No Names in "The Road"? Why?Why did McCarthy choose not to give his characters names?

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karaejacobi eNotes educator| Certified Educator

There is much uncertainty in McCarthy's The Road. The cause of the post-apocalyptic world in which our characters try to survive is never revealed nor are the characters' names or much of their back stories. There are a few reasons McCarthy could have chosen to leave these details out of his novel. 

For one, the lack of names and unrevealed cause of the apocalypse add to a sense of mystery that pervades the novel. The Boy is like the reader in some ways since we are becoming accustomed to the world as we read the novel just as he seems to be learning about the world around him as he and his father travel through the bleak landscape. Again, we don't even know why or how the Man and the Boy ended up in these circumstances. 

Another possible reason to leave characters unnamed has to do with a subtle religious subtext in the novel. The Man seems to believe in the Boy almost as though the Boy is some kind of savior. He refers to the Boy carrying the light within him, and the Boy seems to be the Man's only real motivation. As the characters move toward the coast, it seems they are on some kind of quest of profound meaning, which is at odds with the empty and sometimes savage world around them. The lack of character names helps add to the mythic or Biblical characteristics of the novel.

Finally, when authors do not give characters names, it may indicate that the writers want to make characters relatable or universal. The Man and the Boy are generic titles that could stand for any man or any boy. We read only their story, but couldn't there be others like them in this (albeit dystopian) world? Their story could be the story of anyone trying to survive after an apocalyptic event. This, of course, makes it easier for us as readers to relate to the characters and imagine what we would do if we were in their position. 

teachersage eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In The Road, McCarthy has the Man think the following:

The world shrinking down about a raw core of possible entities. The names of things slowly following those things into oblivion. Colors. The names of birds. Things to eat. Finally the names of things one believed to be true. More fragile than he would have thought.

That passage points to why McCathy does not give his characters names. Names tie us to an identity. Identity is tied to culture. In this post-apocalyptic world, culture, if there is any, has shrunk to "a raw core." Old identities don't matter. Names are superfluous. In order to survive, the Man and the Boy have to ditch anything unnecessary and focus on the elemental.

Not giving out names shows how dehumanized this world has become, but it also lends the Man and the Boy a mythic status. McCarthy is careful to be very general in this book: though we might think a nuclear war has occurred, we don't know what caused the devastation. We get no back story. We are placed in an eternal present, outside of history. This is the world of myth. The Man and the Boy, in this context, take on the status of every man and every boy, not so much individuals as symbols of those still fighting to hang on to their humanity.

pmiranda2857 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The author has a minimalist style of writing, he is deliberately vague, it makes the story more eerie, the world is lifeless, so it makes you really feel the isolation that exists in this world that is devoid of relationships outside of family.  Everyone else is suspect.  

The main focus of the story is the aftermath of the  apocalypse and the devastation to the landscape and to humanity.  The father and son could be anyone, by not giving the characters names, the author gives a sense to the reader, this could be you. It could happen here, it could happen anywhere.

The reader is totally submerged in the post-apocalyptic environment and the struggle. 

brettd eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The end-of-the-world theme of this novel also lends itself towards not using names for the characters.  If you think about it, names are the way in which we differentiate ourselves from others, and how we carry on our family names.  What would be the purpose of names in a world where mankind is going extinct.  I think McCarthy is reinforcing the drab, gray, lifeless and largely hopeless setting of the book by not giving us specific characters to become attached to.

debdeb20 | Student

thanksss! :)

brittster101 | Student

i believe mccarthy does not give names because in a sense it doesnt matter. all that matters are the father and the boys relationship. it also makes the story more relatable...cormac wants people everywhere to get something from the story and names take away from the lesson hes trying to teach us.

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The Road

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