Essential Quotes by Theme: Hope

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Essential Passage 1

He woke before dawn and watched the gray day break. Slow and half opaque. He rose while the boy slept and pulled on his shoes and wrapped in his blanket he walked out through the trees. He descended into a gryke in the stone and there he crouched coughing and he coughed for a long time. Then he just knelt in the ashes. He raises his face to the paling day. Are you there? he whispered. Will I see you at the last? Have a neck by which to throttle you? Have you a heart? Damn you eternally have you a soul? Oh God, he whispered. Oh God.

The man and his boy have stopped on their travels for the night, taking refuge in a rocky area, protected from the rain. The rain does not clean away the ashes that cover everything, killing everything and destroying the food supply (except for human beings). The man feels his sole purpose in life is to keep his boy alive and free from the taint of the savagery that has descended on humanity. Yet he knows he cannot do this forever. He is becoming ill, an ever-increasing cough slowly draining his strength. To keep from waking his son, he goes down into a gryke (a fissure in the rock) to cough and cough to clear it all away, but he cannot. He questions whether or not he will survive the night. He calls out to God, not for help but in defiance and bitterness. God has let him down. God has let humanity down.

Essential Passage 2

I can't do it alone.

Then don't. I can't help you. They say that women dream of danger to those in their care and men of danger to themselves. But I don't dream at all. You say you can't? Then don't do it. That’s all. Because I am done with my own whorish heart and I have been for a long time. You talk about taking a stand but there is not stand to take. My heart was ripped out of me the night he was born so don't ask for sorrow now. There is none. Maybe you’ll be good at this. I doubt it, but who knows. Then one thing I can tell you is that you wont survive for yourself. I know because I would never have come this far. A person who had no one would be well advised to cobble together some passable ghost. Breathe it into being and coax it along with words of love. Offer it each phantom crumb and shield it from harm with your body. As for me my only hope is for eternal nothingness and I hope it with all my heart.

The man flashes back to a time when his wife was still alive. She has told him that she has decided she cannot fight any longer and will commit suicide. He begs her not to, stating that he cannot go on alone. She sees no point in going on anyway, so is indifferent to his pleas. Death is certain in a world with no food supply and the increasing danger of humans preying on humans. There is no reason to go on, no hope. She realizes this when her son was born into this new world in which he is only to die. She points out to her husband that he will not survive either and has made it this long only because he has someone to live for. Eventually he will have no one, and there will be no purpose to life. She hopes to die and find, not peace, but nothingness. There is no peace. There is only oblivion to all feeling and emotion.

Essential Passage 3

How do I know you’re one of the good guys?

You don't. You’ll have to take a shot.

Are you carrying the fire?

Am I what?

Carrying the fire.

You’re kind of weirded out, aren't you?


Just a little.


That’s okay.

So are you?

What, carrying the fire?


Yeah. We are.

Do you have any kids?

We do.

Do you have a little boy?

We have a little boy and we have a little girl.

How old is he?

He is about your age. Maybe a little older.

And you didn't eat them.


You don't eat people.

No. We don't eat people.

And I can go with you?

Yes. You can.

Okay then.


The man has at last succumbed to his lingering illness, dying and leaving his son alone. The boy is not sure what to do, so he stays with his father’s body, afraid to leave him alone to the scavengers. After three days he goes out to the road and sees a man coming, a man wearing a yellow ski parka (the sole speck of color in the gray landscape). The man, having seen the boy with his father before, asks him where his father is. The boy tells him his father is dead.  The man gives him a choice either to stay with his father’s body or to come with him. The boy’s main concern is that he is one of the “good guys.” The man assures him that he is indeed one of the good guys. To make sure, the boy asks him the question that will reveal the truth—has he eaten people? The answer is no. The boy then says the word that has been his strength that there is hope—“Okay.”

Analysis of Essential Passages
What hope is there for a humanity in which humanity is all there is? To survive, cannibalism is the only option. To live, one must kill—kill and eat. One must become, not just an animal, but the lowest kind of animal, one that feeds on its own kind.

The man and his son have struggled to survive without sinking to that level. They have striven to remain human. By scavenging for remnants of canned food, they have managed to do so, but they know the inevitable will come. As they travel on the road, they continue to hold out hope that somehow, some way, there will be another option.

The road in the title thus is the symbol for hope. With the vague goal of reaching the ocean, in reality, the purpose of the journey is just to keep moving. In movement along the road there is hope. The man’s wife sees no point. She gives up hope that there is any hope, and thus chooses to end her own life, regardless of the fact that she will leave her husband and son to a world that is waiting to consume them. She does not actively encourage her husband to join her. Without hope, she has no care for anyone but herself and her search to put herself out of her misery. The man, however, has not reached that point. As long as he has his son to protect, there is hope. He questions God, whether God (if He even exists) is merciful, or is He unfeeling and indifferent to the plight that His children have found themselves in. He can go on without God, but not without hope. Yet his hope has no discernible source or reason. It is hope for hope’s own sake.

With strength derived from hope, the man has survived against a fatal illness. He does not die from lack of hope, as does his wife, but from the effects of the destruction of his world. Life is taken from him; he does not give it up willingly. He dies in the midst of hope. His son, however, is left alone. But he still has the legacy of hope left him by his father. Then he meets the stranger in the yellow parka. In a gray world, yellow stands out like the sunlight, a sure symbol of hope. It is the “fire” that the boy asks if he is carrying. What is more, yellow is worn by one of the “good guys,” one who is still human and has never eaten people. At the man’s invitation, the boy goes along with him, as the man and his family are also on the road of hope. As he joins the stranger's family. In family there is hope, and in the context of the family there is God once again.

Whether or not the boy will live, it is clear that hope will survive. Throughout the novel, the boy’s consistent response and plea has been “okay.” He wants everything and everyone to be “okay.” This “okayness” is the rock of hope that he clings to. His father places him on that rock again and again, each time something happens that threatens the boy’s faith in the “okayness” of life. In McCarthy's bleak post-apocalyptic world, the seeming hopelessness on the surface cannot completely cover it. In the man, in the boy, and in the family of the man in the yellow parka, hope for humanity survives.

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Essential Quotes by Character: The Man