The Road

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“Carrying the Fire” Symbol Analysis

“Carrying the Fire” Symbol Icon
The man often uses the phrase “carrying the fire” to describe his dogged perseverance in surviving the post-apocalyptic world. While the woman killed herself in despair, the man commits to being a survivor, and he encourages the boy to “carry the fire” whenever the boy feels like giving up and surrendering to death. 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 natural human desire to keep going and hoping for something better. The fire is the man’s love for his son, his moral code to refrain from murder and cannibalism, and also the kindness and purity that still exists in the boy. 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.

“Carrying the Fire” Quotes in The Road

The The Road quotes below all refer to the symbol of “Carrying the Fire”. 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 246-287 Quotes

You have to carry the fire.
I dont know how to.
Yes you do.
Is it real? The fire?
Yes it is.
Where is it? I dont know where it is.
Yes you do. It’s inside you. It was always there. I can see it.
Just take me with you. Please.
I cant.
Please, Papa.
I cant. I cant hold my son dead in my arms. I thought I could but I cant.

Related Characters: The Man (speaker), The Boy (speaker)
Related Symbols: “Carrying the Fire”
Page Number: 277
Explanation and Analysis:

In this climactic scene, the Man finally succumbs to his injuries and dies. For a long time, the Man has contemplated what would happen in this situation--he's always believed that the "right" thing to do would be to murder his child, ensuring that the Boy won't die a more gruesome death on his own later on. But here, it becomes clear that the Man doesn't have the strength to kill his Boy--furthermore, he no longer thinks that killing the Boy is the right thing to do.

The Man tells the Boy that he must "carry the fire." While the Man (or narrator) doesn't explain what this "fire" is, it's possible to interpret this important symbol. The fire could symbolize the sheer power of morality, cooperation, and civilization. It could also be something as simple as hope and progress, the basic human instinct to keep going down the road and hoping for something better. In the final chapters of the novel, the Boy has become a leader--the embodiment of goodness and hope, on whose shoulders the future of human civilization depends.


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“Carrying the Fire” Symbol Timeline in The Road

The timeline below shows where the symbol “Carrying the Fire” appears in The Road. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Pages 60-91
Familial Love Theme Icon
Survival and Perseverance Theme Icon
Faith, Trust, and Doubt Theme Icon
...question for reassurance, and the man says that they will be okay because they’re “ carrying the fire .” In the morning it’s raining, and they search through some more houses. They don’t... (full context)
Pages 124-156
Death and Violence Theme Icon
Familial Love Theme Icon
Survival and Perseverance Theme Icon
...– which they are now – because they are the “good guys,” and they’re “ carrying the fire .” As they move on the man starts fires by raking pliers against rock. Several... (full context)
Pages 246-287
Death and Violence Theme Icon
Familial Love Theme Icon
Survival and Perseverance Theme Icon
Faith, Trust, and Doubt Theme Icon stay with the man, but the man says the boy has to keep “ carrying the fire .” (full context)
Death and Violence Theme Icon
Familial Love Theme Icon
Survival and Perseverance Theme Icon
Faith, Trust, and Doubt Theme Icon
...the boy will have to trust him. The boy asks if the man is “ carrying the fire ,” and the man is confused at first but then affirms that he is. He... (full context)