McCarthy's work often dramatized the oppostion between good and evil, with evil sometimes emerging triumphantly. What does The Road ultimately suggest about good and evil? Which force seems to have greater power in the novel?
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The theme of good versus evil is perhaps most appropriate for a post-apocalyptic novel. This theme may be more explicit in The Road than in any other McCarthy novel. More than once, the boy seeks confirmation from his father that they are the "good guys" and that the "bad guys" are those who seek to hurt them--thieves, murderers, and cannibals. According to the man, the good guys are those who "keep trying. They dont give up" (sic, 116). A symbol of the goodness in human perseverance and hope is the "fire" that the father assures his son they carry. As a "good guy," the man and the boy carry the fire internally, meaning that they strive to live under all circumstances.
In such a world, however, the conflict between the good guys and the bad guys is not at all clear. To the father, they are the "good guys," even though the father commits a murder for the sake of his son. The man does not consider acting violently in defense of his son's survival evil. Yet, what makes this choice more praiseworthy than the choices of the people who kill and even cannibalize others in order to survive?
Indeed, the boy does not understand the need to hurt others in any circumstances, even when they may pose a danger to his own survival or have already hurt him. For example, the boy pleads for his father to spare the thief and, even more, to help him. Because he is complicit in the father's punishment of the thief (stripping him of his clothes and shoes), the boy no longer feels like one of the "good guys." He feels that the stories his father tells of their heroic survival are not truthful. Perhaps worst of all, the boy cannot agree with his father that the right thing to do is to refuse to help others who are in dire need, especially when they have not shown any evidence of being dangerous. The reader (if not also the boy) perceives that in such a difficult world, the distinction between good and evil is rather nuanced; people's actions taken at face value are far from enough to determine whether someone is a "good guy" or a "bad guy."