What does McCarthy suggest in The Road when the boy pleads for mercy for strangers?

Quick answer:

McCarthy is suggesting that there is still hope for humanity by having the boy beg his father to be merciful to strangers.

Expert Answers

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As this is a "what do you think" question, you can feel free to explore various trains of thought and support your ideas with textual evidence. Many readers feel that the boy is symbolic of hope, innocence, and goodness, so I recommend going in that direction.

One thing to keep in mind is how much the boy stands out in contrast to the people they meet, the world that they live in, and even the father. Readers don't know what has happened to the world, but we do know that it is a lifeless, dreary, gray, depressing, and scary place. The man is constantly on guard, and he is on guard for good reason. People have resorted to cannibalism, and readers are even shown a baby having been barbecued on a spit. Finding another human is rare, and finding another human that doesn't want to steal from you is even rarer.

The world is filled with "bad guys." The boy knows this and repeatedly checks with his father to make sure they are still the "good guys." The fact that the boy recognizes that there is good and bad means that his moral compass is still intact. He wants to be a good guy, and good guys protect and help other people. Good guys show mercy and restraint when possible.

By begging his father to be merciful, the boy is allowing readers to have hope in mankind. The world is a fairly hopeless place, yet here is a child that gives us hope for humanity because he clearly desires goodness, care, and love. Even after his father dies, readers are still likely to finish the book with a glimmer of hope, because the boy and his goodness are still alive.

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