You have to carry the fire.
I don’t know how to.
Yes, you do.
Is the fire real? The fire?
Yes it is.
Where is it? I don’t know where it is.
Yes you do. It’s inside you. It always was there. I can see it.
— Cormac McCarthy “The Road”
Engulfed in utter darkness and complete despair, the road presents a story of faith, hope, and a selflessness that allows an individual to be a part of something greater than himself. The force that sustains the pair through the destruction of everything is utter altruism, a form of love that is unfathomable because the essence of it is complete selflessness. It is this love that drives the father to go to such lengths to protect his son.
Unlike the father who was born into a world for which he once had something to live, the son, is born into a world where individuals seem to live for death. It is important that readers realize that the son is not of the old world, he is wholly a product of desolation and was born into a world of emptiness. He has no reason to practice acts of altruism, especially considering his situation where it would seem that only the strongest will survive. Yet, it is in the boy that we most clearly get a glimpse of the capacity to love that resides in the human heart. The forest fire that the father sees “flaring and shimmering against the overcast like the northern lights…moved something in him long forgotten.” This fire is external; it serves as a reminder of the past. Throughout the novel, the father encounters relics of the past, reminders of how the world once was, adding a sense of hopelessness and futility to the current conditions. Because of this, I disagree with the view that the boy and his father can make sense and habit of their harsh existence and that “the forest fire stirs the man into a new awareness.” I view the forest fire as a reminder of the old world. Rather, I believe that though they may be unable to make sense of their existence, they do exist for a purpose. The fire that transcends the gruesome circumstances is not the external one, which is temporary; rather, it is an internal fire. It is a fire that is inside the boy. It is a fire that resides in humanity. The boys father is of the old world, and because of this he must die at the end of the novel. The boy is not of the old world; he represents the hope of a new world.
The internal fire is all that is left when man has destroyed everything but himself. It is the son’s pure flame that is to be preserved at all costs. It is a fire that compels man to look beyond his selfish needs, and it is a fire that is not dependent on circumstance. In fact, it is in the starkest and bleakest of environments that the full potential of the fire can be realized. It is a reminder that the human spirit can endure even the harshest of circumstances. The fire presents a paradox: it is man’s most precious, yet man’s most enduring possession.
One final note. With the emergence of publications such as Christopher Hitchens’ God is Not Great, a belief in the possibility of a Godless morality has been proposed. Not only does this view entail that belief is harmful, but also that morality is both possible and preferable without God. This type of morality would therefore be socially constructed and would have its origins in the culture that produced and practiced it. However, the situation presented in The Road leads me to believe, that in reality, the situation is quite otherwise. The fire in the boy is the hope of the world and is the essence of the compassionate potential of the human spirit. This fire is not a product of society and external circumstance as everything around the boy has led to the undoing of civilization.
At the end of the novel, a wise character reminds the son that “the breath of God was his breath yet though it pass from man to man through all of time.” This leaves one to consider the source and the character of the fire. The fire endures just as the Truth endures. The fire is a Truth that remains because it was, it is, and it always will be the breath of the human spirit.
The boy has nothing to live for, yet he has everything to live for.