The man (also referred to as the father, who is called Papa by his son) travels the road with his young son. He believes he has been appointed by God to protect the boy, and he does so at all costs, even killing another human being in order to save his son. Unlike his son, the man remains deeply suspicious and even paranoid of other individuals and their intentions--perhaps understandably so. He is loath to approach other travelers on the road to offer them assistance, while the boy often wishes that he would. The man grows sicker throughout the novel, and his illness is manifested in his persistent cough and bloody spit. At the end of The Road, the man dies next to a stream in a clearing in the woods.
The boy (also called the son or the child) is born into the post-apocalyptic world. He knows nothing about the world before the catastrophe. He travels the road with his father and believes that he and his father are the "good guys" who carry the fire. In various encounters with other travelers on the road, the boy continually displays his faith in humanity and his humbling trust in others. Despite their near brushes with brutal violence and death, the boy consistently pleads with his father to help others in need. After his father's death, the boy is rescued by a family of people who assert that they are also the good guys.
the burnt man
The father and the son encounter a man on the road whose footsteps have left tracks in the road tar. The man has been struck by lightning and is heavily burnt. The boy wishes to stop and help the man, but his father refuses, insisting that they are unable to help him in any way. At last sight, the burnt man has collapsed on the road. This experience greatly upsets the boy, who does not talk to his father for a period of time due to their disagreement and the sad result.
man from the truck
This man becomes embroiled in a violent encounter with the father and his child. After exchanging words in which the man attempts to cajole the protagonists into joining his group, the father rightly does not trust him. The man grabs the son, holding a knife to his throat. The father promptly shoots the man in the head, killing him.
the man's wife
The wife of the man who is the protagonist has already died, and her situation is only described in flashbacks. She chose to avoid rape and murder, which she believed were inevitable, by committing suicide. She used a piece of sharpened obsidian, since the family's pistol only had two bullets. She did not say goodbye to her son, and she killed herself despite the entreaties of her husband not to do so.
the little boy
The son sees a little boy during their journey and runs after him, calling out to assure him that he and his father mean no harm. The father, however, forbids his son from pursuing the boy. As he felt regarding the burnt man, the son is again devastated that his father would not allow them to pursue and assist the boy. Even after they leave that area, the son wonders what will become of the little boy and who will take care of him.
the naked people
Inside a padlocked room in a grand house, the father and the son stumble upon a horde of naked people. They are imprisoned there to be used as food by four men and two women who are cannibals. The naked people beg the protagonists for assistance, but the father and the son must run away in order to escape the cannibals.
the cannibals (four men and two women)
These people control the large house that the protagonists happen upon. They are cannibals who entrap people in the house and lock them in the padlocked room, where the people are later killed for food.
Ely is the only person on the road with whom the protagonists have extensive contact. Upon the boy's pleading, the father agrees to give Ely food and allows him to camp with them for one night. Later, Ely tells the protagonists that he has not given them his real name. He longs for a world without any humans, where death itself would be lonely.
three men with pipes
The protagonists run into three men who are armed with pipes. They are outmatched by the father's pistol and must let the man and his son pass by without harm.
three men and a pregnant woman
When the man and the boy encounter a small group of people, three men and a pregnant woman, the protagonists hide, but their arrival frightens these people into hastily leaving their camp. The people leave behind the remains of their dinner, a burnt infant. When the man initially saw them out in the darkness, however, there was no infant, suggesting that the pregnant woman has attempted to eat her own child along with her cannibalistic companions.
The thief tries to steal the protagonists' cart and other belongings from their beachfront camp. The man tracks him down and threatens him with the pistol. Though the boy wants to help the thief, the man forces the thief to strip naked and takes his clothes and shoes. Later, at the boy's insistence, the man and the boy return to where they left the thief on the road, in order to return his clothes.
a man shooting arrows
While passing through a town, the protagonists are attacked by a man shooting arrows at them from a house. The father sets the house on fire with a flare pistol. It is unclear whether or not he kills the man, though they hear the man's screams from outside. When the boy asks his father about it later, the father responds that he did not kill the arrow man, and he promises his son that this is the truth.
When the father enters the house from which the arrows were shot, he encounters a woman holding the arrow man.
the man with a shotgun
A man with a shotgun appears near the conclusion of The Road. He extends a welcoming and helping hand to the boy, now that his father has died. This individual brings the boy back to his family, which includes his wife and two children, a boy and a girl.
wife of the man with a shotgun
This woman helps take in the boy and welcomes him to their family. From her brief appearance, she is portrayed as religious. She encourages the boy to talk to God and teaches him that God's breath is passed from man to man. She thus serves as a kind of redemptive figure for the boy.
The Road Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for The Road is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.
McCarthy subscribes to the less is more style of writing. His prose can be sparce, almost detached. Within those moments of silence and fragmented sentences, the reader can inhale so much mood, tone, and texture that the words become intoxicating,...