In Cormac McCarthy's novel The Road, why do you think McCarthy has chosen not to give his characters names?  

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vangoghfan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Several reasons suggest themselves for Cormac McCarthy’s decision not to give names to the characters in his novel The Road.  Among those reasons are the following:

  • Leaving the characters unnamed adds to the eerie, creepy mystery of the book.  Just as we have no idea exactly what kind of disaster has descended on the people of this book, so we have no idea of the precise names of the characters affected by the disaster. Giving the characters names might have helped make the disaster seem somehow explicable.  Instead, McCarthy intrigues and disturbs us by creating massive uncertainty.
  • Use of unnamed characters is immediately intriguing and provokes immediate questions, as in the very first sentence of the book:

When he woke in the woods in the dark of the night he’d reach out to touch the child sleeping beside him.

  • Leaving the characters unnamed makes them more “archetypal.” That is, they seem to be representatives of human beings in general rather than merely specific, identifiable, particular human beings. The father and son, especially, symbolize the relationship between any father and any son, or between any loving parent and beloved child.
  • Ironically, the use of characters who are not precisely identified makes it possible for readers to identify and empathize with them (at least with the father and son). We can relate to them more easily partly because they could be any two people rather than two people in particular.
  • The other characters, also unnamed, are often frightening, and partly they are frightening because they, too, represent archetypal traits (such as “the predator,” “the potential killer,” etc.).  In the same way that Flannery O’Connor’s famous character The Misfit would seem less ominously threatening if he were named Irving Kasnoznich, so the unnamed hunter whom the father kills in order to protect himself and his son is more disturbing as an unnamed hunter than if he were Frank Kowalski.  :-)