The Road

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Themes and Colors
Death and Violence Theme Icon
Familial Love Theme Icon
Survival and Perseverance Theme Icon
Faith, Trust, and Doubt Theme Icon
Dreams and Memory Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in The Road, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Faith, Trust, and Doubt Theme Icon

In the harsh world of The Road, everything depends on trusting or distrusting each other. On one level, there is a constant tension regarding whether or not the man should trust anyone he meets on the road. Some people are cannibals and rapists, while others will still steal to survive. The boy is more trusting than the man, as he is always trying to help people and give away precious food. This trustingness is part of both the boy’s naiveté and purity – he has a basic faith in humanity that transcends his immediate world of brutality.

Trust also extends to the spiritual level, as in such horrible times people often need a God to blame or believe in. The man feels abandoned by God, but he still talks to God as if he exists, even threatening him. The man’s love for the boy often becomes spiritual as well – he describes the boy in religious terms, as if the boy himself were a god or had some purity about him that was sacred. The boy’s own faith is left nebulous, but after the man’s death he is taken in by a group of “good guys” who talk to him about God. The boy tries to pray, but finds it easier to talk to his father’s spirit. In the end, boy’s love for his father also takes on a spiritual element, and his trust in the man becomes a kind of religious faith.

Faith, Trust, and Doubt ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Faith, Trust, and Doubt appears in each chapter of The Road. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
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Faith, Trust, and Doubt Quotes in The Road

Below you will find the important quotes in The Road related to the theme of Faith, Trust, and Doubt.
Pages 1-29 Quotes

He knew only that the child was his warrant. He said: If he is not the word of God God never spoke.

Related Characters: The Man, The Boy
Page Number: 5
Explanation and Analysis:

Why continue living in a post-apocalyptic world, where even breathing the air is painful? In this passage, McCarthy gives a possible answer to the question. The Man chooses to keep on living, in spite of his pain and sadness, because of his love for his child. The Man thinks of taking care of his child as a "religion"--to take care of the Boy is to protect the "word of God."

Everyone needs something to believe in. Furthermore, belief and worship become particularly important in times of crisis, like those portrayed in the novel. The Man's sole reason for living is his Boy--his wants to make a better life for his child. Notice also that McCarthy, in his typically spare way, alludes to Christ here--the Man says that his Boy is the word of God, the traditional description for Jesus. (At the end of the novel, McCarthy will double down on the Christian symbolism, we'll see.)


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Are you okay? he said. The boy nodded. Then they set out along the blacktop in the gunmetal light, shuffling through the ash, each the other’s world entire.

Related Characters: The Man (speaker), The Boy
Page Number: 6
Explanation and Analysis:

Gradually, McCarthy begins to show us how the Man and the Boy get along from day to day. The Man and Boy don't talk much to each other--here for instance, their dialogue is extremely minimal. And yet McCarthy suggests that their dialogue--or lack of dialogue--is evidence of their love and trust for each other; in other words, they don't need to talk, because they're secure in their affection.

The passage is full of nightmarish descriptions of futuristic America--even the light is grim and suggesting of violence (gunmetal). Notice also the self-consciously old-fashioned phrasing that McCarthy uses--"each other's world entire"--has the ring of the King James Bible to it. McCarthy's literary style reflects the themes of his book: in post-apocalyptic America, civilization has reverted to its somber, stripped-down, worshipful past.

Pages 29-60 Quotes

He said that everything depended on reaching the coast, yet waking in the night he knew that all of this was empty and no substance to it. There was a good chance they would die in the mountains and that would be that.

Related Characters: The Man (speaker)
Page Number: 29
Explanation and Analysis:

The Man and Boy face a problem throughout the novel: what to do? They have to constantly search for food and shelter--but even more basically, they have to find a direction for their lives; something more fulfilling than eating and sleeping. The Man tells the Boy that they need to journey to the ocean. But deep down, he knows that the journey is just a folly: the ocean probably isn't any better, safer, or more spiritually satisfying than the rest of the country.

Why, then, does the Man continue journeying to the ocean? In part, it's suggested, he accepts that he needs something to do, somewhere to go, whether or not that goal is itself worthwhile. This is why the novel is named after the road--the Man and Boy's lives are defined by a dogged perseverance, the perceived necessity of continuing down the road, hoping (if not really believing) that something better might lie ahead.

The one thing I can tell you is that you wont survive for yourself. I know because I would never have come this far. A person who had no one would be well advised to cobble together a passable ghost. Breathe it into being and coax it along with words of love. Offer it each phantom crumb and shield it from harm with your body. As for me my only hope is for eternal nothingness and I hope for it with all my heart.

Related Characters: The Woman (speaker), The Man
Page Number: 57
Explanation and Analysis:

In the same flashback scene, the Woman makes a series of arguments that the Man is powerless to disagree with: she points out that they'll be attacked and killed soon enough. And yet the Woman also seems to respect the Man's desire to keep on living, even if she can't agree with it it: she points out that the Man will live to protect his Boy. Indeed, without the Boy, or someone to protect, there's no way the Man will survive--he'll surely give in to despair just like the Woman. In effect, McCarthy suggests that the Woman is basically interested in herself at this point, while the Man is basically interested in his child.

The passage sums up the two approaches to life: living for oneself and living for other people. In the nightmarish world of the novel, it's the former life philosophy that dominates--people eschew all morality and order in favor of pure appetitive destruction (or lonely despair, in the Woman's case). The Man, on the other hand, represents the last bastion of right and wrong, a life lived for the good of his family, not for himself.

Pages 60-91 Quotes

You wanted to know what the bad guys looked like. Now you know. It may happen again. My job is to take care of you. I was appointed to do that by God. I will kill anyone who touches you. Do you understand?
He sat there cowled in the blanket. After a while he looked up. Are we still the good guys? he said.
Yes. We’re still the good guys.
And we always will be.
Yes. We always will be.

Related Characters: The Man (speaker), The Boy (speaker)
Page Number: 75
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, the Boy brings up an important point: what is it, exactly, that separates the Man and Boy from the other people on the road--people whom the man claims are "bad?" The Man insists that he is still a "good guy," but as the Boy has seen first-hand, the Man is willing to do some pretty wicked things (like shooting someone in the head).

Because the Boy has been taught to think in terms of binaries (good vs. bad, for example), he continues to believe that he and his father are "good" and the rest of the world is "bad." In fact, we can already tell, the line between good and bad is disappearing, and may have disappeared already. The Man and Boy don't eat human beings, like most of the people who've survived in America, but that doesn't necessarily make them moral, upright people. It's suggested that anyone with moral scruples probably died long ago. This is what makes the Boy's innocence so special, and why the Man seems willing to sacrifice his own morality for his son's sake--doing "bad things" in order to keep the Boy "good."

Pages 91-124 Quotes

Do you think I lie to you?
But you think I might lie to you about dying.
Okay. I might. But we’re not dying.

Related Characters: The Man (speaker), The Boy (speaker)
Page Number: 99
Explanation and Analysis:

As the Man and Boy go on to the ocean, they face the facts: they don't have much food, and could easily starve to death. The Boy asks his father if they're going to die of starvation. The Man replies that they won't, but the Boy seems skeptical. The Man insists that he's telling the truth, and will always tell his son the truth.

The spare, minimalistic dialogue in this passage is characteristic of McCarthy's literary style. But beneath the spareness of the words, there's a lot of emotion and thought. The Boy seems not to trust his father entirely (hence his single word, "Okay"), but perhaps he's decided to trust his father for now, because he can see no other option. Even when they're on the point of starvation, the Boy and Man remain loyal to each other; their loyalty stands in stark contrast to the cruelty and disorderliness of the rest of the country.

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.

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.

Pages 246-287 Quotes

He was just hungry, Papa. He’s going to die.
He’s going to die anyway.
He’s so scared, Papa.
The man squatted and looked at him. I’m scared, he said. Do you understand? I’m scared.
The boy didn’t answer. He just sat there with his head bowed, sobbing.
You’re not the one who has to worry about everything.
The boy said something but he couldnt understand him. What? he said.
He looked up, his wet and grimy face. Yes I am, he said. I am the one.

Related Characters: The Man (speaker), The Boy (speaker), The Thief
Page Number: 257
Explanation and Analysis:

At the end of the novel the Man truly compromises his moral principles for the "greater good" of survival. He and the Boy have their possessions stolen by a Thief. They track him down, and he threatens them with a knife. The Man points his gun at the Thief and forces him to surrender his possessions, including his clothes and shoes. The Boy begins to cry as they walk away from the Thief, pointing out that the Man has surely killed the Thief, since the Thief won't be able to survive for long without food, clothing, shoes.

The conversation between the Boy and his father is interesting because it shows the Boy has become the true moral center of the novel. Even while the Man looks out for his child, he's sacrificed some of his moral principles for the sake of survival. The Boy, then, has the job of guarding the rules of right and wrong ("worrying about everything")--he is the very embodiment of morality. Notice that McCarthy continues to portray the Boy as a godlike figure ("the one").

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.