We wouldnt ever eat anybody, would we?
No. Of course not.
Even if we were starving?
We’re starving now.
You said we werent.
I said we werent dying. I didn’t say we werent starving.
But we wouldnt.
No. We wouldnt.
No matter what.
No. No matter what.
Because we’re the good guys.
And we’re carrying the fire.
And we’re carrying the fire. Yes.
Cormac McCarthy, pages 128-9, First Vintage International Edition, 2006
In the barren, scorched landscape of post-apocalyptic North America, a father and son forage desperately for provisions. Their fear of starving is matched only by their fear of encountering other people. There is no law and order. The destruction of civilization has been accompanied by the moral degeneration of its survivors, with many resorting to extreme violence and cannibalism. Born into this vicious environment, the boy’s character is shaped by his father’s personal moral code and stories of people who used to help each other in a world that no longer exists. As the father’s health fails, they walk the road towards the southern coast, driven by the father’s hope for a better life for his son.
At its core, McCarthy’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel is a story about parents and their children, and an examination of the nature of their love for one another. The bleak setting, with its stark reminder of the thin veneer of civilized behaviour under pressure, serves merely as a backdrop to tease out fundamental truths about parent-child relationships, including a child’s primal fear of abandonment and a parent’s associated trepidation of leaving a child alone when facing death.
McCarthy also dramatizes the plight of parents to raise children of good character in an often hostile and unforgiving world, and reminds us that sometimes it is our children who correct and guide our own behaviour, as we struggle to practice what we preach when confronted with adversity.
It is an emotionally exhausting read - the story touches many raw nerves, including our collective anxieties about the precarious state of the world. It is also a powerful and deeply moving meditation on what it means to be both a parent and a child.