Much of the action of The Road consists of the protagonists’ daily struggle to survive. This creates a mood of constant suspense as death looms always overhead, and most other humans have turned to cannibalism. One of the novel’s central questions then is why to persevere in such a hellish existence. The man’s reason to keep struggling comes to him as the idea of “carrying the fire”: an idea that seems to consist, for him, of preserving the goodness or civilization of mankind by maintaining his basic humanity, having the strength to refrain from murder and cannibalism, and prioritizing a sense of love and protection for the boy’s compassion and naiveté. The woman, on the other hand, considers death better than living in the post-apocalyptic world.
Over the course of the novel the man creates more immediate goals to justify his survival, like reaching the coast or going south. In this way the road becomes the great symbol for the struggle to survive. The man has no reason to persevere except his love for the boy and his natural, human desire to keep going down “the road.” In the end, the going on itself is reason enough to go on. Even when the man dies, he gives up his earlier plan to kill the boy so as not to send him into the “darkness alone.” Instead he opts to pass on the “fire,” and he advises his son to keep going south and to remain as one of the “good guys” – the last humans to persevere against brutality.
Survival and Perseverance ThemeTracker
Survival and Perseverance Quotes in The Road
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
They lay listening. Can you do it? When the time comes? When the time comes there will be no time. Now is the time. Curse God and die. What if it doesnt fire? It has to fire. What if it doesnt fire? Could you crush that beloved skull with a rock? Is there such a being within you of which you know nothing? Can there be? Hold him in your arms. Just so. The soul is quick. Pull him toward you. Kiss him. Quickly.
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?
By then all stores of food had given out and murder was everywhere upon the land. The world soon to be largely populated by men who would eat your children in front of your eyes and the cities themselves held by cores of blackened looters… Out on the roads the pilgrims sank down and fell over and died and the bleak and shrouded earth went trundling past the sun and returned again as trackless and as unremarked as the path of any nameless sisterworld in the ancient dark beyond.
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.
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.
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.
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. I cant hold my son dead in my arms. I thought I could but I cant.