The Road

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An old man the man and boy meet on the road. He says his name is Ely, but later admits that this isn’t his real name, as he doesn’t want people talking about him or knowing where he is. He says he has “lived like an animal,” and is struck by the sight of the boy. At the boy’s convincing, the man shares some food and their fire with Ely, but the next morning they leave him.

Ely Quotes in The Road

The The Road quotes below are all either spoken by Ely or refer to Ely. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Death and Violence Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Vintage edition of The Road published in 2008.
Pages 156-189 Quotes

It wouldnt make any difference. When you die it’s the same as if everybody else did too.
I guess God would know it. Is that it?
There is no God.
There is no God and we are his prophets.

Related Characters: The Man (speaker), Ely (speaker)
Page Number: 168
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, the Man has given shelter to a mysterious old man named Ely. Ely sits with the Man, discussing the sorry state of the world. As they talk, it becomes clear that Ely is wise, and has his own unique view of the world. Ely's views are deeply paradoxical; he admits that life is painful and horrible, and yet claims that he will live "as long as I'm alive." Ely's paradoxical ideas are epitomized by the idea that "there is no God, and we are his prophets."

Ely's theory of God is both cynical (there is no God) and hopeful. The idea here seems to be that human beings foolishly continue to obey the rules of right and wrong, even after the original basis for such a morality has disappeared. And yet there's also an optimistic, even heroic side to Ely's statement, whether he means it or not. Even if the world has now become a horrible, meaningless place, people like the Man continue to abide by a set of laws and rules of behavior that they believe to be right. In an era when all people seem to be violating the laws of right and wrong, the Man still tries--with great difficulty--to obey them.


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I never thought to see a child again. I didnt know that would happen.
What if I said that he’s a god?
The old man shook his head. I’m past all that now. Have been for years. Where men cant live gods fare no better. You’ll see. It’s better to be alone. So I hope that’s not true what you said because to be on the road with the last god would be a terrible thing so I hope it’s not true. Things will be better when everybody’s gone… When we’re all gone at last then there’ll be nobody here but death and his days will be numbered too. He’ll be out in the road there with nothing to do and nobody to do it to. He’ll say: Where did everybody go? And that’s how it will be. What’s wrong with that?

Related Characters: The Man (speaker), Ely (speaker), The Boy
Related Symbols: The Road
Page Number: 170-171
Explanation and Analysis:

Ely's beliefs are difficult to understand--Ely himself seems not to understand them completely. In this scene, the Man tries to tell Ely that he believes his own Boy to be a god or an angel. The Man might not be speaking literally, and yet there's a serious point here: the Man thinks of the Boy as his reason for living; the cornerstone of his own, private religion. Without the Boy, the Man would give up on life altogether.

Ely, by contrast, doesn't believe in any such "religion." As he sees it, the world is in a state of decline, for better or worse. One day soon, all human beings will be gone--and then, the world will be a lifeless, strangely beautiful place. Ely could be called a cynic: he seems to embrace the power of death and destruction, rather than believing, like the Man, that it's possible to find a better life and rebuild the world. And yet Ely also seems to want to defy death, too: here, he talks about getting the "last laugh" against death, tricking death by disappearing first. Ely both accepts and sneers at death and destruction.

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Ely Character Timeline in The Road

The timeline below shows where the character Ely appears in The Road. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Pages 156-189
Survival and Perseverance Theme Icon
Faith, Trust, and Doubt Theme Icon
...ago. The man says he still doesn’t know. They turn a corner and see an old man shuffling along the road ahead of them. They catch up to him and he warily... (full context)
Survival and Perseverance Theme Icon
Faith, Trust, and Doubt Theme Icon
...asks if the boy is a “little boy.” The old man says his name is Ely. (full context)
Death and Violence Theme Icon
Survival and Perseverance Theme Icon
Faith, Trust, and Doubt Theme Icon
They make camp and light a fire. Ely says he has always been on the road, and that he knew some kind of... (full context)
Death and Violence Theme Icon
Familial Love Theme Icon
Survival and Perseverance Theme Icon
Faith, Trust, and Doubt Theme Icon
The man asks Ely about how he eats and stays alive, but Ely only answers vaguely. He admits that... (full context)
Survival and Perseverance Theme Icon
Faith, Trust, and Doubt Theme Icon
In the morning the man relents to the boy and gives Ely a few more cans of food. Ely doesn’t thank the boy, but the man says... (full context)
Death and Violence Theme Icon
Survival and Perseverance Theme Icon
The boy is sad that they left Ely but he accepts that the old man will probably die. That night the man wakes... (full context)