Although nowadays, in the 21st century, the threat of global war is insignificant, many other dangers have appeared that humanity did not worry about before, including human-made, information, and ecological catastrophes. The theme of the apocalypse, in this context, is of mounting concern to society, reflected in the development of the science fiction genre, especially in the direction of post-apocalypticism. A prominent representative of this genre is the novel The Road by American writer Cormac McCarthy, which concerns meaningful and everlasting topics, such as good versus evil, love, death, and survival. This paper aims at discussing the importance of faith, trust, and hope in the context of continuously life-threatening circumstances, isolation, and calamity.
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The novel takes place several years after some unknown global catastrophe that destroyed the usual civilization order and resulted in the extinction of a significant number of people, animals, and plants. The main characters, a father and a little son born after the disaster, are trying to cross the former USA’s territory on foot and reach the long-awaited sea. They suffer from hunger and fear of other people, especially bandits and cannibals. The father is sick, coughing up blood, and fully realizes his end. He connects the last hopes for the son’s future with a journey to the sea and repeats to his son, “we’re the good guys” and “we’re carrying the fire” as opposed to the bandits (McCarthy 40).
Experiencing different hardships and terrible sights, father and son eventually reach the sea, cold and gloomy, and do not know what to do next. In the end, the father suffering from the inflamed leg wound inflicted by an arrow asks his son to leave him and move on alone. The son leaves but then returns and remains in the camp until the father dies in his sleep. Later, the son meets a benevolent family, a man, a woman, and two children, who take him with them. The son continues to talk to the deceased father as if he was nearby.
Faith, Doubt, Trust, and Hope
Religious notions such as faith and doubt play a critical role in this novel as, in terrible and challenging times, people frequently need a God to believe in or, leastwise, blame. In The Road, the man feels forsaken, but he still seeks God and attempts to talk to Him like He exists. When a father travels south to ensure his son’s survival, he pursues his goal with religious fervor, holding to the belief that if his son “is not the word of God, God never spoke” (McCarthy 1). Besides, when Eli is surprised about the meeting with the child, the father retorts, “What if I said that he is a god?” (McCarthy 55). Indeed, the man esteems his son above all others and even himself, with a deep devotion that presumably exceeds the usual feelings of paternal affection and protection.
On the other hand, the man manifests considerable doubts or at least challenges the existence of supernatural power when he kneels and asks, “Are you there?” “Will I see you at the last?” (McCarthy 3). According to Wielenberg (2), this scene alludes to the occasion when Job kneels in ashes, exhibiting that it is inherent in a person’s faith to hesitate under adverse circumstances occasionally. Moreover, Wielenberg notes that this specific presence of religious faith in God indicates that in challenging conditions, people are inclined to believe much stronger; this idea can also refer to societies altogether. Regarding Ely, he categorically rejects the likelihood of God’s existence in such a horrible place as the earth by saying, “Where men can’t live gods fare no better. You’ll see” (McCarthy 55).
The boy’s faith is complicated and remains ambiguous in the end. When Ely asks the father if his son believes in God, the latter responds, “I don’t know what he (the boy) believes in” (McCarthy 56). Moreover, the boy’s faith in God does not carry any significant and practical meaning for him compared to his faith in people. This can be witnessed when although the woman whose family saves the boy at the novel’s end teaches him about religion, the boy prefers to talk to his father rather than God.
In addition to spiritual belief in God, the problem of trust between people acquires special significance in the cruel and severe world of The Road. The two main characters constantly face the dilemma of trusting anybody they may encounter because the permanent danger of being robbed, raped, and even murdered overhang them all their way. The boy is more inclined to trust than his father since he often seeks to help others and distribute necessary food even despite dangerous circumstances (Badi 2). This credulity, which is the feature of the boy’s purity, is the central belief in humanity, which surpasses outside cruelty. Overall, the body’s capability to believe in the dignity and goodness of others is impressive.
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However, the man’s attitude toward thrust for others proximately contradicts to son’s sentiments. Even dying, the father teaches his son about compassion against a brutal world where, herewith, most humans should not be trusted (Andrade 6). It is also worth mentioning the relationships between the father and the son, which sometimes gain a note of mistrust, especially from the former towards the latter. In one episode, the father directly speaks to the son, “You don’t believe me” (McCarthy 60). Nevertheless, the son manages to ensure his entire trust for the father, saying, “Yes, I do. I have to” (McCarthy 60).
Despite the presence of the dull, bleak, and pressing atmosphere, the idea of hope also looms in the novel clearly and even serves as the engine inciting the two heroes to move and seek further. In particular, a symbol of the virtue in human hope and perseverance is the “fire,” the place of which can be tracked perhaps throughout the plot, and that helps the father and son to survive. Furthermore, the father assures his son that they are “carrying the fire,” which implies humanity, a sense of compassion, and the strength to refrain from murder and cannibalism irrespective of conditions (Strand 4). According to the father, the good guys are only those who “keep trying. They don’t give up.” (McCarthy 43)
The paper has discussed the importance of faith, trust, and hope in the context of continuously life-threatening circumstances, isolation, and calamity. As the novel demonstrates, these integral human sentiments, even weakly, can persist regardless of the situations and events. For instance, although man feels forsaken by God, he still attempts to talk to Him like He exists. Moreover, the trust between the father and the son strengthens during their journey and while experiencing various difficulties. These two characters are excellent examples that even if individuals cannot temporarily find their destinations, they should hope and continue their way.
Andrade, Glenna M. “The Road to Post Apocalyptic Fiction: McCarthy’s Challenges to Post-Apocalyptic Genre.” Feinstein College of Arts & Sciences Faculty Papers, 2009, p. 20.
Badi, Sattar A. “Apocalypse Fantasy and Myth in the Road Novel.” International Journal of English Language and Linguistics Research, vol. 6, no. 3, 2009, pp. 1-6.
McCarthy Cormac. The Road. Web.
Strand, Linus. “The Road at the End of the World-Sentimentality and Nihilism in the Journey through the Post-Apocalyptic World of Cormac McCarthy’s Novel” The Road”.” Göteborg Universitet, 2013.
Wielenberg, Erik J. “God, Morality, and Meaning in Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road”.” The Cormac McCarthy Journal, vol. 8, no.1, 2010, pp. 1-19.