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The Road: The compassion of the Boy

By carolinesimpson15 May 04, 2014 1110 Words
Ms. Hopkins
AP English Language and Composition
7 March 2014
Literary Criticism: The compassion of the boy
In a post-apocalyptic world full of grim emptiness, there are not room for preoccupations other than survival. The plot of The Road consists of the man and the boy, the two main characters, traveling south towards a road in order to survive. With that being said, the road is a love story between the father and son. Throughout the novel the father and the boy are faced with morally compromising situations that end the same: after they survive the event, the father ensures the son that they are still the good guys. When the boy shows his compassion for everyone except himself, despite what his father and better judgment suggest; there is hope in a seemingly hopeless world.

The boy’s compassion represents the last piece of hope in this novel. The father says in the beginning of the book, "If he is not the Word of God, then God never spoke” (McCarthy, 5). It remains unclear whether the boy gets his compassion from his father’s persistence to survive or despite this persistence. At first it seems as if the man lacks compassion, but his optimism about the boy’s future grows despite the fact that the father’s future is growing more nonexistent with each mile on the road. This is ironic because the father is growing more sick each day. His optimism is his way of showing his compassion for the boy. The boy is a young child and it seems that his father lacks understanding for some of the boy’s actions that are immature. However, the father shows his compassion for the boy by staying optimistic. For example, in this world that consists only of dead or dying nature, falling trees are a very common occurrence, as trees are falling as they walk through the woods, the man tells the boy “All the trees in the world are going to fall sooner or later. But not on us” (McCarthy, 35). This is an example of how the father comforts his son, displaying compassion.

Compassion proves to be a major theme in this novel due to its involvement in the boy’s actions, especially when they encounter new people along the road. The boy showing empathy for the thief they encounter is one of the various instances in which the boy shows his compassion for others. This thief steals the man and the boy’s items at their campsite while the boy is asleep and the man is looking for food. After the man tracks down the thief, he not only requires the thief to give back the items he stole but to also strip down and hand his clothes over to him. The boy displays his compassion by begging his father to not deal with the thief so harshly. The boy says, “He was just hungry, Papa. He's going to die” (McCarthy, 218). This is an act of empathy because the boy and the man are constantly facing starvation like this thief. The boy was born in this world of desolate nothingness, which is why it is so remarkable that he possesses such innately good qualities like empathy. The boy’s empathy for the thief is made more evident when the boy convinces the man to bring the clothes they took from the thief back to the place that the clothes were taken. Because of this empathy, McCarthy establishes a connection between the reader and the boy. His compassion is what sets himself above the ruin that is this world.

Another display of compassion from the boy is when he shows his sympathy for the old man. According to Compassion: Conceptualisations, Research and Use in Psychotherapy, “Humans are capable of extreme cruelty but also considerable compassion. Often neglected in Western psychology, this book looks at how compassion may have evolved, and is linked to various capacities such as sympathy, empathy, forgiveness and warmth” (Gilbert, 6). As they continue on their journey, the man and the boy encounter an old man who is on the brink of starvation. The boy’s compassion results in the convincing of the man to share the little food that they have with the dying, old man. The boy knows that he does not have to help the old man, and his father opening opposes the idea of sharing their food. This event indicates a pattern in The Road of the hopeful boy’s compassion leading him to convince his father to go against an ethical decision and help those they encounter at the expense of themselves. The boy is raised in an environment in which survival is a priority while kindness and compassion are not. This is why his compassion is so substantial, despite not being taught compassion, the boy proves to be the most compassionate character. This compassion results in the boy and the man giving a can of food to the old man that they know they will never see again.

Although the boy demonstrates great compassion, there is one exception. This exception is in relation to himself. This is best illustrated when he reflects upon his late mother. McCarthy suggests that the mother died over a year ago due to suicide; McCarthy also suggests that she was not strong enough to endure the harshness of this new world. When the boy asks about his mother, his father says, "she died alone somewhere in the dark" (McCarthy, 27) . One night when the boy and the man are traveling, the boy expresses his want to die: “I wish I was with my mom. He didn’t answer. He sat beside the small figure wrapped in the quilts and blankets. After a while he said: You mean you wish that you were dead. You mustn’t say that. But I do.” (McCarthy, 47). When he expresses this desire to die it is confusing because he does not extend this compassion to himself despite his ongoing compassion towards others. The boy is a beacon of hope due to his compassion that ultimately results in selflessness.

In a world full of dark emptiness, McCarthy illustrates future hope in the compassion of a young boy who is accompanying his father traveling south. Despite the presence of morally compromising situations, the boy’s compassion prevails symbolizing future hope in catastrophe. McCarthy suggests in the end that the compassion of the boy allows him to cope with the loss of his father in the end and integrate into a family. The family he finds are another group of “the good guys” (McCarthy, 143) that the boy seeks. The boy’s compassion thrives despite his unfortunate upbringing.

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