by Cormac McCarthy
We think The Boy is a child prodigy. Not the usual sort, though. He's not a math whiz or a chess master or an amazing pianist. Rather, he's just surprisingly intelligent and mature.
What do we mean by that? Well, most kids his age (the book doesn't say exactly how old he is, but a rough estimate would be 9 or 10) would totally flip out if they lived in such harsh conditions. But The Boy constantly thinks of others – the people on the road less fortunate than him, the people whose houses they stay in, and even the people on the road who want to harm him. His compassion inspires The Man to this love-fest late in the book: "You have my whole heart. You always did. You're the best guy. You always were" (381.21). Ah, shucks.
The Boy also has moments of fear. Again and again, he begs The Man not to go upstairs or open cellar doors (an understandable fear after the human livestock discovery). He cries a lot, like any other kid would, and needs his father to comfort him. Sometimes he's difficult and unkind – like when he throws away the flute his father carved for him. And, like most children just coming to an understanding of the world, he can be self-righteous. For instance, The Man tries to keep their spirits up by telling stories of goodness and compassion, but The Boy reminds him that they rarely treat other people on the road with kindness.
The Boy also grounds The Man. When The Man starts to spin off into highfalutin laments about the world he's lost, or to sink into self-pity (not that it isn't merited), The Boy brings him back. His simple exchanges with The Man – often ending with the word "Okay" – clarify the world for both The Man and The Boy. The Boy reminds The Man to stay focused on what's in front of him.
McCarthy often describes The Boy using religious symbols and language. At one point, The Man describes his blond head as a "[g]olden chalice, good house to a god" (117.1). The Boy sometimes seems like a divine child who can inspire The Man to goodness. We're not sure how literally McCarthy means his readers to take these hints about The Boy's divinity. We can tell you, however, that The Boy's gentle nature provides us readers with hope for the future. Though he has only known this savage, post-apocalyptic world, he's still full of kindness and innocence.