by Cormac McCarthy
The Road Theme of Strength and Skill
Like most novels about survival, The Road exalts the resourcefulness of its protagonist. Resourcefulness becomes an enshrined skill, partly because it ensures the survival of loved ones. Resourcefulness also allows the protagonist to connect with a disappearing world. Fixing a stove or shopping cart is not only necessary for his survival – it's also necessary to preserve a few man-made artifacts that might otherwise quickly vanish. That said, resourcefulness can sometimes morph into violence or cunning. (In the post-apocalyptic setting of the novel, extreme violence is always just around the corner.)
Questions About Strength and Skill
- In one passage, The Man fixes their shopping cart while "[t]he boy sat watching everything" (22.1). What skills do you think The Boy is learning from The Man – the peaceful skills, or the ones of self-defense and violence too?
- On the basic level of plot, The Man needs to be handy so he and The Boy can survive. Why else, though, do you think McCarthy includes this as a character trait? Is it masculine and heroic? Somewhat spiritual? Is it a way for McCarthy (and The Man) to remember activities and objects that might vanish soon?
- Think about the strength and skill displayed by the bloodcults. Does their cunning differ from The Man's cleverness? In what way? Are The Man's methods of survival similar to theirs? Or are the two fundamentally different?
- Do you think The Man pities – or even hates – the weak? Does he value resourcefulness and determination too much? What about The Boy? Is he more compassionate because he's also less resourceful?