Essay: The Road by Cormac McCarthy

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  • Subject area(s): English literature essays
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  • Published on: January 21, 2020
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  • The Road by Cormac McCarthy
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The novel, The Road by Cormac McCarthy offers a bleak and upfront perspective on a post-apocalyptic world, where humanity is reduced to animalism. The man often uses the phrase “carrying the fire” to describe his continued perseverance in surviving the post-apocalyptic world. While the woman killed herself in despair, the man commits to being a survivor, he “carries the fire”. In a world without humanity, without family, the only comfort is the concept of fire. Early in the novel, the Woman states, “No, I’m speaking the truth. Sooner or later they will catch us and they will kill us. They will rape me. They’ll rape him. They are going to rape us and kill us and eat us and you won’t face it. [. . .]. We used to talk about death, she said. We don’t anymore. Why is that? [The Man:] I don’t know. [The Woman:] It’s because it’s here. There’s nothing left to talk about.” The Woman views the post-apocalyptic world at face value, she refers to the “bloodcults” that roam the road. The bloodcults will rape, rob, and cannibalize travelers they find in their path- a physical fire would further bring attention to the travelers, which proves how incredibly essential fire is to the boy and the man. While traveling south towards the coast on the road, the man often tells the boy to “carry the fire” at times when the boy is ready to give up because the going gets too hard. This phrase becomes an incredibly powerful symbol in the boy’s mind; after his father dies he meets the Veteran, “The Boy:] We would never eat anybody, would we? [The Man:] No. Of course not. [The Boy:] Even if we were starving? [The Man:] We’re starving now… The Boy:] Because we’re the good guys. [The Man:] Yes. [The Boy:] And we’re carrying the fire. [The Man:] And we’re carrying the fire. Yes. [The Boy:] Okay.” (195) Many travelers on the road have resorted to cannibalism in order to survive, this quote demonstrates that the boy believes that “carrying the fire” is a sign of good morals and humanity. This quote also shows the strength of the values that the man instilled in the boy, as the boy now “carries the fire” himself. This phrase is never fully explained, but the fire seems to symbolize the basic decency that has been destroyed in the world of The Road, along with the innate human desire to persevere and hope for something more than the present. The discovery of fire has traditionally been linked with the flowering of civilization, and in some sense “carrying the fire” refers to the man and boy’s efforts to preserve their civilized natures in the uncivilized world around them. Before the man dies, he tells the boy to keep carrying the fire and going down the road – basically, to keep hope alive in a seemingly hopeless world. After the Man succumbs to an infection from an arrow to the leg, the Boy is on his own, “[The Boy:] Are you carrying the fire? [The Veteran:] Am I what? [The Boy:] Carrying the fire. [The Veteran:] You’re kind of weirded out, aren’t you? [The Boy:] No. [The Veteran:] Just a little. [The Boy:] Yeah. [The Veteran:] That’s okay. [The Boy:] So are you? [The Veteran:] What, carrying the fire? [The Boy:] Yes. [The Veteran:] Yeah, we are.” The boy’s father succumbed to an infection and dies, leaving the boy alone on the road. The boy then encounters a new band of travelers and asks the man if he “carries the fire” as aforementioned. When the man says he does, the boy asks to join the group- showing how important the idea of “carrying the fire” is to the boy. To the boy the fire acts as a test of moral standing, a person carrying the fire has to be inherently good. The blind trust that the boy puts in the new group signifies the innocence and inherent purity projected by the boy.

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