by Cormac McCarthy
Good vs. Evil Quotes in The Road
How we cite our quotes: Citations follow this format: (Section.Paragraph)
He pushed away the plastic tarpaulin and raised himself in the stinking robes and blankets and looked toward the east for any light but there was none. In the dream from which he'd wakened he had wandered in a cave where the child led him by the hand. Their light playing over the wet flowstone walls. Like pilgrims in a fable swallowed up and lost among the inward parts of some granitic beast. (1.1)
We think the dream here refers to the biblical story of Jonah and the Whale. So Jonah, a good man and a prophet, is supposed to go to Nineveh and tell the people there to repent or else. He doesn't and ends up being swallowed by a whale. The Man and The Boy are kind of like Jonah, only the whole world has become the belly of the whale. They're wandering a world of desperate hunger, a maw (or stomach!) terrible enough to discourage anyone.
He came forward, holding his belt by one hand. The holes in it marked the progress of his emaciation and the leather at one side had a lacquered look to it where he was used to stropping the blade of his knife. He stepped down into the roadcut and he looked at the gun and he looked at the boy. Eyes collared in cups of grime and deeply sunk. Like an animal inside a skull looking out the eyeholes. He wore a beard that had been cut square across the bottom with shears and he had a tattoo of a bird on his neck done by someone with an illformed notion of their appearance. He was lean, wiry, rachitic. Dressed in a pair of filthy blue coveralls and a black billcap with the logo of some vanished enterprise embroidered across the front of it. (102.5)
McCarthy, through dialogue between The Man and The Boy, divides most of the characters in the novel into "good guys" and "bad guys." This is one of the "bad guys." Certainly the character has been pushed by hunger to evil ("the holes in [his belt] [. . .] marked the progress of his emaciation"), but he also seems wildly inhuman ("like an animal inside a skull"). And his bird tattoo – a creature who often represents human striving or transcendence – is crudely drawn. We wonder how long it took for him to get this way. Does evil happen all at once in the novel or by degrees?
This was the first human being other than the boy that he'd spoken to in more than a year. My brother at last. The reptilian calculations in those cold and shifting eyes. The gray and rotting teeth. Claggy with human flesh. Who has made of the world a lie every word. When he woke again the snow had stopped and the grainy dawn was shaping out the naked woodlands beyond the bridge, the trees black against the snow. He was lying curled up with his hands between his knees and he sat up and got the fire going and he set a can of beets in the embers. The boy lay huddled on the ground watching him. (118.1)
Although McCarthy draws a pretty fierce line between the "good guys" and the "bad guys" in the novel, here's an instance where it seems like The Man wanders into "bad guys" category. Why does The Man call the marauder "My brother at last"? This is the marauder who would have eaten The Boy if given a half a chance. Perhaps it's because The Man had to resort to killing him. Self-defense doesn't make The Man as evil as the marauder, but maybe it puts him in the same ballpark.