Why does Cormac McCarthy in 'The Road', not give his character's names? How does the labels 'boy' and 'man' affect the way readers relate to them?
In The Road by Cormac McCarthy, the man and the boy have been reduced to their basic existential states.
Since there are no longer friends and family and no real society, the identification of the man and the boy is only important to them as they are on the most basic level of living. For this same reason, in certain editions of the novel there are no designated chapters as the search for food and shelter is a continuum without a new beginning or a new phase.
It is only the sustaining net of love that holds these two beings together. Otherwise, they are isolated in a post-apocalyptic environment that is reduced to a struggle to survive:
They plodded on, thin and filthy as street addicts. Cowled in their blankets against the cold and their breath smoking, shuffling through the black and silky drifts. . . . He held the boy against him, cold to the bone. Don't lose heart, he said. We'll be all right (p.177).
The man represents all that remains of goodness in a demolished civilization. He desperately clings to life as he hopes that his son will survive and not be corrupted as have so many others. When the man dies, he goes with the hope that "goodness will find the little boy."
In "The Road" the author does not provide names for his characters because it makes the story's theme of the violent indifference that has stricken the world more intense, it conveys how this devastation has stripped us of our individuality, now those who have survived wander in a rugged, raw new wilderness, fighting to stay alive.
The bleakness, coldness and indifference that is conveyed through the impersonal nature in this story helps to support the author's message of the total destruction of everything that we love and appreciate about our lives.
"The boy and his father hope to avoid the marauders, reach a milder climate, and perhaps locate some remnants of civilization still worthy of that name. They possess only what they can scavenge to eat, and the rags they wear and the heat of their own bodies are all the shelter they have. A pistol with only a few bullets is their only defense besides flight."
By not giving his characters names, McCarthy makes them more universal, more representative of humankind. As readers, we can identify more directly with this father and son, and we see the two as people who have survived the apocalyptic events that precede the opening of the novel. This man and his son are good people who struggle against enormous odds and against other people who have chosen evil ways to cope with the aftermath of the tragedy. The man and the boy are truly the "good guys" whom we want to survive. In every encounter they have with others, in every struggle, and in every predicament, we yearn for their success. Although you may be frustrated by their lack of names, McCarthy has deliberately left them nameless to make them symbolic of all of the people who are like them and left bereft by the horrific events of the novel.