Morality Defined - the Road

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Morality Defined
Legendary philosopher, Socrates once said, “A system of morality which is based on relative emotional values is a mere illusion, a thoroughly vulgar conception which has nothing sound in it and nothing true.” With this statement, Socrates argues that there are few people in this world who possess an absolute morality within themselves whereas most others have a relative morality which they stand by. Absolute morality is the belief that something is always right or always wrong while relative morality is the belief that something is right or wrong depending on the circumstances. The crucial difference between absolute and relative morality lies in the viewpoints of the people who possess each one. However, Socrates’ belief is that relative morality is nothing more than a mere illusion because it really has no guidelines that it stands behind; it is solely based on opinion. In his mind, it should not even be considered a morality. In essence, Socrates is arguing that you must believe in something to its extreme or not at all; there is no in-between. Cormac McCarthy’s novel The Road, tells the riveting story of a father and son’s survival in a post-apocalyptic world full of thieves and cannibals. The man and the boy travel the United States in search of food and shelter, while also attempting to flee from danger and the threat of death. All through the story, they consistently struggle with issues concerning their own morality, character, and conscience. They are forced to make life altering-decisions that ultimately define who they are as people. Throughout the novel The Road, McCarthy uses nature symbolism and apocalyptic imagery to criticize that many people’s ethics dissipate and their immorality consequently rises when they are immersed in an evil world.

The desolate world that the boy, man, and others have to live in results in some people going to the extremes to survive. As the boy and man journey on the road, they encounter very few people along the way. However, one day, the man realizes there are people following him and the boy, so they hide out. Three men and a pregnant woman pass them on the road. A few minutes later they are met with a shocking sight, “Oh Papa, he said. He turned and looked again. What the boy had seen was a charred human infant headless and gutted and blackening on the spit. He bent and picked the boy up and started for the road with him, holding him close. I'm sorry, he whispered. I'm sorry” (McCarthy 198). The author deliberately describes the appearance of the burning baby using words that convey graphic imagery such as, “charred, human, infant, headless, gutted, and blackening,” eliciting a repulsive feeling and characterizing the ugliness of evil in the world. The sight traumatizes the boy evidenced when he gasps, “Oh, Papa,” and turns “and looked again [at the burning baby].” The man feels regretful for letting the boy experience such a horrendous sight and apologizes as he takes the boy back to the road. This gruesome imagery reveals the absolute social breakdown in humanity and society. The morality of the people in this apocalyptic world has completely faded because there are no governing rules or laws to keep them in line. This results in total chaos and turmoil as seen when the weakest and most helpless of human beings – an infant – is preyed upon by a group of insane man-eaters. The cannibals clearly symbolize the end of civilization and this passage represents the extremes of violence, hunger, and cruelty within the apocalyptic world.

Every person in the story seems to be judged by the man and boy as either good and moral or evil and immoral. In his view, the man strongly believes he and the boy are moral and good because, as he tells the boy, “we’re carrying the fire” (McCarthy 83). This “fire” is symbolic of hope and human perseverance, despite the wicked world they are living in. The man assures the boy that they are the “good guys” who...
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