Please explain the meaning of the following quote from The Road by Cormac McCarthy. "'You forget somethings, don’t you?' 'Yes. You forget what you want to remember and you remember what you want to forget.'"

The meaning of the quote "'You forget somethings, don’t you?' 'Yes. You forget what you want to remember and you remember what you want to forget'" in The Road is that we can't control what we remember, suggesting that memory has a life all its own. The son, having just seen a dried corpse, is looking for reassurance from his father that he won't remember everything he sees. The father's answer, however, is grim and ironic.

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The boy asks his father this question as they are trudging through a burned out, desolate city. They see a dried up corpse, and the father pulls the son closer, indicating that he shouldn't want to look too closely at what is all around them. The father says,

Just remember that the things you put into your head are there forever.

The boy responds with what is a statement asking for reassurance, though it is posed as a question:

You forget some things, don't you?

The father answers by saying,

Yes. You forget what you want to remember and you remember what you want to forget.

This is actually a very grim response, suggesting that it is the horrors the boy wants to forget that will stick with him, while he will grope in vain to remember the good.

This leads the father into a memory of being out in a boat with his uncle once, before the apocalypse occurred. It seems an ambiguous memory, because the landscape is less than idyllic. The man recalls the thin drool from his uncle's pipe, a dead perch floating in the water, and the line of twisted, dead tree stumps. Yet he sums it up by saying,

This was the perfect day of his childhood.

The passage as a whole deals with the oddities of memory. We can't necessarily control what we remember. Even a very good day will contain some imperfect images. The father is warning the son that we can't know how our memories will resurface or what they will end up meaning to us. We can't simply edit the past to suit our desires.

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In Cormac McCarthy's postapocalyptic novel The Road, the following exchange occurs between the boy and the man, as the son asks his father:

You forget somethings, don’t you?

Yes. You forget what you want to remember and you remember what you want to forget.

The use of the pronoun "you" is ambiguous, or at least has double meanings. When the boys asks his question, it seems he is asking if his father has personally forgotten things. When the man replies, he uses "You" in a more general sense, which seems to mark forgetting as a human problem rather than an individualized one. The father's response is also marked by irony. He says that "You forget what you want to remember and you remember what you want to forget." This is the opposite of what we might expect; instead, we would think people would remember those things they deem important to keep in their memories. His statement also indicates that no matter how much we may want to forget certain things, those will stay with us. People cannot avoid the memories of the past that continue to haunt them.

The father's response fits with the mood of the novel, as other reviewers have pointed out. The postapocalyptic world through which the boy and the man trudge in The Road has devolved; people have lost the sense of right and wrong and are doing whatever it takes to survive. In this sort of upside down world, it makes sense that the father's notions of remembering and forgetting subvert our expectations. The father's response also indicates a sort of hopelessness, as though he has no control over his own memory or psyche. This certainly fits well with the whole novel, since both of our main characters are struggling to have some control over their existence in a dystopian world.

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Cormac McCarthy's The Road is a bleak tale of a father and son existing from day to day in a post-apocalyptic America. Like most post-apocalyptic tales, the story is informed just as much by what is not on the page as what is. That is to say, the reader is asked to imagine everything that gives life comfort or joy or even meaning going away. How would humans interact with one another in this new reality? Would humanism prevail, or would baser instincts prevail? How would you tell the good guys from the bad guys?

In the referenced quote, The Boy (son) is looking for reassurance that it's possible to forget some of the more gruesome things he's seen. The Man (father) does not give him comforting words, however, and says those things we want to remember—the touch of a loved one, a kind gesture, a well-stocked fridge—become harder to recall, except in a now corrupt way. Those things we would like to forget—scenes of death, decay, and cruelty—are not only burned into our brains, but now surround the two on a daily basis.

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This quote comes from towards the beginning of the novel and is a conversation between the father and the son whilst they walk through a decaying and destroyed city, they see a corpse that is "dried to leather" and "Grimacing at the day." Following this sight, the father gives his son the following piece of advice:

Just remember that the tings you put into your head are there forever, he said. You might want to think about that.

The rest of the quote indicated in this question comes after this. The quote is important as it reveals important information about the kind of world that the father and son live in. This is a world where discomforting sights and scenes of death, horror and pain are commonplace, and where the boy is obviously confronted with such sights very frequently. This explains his hopeful question to his father, as he wants to know that he will be able to eventually forget some of the dreadful sights he has witnessed. However, the father responds with a kind of truism that points towards the grim kind of life that humanity is now forced to eke out in this dystopian world: the only things that humans forget are what they want to remember, and it is the terrible sights and experiences that brand themselves into the brain and are impossible to forget. Such a bleak and depressing comment sets the tone for the rest of the novel.

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