by Cormac McCarthy
Versions of Reality Quotes in The Road
How we cite our quotes: Citations follow this format: (Section.Paragraph)
The boy was sitting on the steps when he saw something move at the rear of the house across the road. A face was looking at him. A boy, about his age, wrapped in an outsized wool coat with the sleeves turned back. He stood up. He ran across the road and up the drive. No one there. He looked toward the house and then he ran to the bottom of the yard through the dead weeds to a still black creek. Come back, he called. I wont hurt you. He was standing there crying when his father came sprinting across the road and seized him by the arm.
[The Man:] What are you doing? he hissed. What are you doing?
[The Boy:] There's a little boy, Papa. There's a little boy.
[The Man:] There's no little boy. What are you doing? (131.1-131.4)
Most of the "versions of reality" in The Road are dreams, but this one seems to be a hallucination. The Boy, whether from weariness or despair, imagines another boy – eerily similar to himself – across the road. There's tons of emotional projection in his vision: What happens if he, too, ends up abandoned? Is his own boyhood disappearing? Has he become frightful even to himself?
When he woke the fire had burned down and it was very cold. The boy was sitting up wrapped in his blanket.
[The Man:] What is it?
[The Boy:] Nothing. I had a bad dream.
[The Man:] What did you dream about?
[The Boy:] Nothing.
[The Man:] Are you okay?
[The Boy:] No.
He put his arms around him and held him. It's okay, he said.
[The Boy:] I was crying. But you didnt wake up.
[The Man:] I'm sorry. I was just so tired.
[The Boy:] I meant in the dream. (252.1-252.11)
Sometimes McCarthy pulls the rug right out from under us. The Boy's dream is really disturbing because The Man doesn't wake up in it. We also think there's a bit of old-fashioned foreshadowing here: later, The Man will die while The Boy sleeps next to him. As The Man says in The Road, nightmares reflect the reality they face in this post-apocalyptic world.
He'd come down with a fever and they lay in the woods like fugitives. Nowhere to build a fire. Nowhere safe. The boy sat in the leaves watching him. His eyes brimming. Are you going to die, Papa? he said. Are you going to die?
[The Man:] No. I'm just sick.
[The Boy:] I'm really scared.
[The Man:] I know. It's all right. I'm going to get better. You'll see.
His dreams brightened. The vanished world returned. (257.1-258.1)
It's not much of a secret in The Road that The Man is going to die. All The Man's coughing and ruminating about death pretty much gives it away, and we cringe when he says, "It's all right. I'm going to get better. You'll see." We know he's not going to get better. The fact that his "dreams brightened" only further confirms that he's not long for this world. This passage also validates The Man's theory about dreams: You know you're in trouble when you're having good ones.