What do you think McCarthy is saying about humanity in The Road?

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McCarthy says two things about humanity in The Road. First, we note that the word "humanity" can function as a double entendre. When we ask about humanity in this novel, do we mean humanity as a synonym for humankind, the human race, or humanity as a word describing a...

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McCarthy says two things about humanity in The Road. First, we note that the word "humanity" can function as a double entendre. When we ask about humanity in this novel, do we mean humanity as a synonym for humankind, the human race, or humanity as a word describing a humane, compassionate way of living? In fact, we can examine both meanings together.

First, McCarthy is saying that the loss of civilization rips away from most people the veneer of humane behavior. Nature—or the ruins of it—produce a Hobbesian, brutish environment in which people fight like savage animals for survival, even eating their own young. So, first, McCarthy demonstrates that for most humanity is a facade, a luxury quickly dispensed with when what allowed it has disappeared. Humanity—humankind—becomes inhumane when things go radically wrong.

Second, McCarthy is saying that there is a fundamental humanity or compassion in people. It is demonstrated and nurtured through loving relationships, through community, even if only a community of two. Such loving relationships can help keep us alive longer than we would otherwise have survived in dire circumstances. This accords with what concentration camp survivor Victor Frankl writes, telling the story of how thinking about reuniting with his wife (he did not know she was dead) helped sustain him in a dehumanizing situation.

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The novel posits a bleak future for humanity. The wife/mother decides she wants to leave, and it's not clear what happens to her, but it seems likely she left their home and let herself be taken by the cannibals. Her decision is symbolic in many ways and a commentary on the paradigm that humanity is living with after this cataclysm.

If one looks at it from a gender studies perspective, one could say that she represents the practical, earthbound sensibility of women, who are charged with the caretaking of family members. She sees no hope for the future and no possibility that her family will survive; as she puts it, to her husband: "They're going to rape me, they're going to rape him, they're going to kill us, and then they're going to eat us." For her, humanity has lost its compassion and decency. Because, as a mother, she is expected to care for and protect her child, she may be expressing the very realistic perspective that she may be endangering her child by possibly attracting men who would want to rape her before killing her. By leaving, she is on some level trying to protect her son, leaving him to his father's protection. She may be thinking that her fear and cynicism would hinder their ability to survive, or simply the very real fact of her being female and therefore a target of the roving bands of rapists and killers. In this way her character and actions are a commentary on the tendency of humanity to devalue and victimize women, particularly during times of crisis and chaos.

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McCarthy is offering a vision of humanity that shows that the most tender of emotions can exist in the worst of settings.  The Post- apocalyptic vision that McCarthy renders is one in which human sentiment has been ripped apart.  Survival is all that matters.  In this condition where human emotions are not valued, McCarthy shows the love the father has for his son and the reverence the son has for his father.  Through this, McCarthy is saying that the most tender of emotions and the most redemptive of human qualities can be evident even in the worst of circumstances.  It is implied that humanity is responsible for the post- apocalyptic setting in which the father and son find themselves.  At the same time, it is humanity that is responsible for the murdering and pillaging that is taking place, as well as the lack of validation for human life in this setting.  Yet, it is also humanity that can develop the most tender of bonds between one another.  It is human beings that can demonstrate the most selfless of love as seen between father and son.  It is here where the most profound statement on humanity is evident in McCarthy's work.  While capable of the very worst,  human beings can display some of the most redemptive elements.

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