These were the parting words of a dying fathers last breath to his beloved young son as his time on what remained of earth was slowly fading away. In Cormac McCarthy’s novel The Road, the father and his son are traveling towards the south in a post-apocalyptic setting with only the thought of “carrying the fire” within their hearts. The term “carrying the fire” is McCarthy’s way of saying that the father and son need to carry on with their journey no matter the hardships they face and to carry on the flame of what humanity was. The “fire” represents the love that they feel for each other and their strength that’s pushing them forward to carry on with their journey to the south. The “fire” can also represent their hope and faith in a gruesome and decaying world. Another argument would be that “fire” can also be represented as the humanity that is left alive. In Cormac McCarthy’s novel, The Road, throughout the journey the son is portrayed as the father’s inner “fire”.
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The father’s undying love for his son is what gives him the strength to carry on with their journey and survive. The love that the father and son feel for each other is evident to the readers throughout the novel, The Road, without them having to utter the three worded sentence. This is proven through the conversation the two had during another one of their restless nights. “Can I ask you something?” “Yes. Of course you can.” “What would you do if I died?” “If you died I would want to die too.” “So you can be with me?” “Yes. So I could be with you.” “Okay.” (McCarthy, Pg.11). Also, the father, viewed as both the archetypal father and mother, always put his son first when it comes to food, warmth, and safety. The father disregards his health over his sons. “He awoke coughing and walked out so as not to wake the child. He coughed till he could taste the blood” (McCarthy, Pg.54) “They had a single blanket in the pack and he got it out and covered the boy with it and he unzipped his parka and held the boy against him” (McCarthy, Pg.67). Throughout the novel, readers can clearly see the father struggling with himself, wondering if he would have the strength in him to pull the trigger releasing the one remaining bullet, killing his own flesh and blood to let him die remaining innocent and unharmed/tainted from the clutches of what humanity has manifested into. “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 doesn’t fire? It has to fire. What if it doesn’t 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.” ( ) this quote reveals the fathers powerful love for his son, wanting him to pass on painlessly; still being the “good guy” while he himself would suffer what the tainted world threw at him. Needless to say, the love that the father and son share is powerful. It’s what guides them on the road. It gives them the strength to continue and move on even when they are at deaths doorstep. At some point, the father’s strength to survive starts to slowly seep out of him, wishing it could just be over, but the boy brings back his father’s spirit and strength. “What’s the bravest thing you ever did?” he spat into the road a bloody phlegm. “Getting up this morning” he said. “Really?” “No. Don’t listen to me. Come on, let’s go.” (McCarthy, Pg.272).
Throughout the novel, The Road, the son is seen as the flicker of light in a dimming world, representing hope. The way he whole-heartedly believes and has faith in the “good guys” and acting as his father’s morals gives the father the hope and faith he needs to continue on with their journey and to “carry the fire”. Over and over again, despite the loneliness, despair and lack of hope, the boy’s goodness shines out brightly in a black and grey world, for example when the thief stole their belongings from the beach, the boy stopped his father from hurting him and begged him to leave some food and clothes for the thief. As the novel progresses, the father’s faith starts to waver concerning his situation in the post-apocalyptic world they are journeying through. The setting of The Road plays a major role in letting the father continually struggle to keep his faith in humanity and god. He questions god and openly reveals his hatred towards god and his circumstances by saying, “Have you a neck by which to throttle you? Have you a heart? Damn you eternally have you a soul? Oh God.” (McCarthy, Pg.11-12). In the end, however, it’s his son who makes him see the tiny flicker of light and that you can always carry that hope even in the most difficult of times. Through the father’s eyes, the boy is seen as a god-like figure. The way the father speaks of his son is overflowing with religious references towards god. He says, “If he is not the Word of God, then God never spoke.” (McCarthy, Pg.5). Another reference would be when “He sat beside him and stroked his pale and tangled hair. Golden chalice, good to house a God.” (McCarthy, Pg.75). the boy lets the father still have that sense of belief in god by believing that he was appointed by god to watch over him and protect him. “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?” (McCarthy, Pg.77). Even though the father is angry at god, because of his son, he still has belief in him.
The “fire” in the novel, The Road, can be referred to as the flame of humanity that has been left alive still burning inside their hearts. It is the son that brings out that shred of humanity in his father’s heart. Throughout The Road, the boy’s reactions and pleading to help the people who they meet during their journey shows how the son and his father act as foils towards one another. An example would be when the man doesn’t show any guilt or remorse for leaving the people locked up in the basement. He instead feels relief for successfully getting his son and himself out of there, however the boy is upset that they didn’t attempt to help them, just like when his father didn’t let him help the man struck by thunder or the little boy and dog he came across. It’s difficult for the boy to understand how they can be the “good guys” when there are so many bad guys out there. He continuously asks his father whether there truly are any others like themselves, the good guys. The father is the one leading the boy to mature and become aware of the world they are in and to understand how life will be. The boy’s kind-heartedness in return is what’s leading the father to give in and help other survivors instead of always being cautious of them for the boys safety for example, the old man they found on the road named Ely. Through the father’s perspective we see that humanity isn’t yet wiped out on earth. We also see the goodness and innocence in the boy that makes us, the readers; believe that humanities flame is still burning. The son is described as “Someone trying to feed a vulture broken in the road.” when the boy offered food to the old man, Ely (McCarthy, Pg.163). This flame of humanity is but a flicker of light in a post-apocalyptic world, however it gives is and the father a sense that there is hope for humanity.
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