by Cormac McCarthy
Strength and Skill Quotes in The Road
How we cite our quotes: Citations follow this format: (Section.Paragraph)
Everything smelled of damp and rot. In the first bedroom a dried corpse with the covers about its neck. Remnants of rotted hair on the pillow. He took hold of the lower hem of the blanket and towed it off the bed and shook it out and folded it under his arm. (125.2)
The Man's ability to focus on survival is astounding. He doesn't blink when he sees a corpse lying in the bed; instead, he grabs the blanket covering it. Perhaps McCarthy uses this scene to illustrate just how bad things have gotten, but we also think it shows the flipside of being so handy. The Man, in trying keep himself and The Boy alive, often doesn't display much compassion. (At least not as much compassion as The Boy would prefer.) Does The Man really need this blanket, or could he have shown more respect for the dead? We don't want to judge The Man too much – partly because we've never been in such a dire situation – but just keep in mind that The Boy keeps tabs on their ethics.
They found some utensils and a few pieces of clothing. A sweatshirt. Some plastic they could use for a tarp. He was sure they were being watched but he saw no one. In a pantry they came upon part of a sack of cornmeal that rats had been at in the long ago. He sifted the meal through a section of windowscreen and collected a small handful of dried turds and they built a fire on the concrete porch of the house and made cakes of the meal and cooked them over a piece of tin. Then they ate them slowly one by one. He wrapped the few remaining in a paper and put them in the knapsack. (130.1)
There are three possible levels of resourcefulness in this situation. Most people would find themselves on level one. A level-one forager would see the rat excrement in the cornmeal and wouldn't mess with it. A level-two forager would pick out the excrement by hand. A level-three forager, which The Man clearly is, would find a window screen and sift the cornmeal before making corn pancakes.
In the mudroom off the kitchen he'd seen an old wicker basket full of masonjars. He dragged the basket out into the floor and set the jars out of it and then tipped over the basket and tapped out the dirt. Then he stopped. What had he seen? A drainpipe. A trellis. The dark serpentine of a dead vine running down it like the track of some enterprise upon a graph. [. . .] The drainpipe ran down the corner of the porch. He was still holding the basket and he set it down in the grass and climbed the steps again. The pipe came down the corner post and into a concrete tank. [. . .] Down there in the darkness was a cistern filled with water so sweet that he could smell it. He lay in the floor on his stomach and reached down. He could just touch the water. He scooted forward and reached again and laved up a handful of it and smelled and tasted it and then drank. He lay there a long time, lifting up the water to his mouth a palmful at a time. Nothing in his memory anywhere of anything this good. (187.1)
The Man's resourcefulness really pays. He'll find some food just when they're running low, or he'll get The Boy out a tough scrape. In this passage, The Man's careful attention really pays off: he follows a drainpipe to an underground water tank. You can imagine how sweet the water must seem if the entire aboveground world is coated with a thin layer of ash.