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Fear of the uncertain places a burden upon the man as he tries to live in isolation from the rest of society. The boy and the man continually search among the debris in the aftermath of the cataclysmic event for food and warmth. Though they are forced to breathe thick ash in the air and travel in constant cold, they continually trudge forward, not knowing what they may find or who they will encounter. One day, the boy recognizes a boy of his age and starts to talk and chase him. The father interjects and says "There's no one to see. Do you want to die? Is that what you want?" (McCarthy 72). The father does not trust another living soul, even as someone as innocent as a ten year old boy. It is apparent that the father is slowly losing his faith in all of humanity and their situation, and parts of him wish it could just all be over. The young boy, the only hope in a dismal environment, is all that matters to the man. "You know how to do it. You put it in your mouth and point it up. Do it quick and hard. Do you understand? Stop crying. Do you understand?" (McCarthy 113). The father is extremely afraid of what the future will bring and holds no trust for humanity or that the boy will be able to survive in this environment; he would much rather have the boy die easily than have to attempt survival and risk suffering. The man and boy encounter few people in this story. Most of those they do come across are brutish because everyone is starving and fighting for survival; the means for survival in most cases basically comes down to cannibalism because food is scarce and very hard to find. "The father's responsibility is to save the son--to scavenge for food and supplies, to fend off murderers and worse--while the boy's is to preserve their humanity" (Semeiks). Both the man and the boy are dependent upon one another; the boy needs the man to survive and the man has moral responsibility which he owes to the boy. Once the man and boy finally make it to the coastline, neither warmth or bounties of food are found. The shoreline is just as cold as the mountains were, and everything is the same: drained of life, bitterly cold, and hopeless. The nothingness in The Road feels like a bad dream but ultimately presents itself as reality. Though the boy wants to write a message in the sand to the "good guys" the father finds it hard to stay positive. "What if the bad guys saw it? ... I shouldn't have said that, we could write them a letter" (McCarthy 245). The father believes that there are no good guys because he is so pessimistic about the rest of humanity. However, the boy is still able to hold on to hope that there is still good in the world.
Throughout the book, the man struggles with his faith in God, the boy, and himself. The father subconsciously focuses attention on the questions of God, does he exist? If so, is he present, or has he vacated the premises? Is he good? Does he care? It becomes clear that the father's faith in god is shaky after all the incidences he has witnessed; such as when his wife leaves him and his son earlier in the book. The father tries to stop the mother from leaving by saying "death is not a lover" (McCarthy 48). The mother responds with "I don't care. It's meaningless. You can think of me as a faithless slut if you like" (McCarthy 48). She goes crazy because of being isolated from the unknown and does not want to be with her family, let alone trust the man to protect her. "Even the mother's bleak assessment, first dismissing the idea that they are survivors and then asserting that her only hope is for eternal nothingness and she hopes it with all her heart" (Grindley). She has no faith in the man or in God and would rather take her chances with the outside world than constantly being afraid. In one case, when he meets an elderly blind man, the father tells him how only god could know what is going to happen. The blind man then says, "There is no god and we are his prophets" (McCarthy 170). The old man has lost all faith in god. He believes that they have been left there to fend for themselves. The father says nothing to oppose the statement and seems to push it in to the back of his mind. The old man later mentions, "Where men can't live gods fare no better" (McCarthy 172). Referring to how it is near impossible to keep your faith in such hard times. Later in the novel when they find a flare gun, the father shoots it off as a celebration. His son asks if anyone could see it, to which the father asks "Like god?" (246). The flare is symbolic in the sense that they shot it into nothing but smog and pollution but could still make it out, even though no one from any further away would be able to. This makes the father realize that god can work in the same way, and even though you can't see him, he could still be present.
Over time, the boy's optimism and love for his father begins to augment his father's hope for the future. The love for his son allows him to trust in the boy and begins to understand that the boy is capable of making the right decisions. He also regains some of his hope for the future through it all. "We're still here. A lot of bad things have happened but we're still here" (269) His love for his son continues to make him strong and he braves each day even though he knows he will die soon from sickness. At one point the boy asks him what the bravest thing he has ever done was. The man replies, "Getting up this morning" (272). In time the father comes to see how much his son has matured and is able to make the right decisions. The father notices how the boy always went out of his way to help people and had a good moral compass. The child begged to give food to the old man even though they knew he would die, as well as returning clothes to a thief even though he didn't deserve it. The father tells the boy that he has been carrying the fire himself this whole time inside of him, "It's inside you. It was always there. I can see it" (279). In the end, the father realizes that he must trust his son to survive on his own and that there is hope for the future.
He promises the boy that he will never leave him, but he cannot keep death at bay. The man finally succumbs. And the boy still young in years, but aged through his challenging experiences must find his own way. Despite the setting, the father learned from his son that you can always keep hope alive, no matter how hard times get. "You have my whole heart. You always did. You're the best guy. You always were. If I'm not here you can still talk to me. You can talk to me and I'll talk to you. You'll see" (279).