Cormac McCarthy’s novel The Road is, among other things, a meditation on morality, what makes human life meaningful, and the relationship between these things and God. While the novel is rife with religious imagery and ideas, it suggests a conception of morality and meaning that is secular in nature. In this paper I show that while the existence of God remains ambiguous throughout the novel, The Road contains both a clear moral code and a view about what makes life meaningful. I describe this moral code and examine its connection with meaning in life. Along the way, I discuss the struggle of the man and child to live up to the moral code. I then make the case that the views of morality and meaning found in The Road imply that morality
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And, of course, there is the boy’s encounter with the shotgun-toting veteran after the death of his father (281). Are these events little miracles—the hand of God reaching into the burned-out hellscape to protect the child—or are they just strokes of good fortune? The answer to this question remains unclear. There are hints of divine activity, but they are never more than hints. For instance, the name of the abandoned sailboat is “Pajaro de Esperanza”—bird of hope. The bird of hope is the dove. In the Old Testament, a dove carrying an olive leaf signals to Noah that the waters of the flood are receding (Genesis 8:11). But the sailboat named after the dove brings a message of despair; it originates from Tenerife, a Spanish island off the coast of Africa. It brings the message that the catastrophe that constitutes the backdrop of The Road is worldwide.
A particularly tantalizing illustration of this ambiguity is the father and son’s encounter with an old man who may or may not be named “Ely” (McCarthy 161). This character resembles the Old Testament prophet Elijah in certain ways (see Snyder 81).
￼Cormac McCarthy Journal Fall 2010
Elijah predicted a drought (1 Kings 17:1); Ely says he knew that the catastrophe (or something like it) was coming—“I always believed in it” (McCarthy 168). Ely wonders about being the last person left alive: “Suppose you were the last one left? Suppose you did that to yourself?” (169).