The Road

“Do you think that your fathers are watching? That they weigh you in their ledgerbook? Against what? There is no book and your fathers are dead in the ground.” (196) Who says this? What does it mean? Why does he say it?

Section 16

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This bit of existential angst is brought to you by the man. These lines  call into question the existence of a higher power and of an afterlife. The speaker indicates that the actions of humans on earth are not witnessed or weighed by a higher power--or even by those who have already lived and died. If there is a moral center, it is not defined by the principles once held by the dead, but by the individual, perhaps. A person is the final judge of his own actions.

Going further, the narrator rejects any notion of a ledgerbook, the traditional metaphor for a moral record of one's actions for use by divine judges. This utter rejection of religious belief thrusts the novel further into a world in which man's capacity for evil and violence is not wholly unguided and unchecked by outside forces and in which individuals, in their natural state, do not even keep their own score in terms of morals. Ledgerbooks and ideas about being watched and judged by outsiders are the complex human constructs that artificially guide morality in an impotent effort to explain or to regulate behavior. A man must be a law unto himself if there is to be any law at all.

In addition, by calling upon "fathers" instead of "mothers" or "ancestors" in general, McCarthy further emphasizes the paternal theme in The Road.