The Road


Cormac McCarthy

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Dreams and Memory Theme Analysis

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.
Dreams and Memory Theme Icon

The present world of The Road is dark and full of death, and the only real color appears in the man’s dreams and memories. When he or the boy have nightmares they are just an extension of the present, where the worst has already happened, but in his good dreams the man returns to his happy memories of the past, and the world of nature and his wife. The boy never experienced the pre-apocalyptic world, so he has no such memories. The man’s dream-memories offer him a kind of escapism that he often avoids, as they seem like a temptation to “give up” or die, but at the same time these memories are one of the reasons the man keeps persevering. For him, part of “carrying the fire” means carrying the memory of a better world.

Part of memory in the novel also involves names, as the characters are conspicuously unnamed. Their anonymity makes the boy and man seem more archetypal, but it also offers another glimpse of how the present world has robbed people of their basic humanity and histories. True names, like birds, and plants, exist only in the past and in dreams. The book ends with a beautiful memory of brook trout, but the man, the only protagonist who could remember such things, is dead by then. This lyrical final scene, then, shows that the remembering of the past has become a separate entity in itself. There is only the dark present of The Road, but part of that present can still involve memories and dreams of peace and life.

Related Themes from Other Texts
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Dreams and Memory ThemeTracker

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

Below you will find the important quotes in The Road related to the theme of Dreams and Memory.
Pages 1-29 Quotes

He mistrusted all of that. He said the right dreams for a man in peril were dreams of peril and all else was the call of languor and death. He slept little and he slept poorly. He dreamt of walking in a flowering wood where birds flew before them he and the child and the sky was aching blue but he was learning how to wake himself from just such siren worlds.

Related Characters: The Man (speaker)
Page Number: 18
Explanation and Analysis:
Pages 29-60 Quotes

A forest fire was making its way along the tinderbox ridges above them, flaring and shimmering against the overcast like the northern lights. Cold as it was he stood there a long time. The color of it moved something in him long forgotten. Make a list. Recite a litany. Remember.

Related Characters: The Man
Page Number: 31
Explanation and Analysis:

They are going to rape us and kill us and eat us and you wont face it. You’d rather wait for it to happen. But I cant. I cant… We used to talk about death, she said. We dont anymore. Why is that?
I dont know.
It’s because it’s here. There’s nothing left to talk about.

Related Characters: The Man (speaker), The Woman (speaker), The Boy
Page Number: 56
Explanation and Analysis:

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:
Pages 124-156 Quotes

Rich dreams now which he was loathe to wake from. Things no longer known in the world. The cold drove him forth to mend the fire. Memory of her crossing the lawn toward the house in the early morning in a thin rose gown that clung to her breasts. He thought each memory recalled must do some violence to its origins. As in a party game. So be sparing. What you alter in the remembering has yet a reality, known or not.

Related Characters: The Man, The Boy
Page Number: 129
Explanation and Analysis:
Pages 156-189 Quotes

The men poured gasoline on them and burned them alive, having no remedy for evil but only for the image of it as they conceived it to be. The burning snakes twisted horribly and some crawled burning across the floor of the grotto to illuminate its darker recesses.

Related Characters: The Man (speaker)
Page Number: 186-187
Explanation and Analysis:
Pages 189-246 Quotes

When your dreams are of some world that never was or of some world that never will be and you are happy again then you will have given up. Do you understand? And you cant give up. I wont let you.

Related Characters: The Man (speaker), The Boy
Page Number: 187
Explanation and Analysis:

When he went back to the fire he knelt and smoothed her hair as she slept and he said if he were God he would have made the world just so and no different.

Related Characters: The Man (speaker)
Page Number: 217
Explanation and Analysis:

Inside was a brass sextant, possibly a hundred years old. He lifted it from the fitted case and held it in his hand. Struck by the beauty of it… He held it to his eye and turned the wheel. It was the first thing he’d seen in a long time that stirred him.

Related Characters: The Man
Page Number: 225
Explanation and Analysis:
Pages 246-287 Quotes

They went on. In the nights sometimes now he’d wake in the black and freezing waste out of softly colored worlds of human love, the songs of birds, the sun.

Related Characters: The Man
Page Number: 270
Explanation and Analysis: