Essential Quotes by Character: The Man

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1688

Essential Passage 1

I am begging you. I’ll do anything.

Such as what? I should have done it a long time ago. When there were three bullets in the gun instead of two. I was stupid. We’ve been over all of this. I didn't bring myself to this. I was brought. And now I’m done. I thought about not even telling you. That would probably have been best. You have two bullets and then what? You cant protect us. You say you would die for us but what good is that? I’d take him with me if it weren't for you. You know I would. It’s the right thing to do.
You’re talk

You're talking crazy.

No, I’m speaking the truth. Sooner or later they will catch us and they will kill us. They will rape me. They’ll rape him. They are going to rape us and kill us and eat us and you wont face it. You’d rather wait for it to happen. But I cant. I cant. She sat there smoking a slender length of dried grapevine as if it were some rare cheroot. Holding it with a certain elegance, her other hand across her knees where she’d drawn them up. She watched him across the small flame. We used to talk about death, she said. We don't any more. Why is that?

I don't know.

It’s because it’s here. There’s nothing left to talk about.

I wouldn't leave you.

I don't care. It’s meaningless. You can think of me as a faithless slut if you like. I’ve taken a new lover. He can give me what you cannot.

Death is not a lover.

Oh yes he is.

Please don't do this.

I’m sorry.

I can't do it alone.

The man (the unnamed protagonist of the story) and his family are caught up in a nameless disaster (a nuclear war or perhaps a natural disaster) which has left the world in the grips of a nuclear winter. As the years pass, there is less and less food. The animals have died. The plants have died. Other than scavenging for canned food, the only recourse is cannibalism. The man’s wife realizes the inevitable conclusion will be that they will most likely die at the hands of others. She sees no point in going on and has decided to end her life rather than suffer at the hands of others. The man begs her not to do this, stating that he cannot go on without her. Her son needs her as well. The man holds out for some kind of hope that they can survive in the midst of this nightmare. He tells his wife that they can go on together and that he will never leave her. He is faithful to her as he is faithful to life itself. Yet his wife has made up her mind. She speaks of death as a lover who can give her the peace that her husband cannot. In the end, she goes off to kill herself, and the man and his son go on the road alone.

Essential Passage 2

…I should have been more careful, he said.

The boy didn't answer.

You have to talk to me.


You wanted to know what the bad guys looked like. Now you know. It may happen again. My job is to take care of you. I was appointed to do that by God. I will kill anyone who touches you. Do you understand?


He sat there cowled in the blanket. After a while he looked up. Are we still the good guys? he said.

Yes. We’re still the good guys.

And we always will be.

Yes. We always will be.


As the man and the boy travel the road, they must always be on the lookout for cannibalistic scavengers who will hunt people for food. At one stop, a strange man approaches the two, asking for help. The boy is always anxious to help others on the road, but the man is suspicious. He refuses to help. The stranger then grabs the boy. The man uses one of the last remaining bullets in his gun to kill the stranger as he holds the boy. Traumatized by both the violence of the stranger and even more so the violence of his father, the boy will not speak to his father for a long time. The boy has long held the belief that he and his father are the “good guys,” as opposed to the cannibals that roam the countryside. His faith in his father has been shaken. The man explains that he has been appointed by God to be his son’s protector. The killing was not the same as those done by the “bad guys”—it is justified in light of the mission given a father by God. The man promises that he will always protect his son. At last the boy understands, accepts the fact that his father is still one of the “good guys,” and that goodness will always be their guide on their journey.

Essential Passage 3

In the night he woke in the cold dark coughing and he coughed till his chest was raw. He leaned to the fire and blew on the coals and he put on more wood and rose and walked away from the camp as far as the light would carry him. He knelt in the dry leaves and ash with the blanket wrapped about his shoulders and after a while the coughing began to subside. He thought about the old man out there somewhere. He looked back at the camp through the black palings of the trees. He hoped the boy had gone back to sleep. He knelt there wheezing softly, his hands on his knees. I am going to die, he said. Tell me how I am to do that.

The man and his son are coming closer to their destination, the ocean. They come across on an old man who seems resigned to his death. The stranger’s acceptance of death bothers the boy, who believes they should do something to save the old man. But the old man moves on and does not join them on the road to the ocean. There they hope to find some means by which they may survive without resorting to cannibalism. The cough that has troubled the man for some time worsens. He has coughed up blood and knows that he is truly ill. He knows he is going to die. He has kept this knowledge from his young son, about whom he worries. How will his son survive alone? His son has been the sole reason that he has stayed alive. He told the boy that it is his mission from God to protect him. He wonders how he can die and leave that mission undone and in jeopardy.

Analysis of Essential Passages
The unnamed protagonist of The Road, referred to as “the man,” finds himself a relic of a lost civilization. As such, he tries to maintain his character and his virtues, founded on that civilization, in the midst of a new world that has been destroyed. That civilization has been destroyed, by implication, by itself. This is symbolized by the man’s wife, who ultimately commits suicide. Yet that old world has survived in the form of the man’s son, whose life is to be protected at all costs. However, in the end the man cannot save himself and dies leaving his son alone.

In the character of the man’s wife, we see the inability of the old way of thinking to survive in this most basic of lives. Giving up hope that any kind of meaningful existence will continue after the destruction, she sees death of herself, her husband, and her son as inevitable. Her husband, however, does not, but clings to the hope that some remnant of the old world has survived, even if it should be only within his own small family. Thus he is faithful to his wife and urges her to keep on living. Not only to his wife, but also to the very concept of survival, the man is willing to carry on, even with no end in sight. His faithfulness survives despite his wife’s suicide.

It is in his son that the man sees a reason to keep on living. His son is the figure of hope for a fallen world, representing decency. The boy is always a constant reminder to his father that they should remain the “good guys,” as opposed to the cannibalistic scavengers that roam the countryside. In his protection of his son against the marauders, the man is not just trying to survive but is actively fighting against the evil that has fallen on the world. This is the mission he has been given by God, he tells his son, even though he no longer believes in the existence of a higher power. “There is no God, and we are his prophets,” he tells a fellow traveler. He struggles to maintain goodness even when there is no source or reason to do so.

As he finally faces the fact that he will soon die, the man must come to terms with unlikely survival of his son. His death is caused, not by the new civilization, but by the destruction of the old; its death leads to his death. Unlike his wife, the man has no idea how to die. He cannot give up hope as she did and end his life on his own terms. His concern is that he is powerless to save his small son, despite its being his mission from God to do so. He will die, yet his son will live on, to what end is unclear.

The character of the man represents all that is left when civilization is destroyed. When man reverts to animal, can goodness survive? Will the legacy of the goodness that he has left to his son be enough?

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Essential Quotes by Theme: Hope