2. Although the landscape and its destruction are mentioned, what do you think caused the devastation? What clues are provided? 3. At the end of the story, the boy asks the stranger if he is “carrying the fire.” What do you think this means? How many interpretations can you come up with? Point out passages in the story to back up your conclusions. 4. How are good people distinguished from bad people in this story? What are the major characteristics that good people have that bad people lack? Use lines from the story to strengthen your statement. Make a note of which character provides this information. Are there differing points of views from the characters? 5. If you were forced to live under the conditions presented in this novel, what things would you have in the shopping cart? Explain your rationale for these items. 6. Why do you think the mother of the boy killed herself? 7. Do you think the author ended the story with a hint of hope? Or do you think the author meant to suggest that there was no hope left in the world? 8. Read the last paragraph of this novel about the trout in the stream. What is the author doing here? What is he saying? Why do you think he used this paragraph and these thoughts to end the story? 9. Why do you think the author did not provide names for his characters? 10. Is the young boy just naive, or is he more compassionate than his father when he constantly appeals to his father to help the strangers they meet along the road?

Expert Answers

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There are a lot of questions here about Cormac McCarthy's The Road. I find question nine the most interesting: "Why do you think the author did not provide names for his characters?" I hope my discussion of this question will give you some insight and jumping off points for the rest.

I see a few reasons that McCarthy may have left his two protagonists (and everyone else for that matter) nameless. The first reason is that it gives these characters an "everyman"-like quality. Without names, the man and his son could be anybody. They could be your neighbors, your friends, your father and brother, you, me. This helps us as an audience to connect with their plight. It grounds the sensational circumstances of the apocalypse in something we can relate to. The characters are anonymous and therefore ubiquitous.

Another possibility for their namelessness is that it enhances the horror of their circumstances. We equate names with identity. Our names are as deeply entrenched in our senses of self as any other identifying characteristic: hair color, eye color, gender, age, etc. By denying these characters names, McCarthy strips them of their identities and they become something less than human. This plays elegantly into one of the major themes of the novel, questioning what it means to be human.

One last reason that McCarthy may have chosen to leave the protagonists unnamed is that doing so contributes to the monotonous mood of The Road. Many readers find this text difficult, not because of the language or the thematic elements, but because it is just so slow and, some would say, dull. This, however, seems to be a very intentional construction. The monotony of the struggle, punctuated by brief moments of tension, can be seen as a commentary on the way we live our lives. We walk down the road, one foot in front of the other, with very little happening. Sometimes we think about the past, sometimes we have moments of crisis, and in the end we either get where we're going, or we don't. McCarthy effects this criticism through repetition of images, actions, and even words. By not naming the boy and his father, he can only give them descriptors (man, father, boy, son) that repeat over and over again. This helps enhance the mood and atmosphere McCarthy is attempting to achieve.

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