by Cormac McCarthy
Mortality Quotes in The Road
How we cite our quotes: Citations follow this format: (Section.Paragraph)
He [The Boy] was a long time going to sleep. After a while he turned and looked at the man. His face in the small light streaked with black from the rain like some old world thespian. Can I ask you something? he said.
[The Man:] Yes. Of course.
[The Boy:] Are we going to die?
[The Man:] Sometime. Not now. (11.1-11.4)
This is about as terse and true a statement of mortality as you'll see anywhere. The Man and The Boy are out in an unforgiving, dangerous world where even the slightest misstep could lead to death. (Like our world, only with its dangers multiplied to the nth degree.) It's pretty simple, The Man says. We're all going to die – just not now.
[The Boy:] I wish I was with my mom.
He [The Man] didnt answer. He sat beside the small figure wrapped in the quilts and blankets. After a while he said: You mean you wish that you were dead.
[The Boy:] Yes.
[The Man:] You musnt say that.
[The Boy:] But I do.
[The Man:] Dont say it. It's a bad thing to say.
[The Boy:] I cant help it.
[The Man:] I know. But you have to.
[The Boy:] How do I do it?
[The Man:] I dont know. (92.4-92.13)
This is a complicated exchanged between The Man and The Boy. In a sense, The Man does know, in their terrible situation, how to keep going. You find someone to devote yourself to (e.g. The Boy) and spend every waking moment fulfilling that purpose. But he can't tell that to The Boy. For one, he doesn't express his feelings like that. And two, it would heap too much pressure on The Boy. Most people, particularly sons and daughters, just get weirded out when you tell them they're the purpose and meaning of your life.
The falling snow curtained them about. There was no way to see anything at either side of the road. He was coughing again and the boy was shivering, the two of them side by side under the sheet of plastic, pushing the grocery cart through the snow. Finally he stopped. The boy was shaking uncontrollably.
We had to stop, he [The Man] said.
[The Boy:] It's really cold.
[The Man:] I know.
[The Boy:] Where are we?
[The Man:] Where are we?
[The Boy:] Yes.
[The Man:] I dont know.
[The Boy:] If we were going to die would you tell me?
[The Man:] I dont know. We're not going to die. (144.1-144.10)
As in Robinson Crusoe, Lost, and other survival stories, these characters often find themselves on the brink of death. But we especially enjoy the nearly absurd dialogue between The Man and The Boy here. (If you've read Samuel Beckett's play Waiting for Godot, dialogue like this might sound familiar.) The Boy wants to know whether The Man would say anything if they were close to death. The Man says he doesn't know if he'd tell The Boy. Then he says, "We're not going to die." How is The Boy supposed to believe him if he just said he might not tell him? Basically, The Boy will just have to take his word for it.