The Man will die in the next paragraph.) Faced with his father's death, The Boy remembers the child he saw (or thought he saw) wandering the rubble of a city. Won't that be him soon? The series of questions The Boy asks The Man really have to do with himself. He's not just worrying about the child he saw once, he's worrying about his own imminent abandonment.
The Man's response is quite bold, given the circumstances: Goodness will find The Boy. We're actually a little unsure what The Man means here. Does The Man mean "good" people will find The Boy, or does he mean The Boy will continue to be good and that will sustain him?