How does the boy change throughout The Road?

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Fundamentally, the boy matures in the course of the novel.  It makes sense that at the opening, his wide eyes and acknowledgement of "Papa" makes him seem quite young.  However, the experience of rootlessness and survival make him someone that becomes a figure of change throughout the narrative.  There is an innocence about the boy that becomes supplanted with a vision of experience.  The boy was born after the catastrophe and the father began to teach him lessons about what happened, but ended up refusing to continue:

He could not enkindle in the heart of the child what was ashes in his own.

This helps to bring out the innocent and infant- like perception that the father has of his son, towards whom the father sees safety and protection as the reason for being in the world.  Over the course of the novel and the experience of finding warmer weather, the son matures into a more experienced and "grown up" vision in respect to the both the situation and the relationship with the father.  As the narrative develops, the boy is seen as one who is conscious of others, aware of the distinctions of good and evil. When the boy confirms with his father that they would not descend into cannibalism because both of them "are the good guys," it speaks volumes to how the boy grows and changes.  The boy recognizes the need and purpose for a moral order and structure, and understands that it is up to he and his father to represent this reality.  Despite the current situation that negates such an order, the son emerges as a "fire bearer" of the father in representing the notion for good in a setting devoid of it.  The boy speaks in objection to cruelty of abandoning a naked man on the road who had done wrong to the father and son.  Through situations like these, he emerges as a strong vision of being "the one," the salvation of humanity at a point where condemnation seems to be the existing order.  It is here where the boy changes from one of frail dependence on the father to one who has the capacity to live on his own.  When the father can no longer take care of himself, the son recognizes the responsibility he has to both himself and the values imparted within him by the father to live and to become "the one."  It is through this that one sees changes in the boy.

karaejacobi eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Cormac McCarthy's The Road, the two main characters are the man and the boy, a father and son, trying to survive in a dreary post-apocalyptic world. The man is trying to teach the boy about the world that surrounds them, and he encourages the boy to keep fighting despite their bleak prospects. 

Over the course of the novel, the boy learns that he can eventually survive without his father if he needs to. Further, even though the father tries to teach the boy that they are the only "good guys" and everyone else is "bad," the boy develops his own moral compass and differentiates himself from his dad. The best two examples of the boy's growth are related to these ideas.

First, the boy distinguishes himself from the man when, near the end of the novel, their cart and resources are stolen by a desperate man. They hunt him down and the father forces him to undress and leave the clothes. They abandon the man, freezing and starving, and go back to their camp-out location. However, the boy observes that his father's treatment of this man is too harsh, and he begs his father to return to the spot and give the man his clothes back. Unfortunately, the man is gone, but they leave the clothes for him anyway. This shows that the boy is more compassionate than the father, who has seemingly been more damaged by their struggle to survive. We can see the boy grow beyond what he has been taught.

Second, at the end of the novel, the man dies, and the boy is alone. He has repeatedly been encouraged by his father to keep going because he "carries the fire." After his father dies, the boy is approached by a group of strangers who offer to take him in. He decides to go with them, and this again shows that he is more trusting than his father. He thinks these might be other "good" people and listens to his instinct. We don't know what happens to the boy after this, but the novel ends on a relatively hopeful tone, given the bleak atmosphere of all that has preceded it.