In The Road, there are cannibals, looters, and pilgrims. Who are the pilgrims?
Infer characteristics of them from the text of the story. Are the man and the boy pilgrims? Why? Why is it important that the pilgrims carry the fire as the human population divides into tribes?
In Cormac McCarthy's The Road, the man and the boy are pilgrims carrying the fire. The family that the boy meets in the end is also made of pilgrims carrying the fire. On this God-forsaken road in post-Apacolyptic America, it seems that the nuclear family is fire in and of itself. These lone families are pilgrims not only in a quest for their own basic survival, but for the future generations of humanity. Without them, humankind is surely doomed.
The man and the boy's first pilgrimage is to get to the ocean, presumably because they think it will be a better climate for survival. When the father reaches the sea, he is disappointed to learn that the pilgrimage was in vain: the ocean is no better than the mainland.
His ulterior motive in this pilgrimage is to deliver the boy to a new father or family before he dies. But, the man does not trust anyone. He even tells the boy to kill himself rather than be taken alive by a looter or cannibal. This pilgrimage is based on faith, and the father clearly does have any faith left in others. So, it's another pilgrimage in vain.
His ultimate hope is for the boy to make his own pilgrimage. After the father dies, the boy indeed goes back onto the road and lets himself be found by the man with the shotgun. If his father were still alive, it's doubtful the boy would have done this (his father would have hidden or run). So, it is the boy's pilgrimage back onto the road at the end--one that could have doomed him--that is the greatest pilgrimage of all. The boys restores his faith in humanity, and the fire keeps a-goin'.