Please explain the following dream from the book The Road by Cormac McCarthy. "In a dream, The man cares for his wife. He knows this isn't how things happened; his wife died alone."

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Jessica Gardner eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In his dream she was sick and he cared for her. The dream bore the look of sacrifice but he thought differently. He did not take care of her and she died alone somewhere in the dark and there is no other dream nor other waking world and there is no other tale to tell (27).

One interesting aspect of this dream is where it falls in the story. It occurs near the beginning of the novel. The man is preoccupied with traveling and surviving. In its preceding paragraph, he wonders how many miles they’ve covered. Out of nowhere, we are plunged into his reminiscences, his thoughts of what actually happened in the past, and what might have happened had events transposed differently.

The man has a dream in which he cares for his sick wife. This may sound like a simple dream, until we realize that it never happened. The main character’s wife chose to abandon him and their son, finding no point in struggling to survive in their post-apocalyptic world. One day she walked out into the cold and died there. We can tell from the dream that the man feels two profound and conflicting emotions in this dream:

  • Guilt—he clearly feels remorse for the fact that she died alone, otherwise he would not be imagining a time when he was there to take care of her. He feels in some small way that he failed his wife by not joining her. The line, “the dream bore the look of sacrifice but he thought differently,” tells us that he does not consider it a sacrifice to take care of her. Instead, he would consider it a privilege, now that she is gone and he can no longer have her.
  • Resignation—the second emotion that the man feels in his dream is a cold resignation. This starkly opposes the longing displayed in the previous two sentences. He reminds himself that he has made the correct choice, that of staying and fighting for the boy and his chance to live in a better world. He is somewhat at peace with the decision his wife made, yet knows that it was a choice he could never pursue. This is his life, there is no “other waking world” and nothing to do but soldier on.

After this brief dream and his reminiscences of the events that brought him to this place, the man returns his focus to his son and their journey along a snowy mountain ridge. He has more pressing matters on his mind than thinking of what could have been.

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The Road

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