How do different types of conflict in The Road impact characterization, plot development or theme?

Expert Answers
mrs-campbell eNotes educator| Certified Educator

There is conflict all throughout The Road, and seen in many different forms. In fact, the book is heavy with stress and the strain of survival in the harsh conditions created by the nature of their situation--both in the environment's nature, and in the side of human nature that surfaces in the dire times.

The first type of conflict throughout the book is man vs. nature.  The father and son are constantly battling the harsh impact of nuclear winter.  There is little to no sunshine, rain and cold are constant factors, and greenery has all died off and offers no relief or beauty.  That climate makes sickness a constant threat, and the ability to stay warm becomes a battle every day, instead of something that just happens.  Even lighting fires is dangerous, given the nature of the humans that are hunting each other.  This type of conflict adds to the character development of the father; we see his struggle, and his main role of protector and provider challenged.

Other conflicts are seen in the category of man vs. man.  There are two types of conflict with other humans in this novel--the first comes in trying to survive against the brutality and cannibalism that is occuring.  The father becomes aggressive and vigilant in his protection of his son here.  This also adds quite a bit of movement to the plot as they hide and run from these barbarians. The second man vs. man conflict is when stragglers come across their path, and the son wants to help. The father doesn't, merely for survival's sake. It is much harder to survive with more people.  In these situations, we see the father's focus on survival, and the son's softer heart that is more focused on humanity's good side that is filled with compassion and mercy.  This helps us to see that the son has not yet been completely tainted by the hopelessness of his situation.

Inner conflict within the father can fall under the category of man vs. self.  He constantly doubts himself, his plan, and his ability to protect his son.  He worries he's not doing the right thing, that he is embittering his son.  He also longs for the past life, and battles that longing in the novel. He also debates helping others, deciding if survival or humanity is more important.

All of these conflicts help to move the novel forward, adds depth to the characters, and enhances the themes of survival and humanity.  I hope that helps a bit; good luck!

karaejacobi eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Cormac McCarthy's The Road depicts a father and son trying to survive in a post-apocalyptic world. The nature of this world means that our main characters face many conflicts and tensions between themselves and others and between themselves and the world around them. 

First of all, in this post-apocalyptic world, the father does not trust his fellow humans, and he tries to teach his boy that he and the boy are the "good guys," while others are "bad guys." People are fighting for survival, and the novel shows that people are willing to commit atrocious acts (like cannibalism) to protect themselves and their loved ones. There is no sense of law or order, so the father and son are vulnerable to theft and violence from anyone they encounter. These man vs. man conflicts create a sense of "us vs. them" that bonds the father and son together closely and heightens the danger and suspense we feel while reading the novel. 

When the father and son are not worrying about the threat of other humans, they must navigate the world around them in order to survive. People are not the only threat: the world itself has basically fallen apart. The natural world is no longer bountiful or helpful in terms of survival. The characters must rummage through old stores and gas stations hoping to find some leftover supplies. The father and son are walking toward an ocean or beach setting, which they hope will be more promising, but when they reach that place at the end, it's a bit anti-climactic. The protagonists must battle through the physical world, including the road itself, to survive.

Finally, the father and son face internal conflicts, most of which involve motivating themselves to stay alive and keep fighting to survive in a seemingly hopeless world. There are somewhat veiled references to suicide from both the father and the son, and the father gets upset when the son thinks this. Their fight for survival is so desperate that they do feel it would be easier to give up, at times. The father encourages the boy, though, to remember that he carries "the light" within him and implies that his survival affects other people beyond himself. 




Read the study guide:
The Road

Access hundreds of thousands of answers with a free trial.

Start Free Trial
Ask a Question