God, morals and justice in the post-apocalyptic world of Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road"

Term Paper, 2011

11 Pages, Grade: 1,3


Table of contents

1. The Post-Apocalypse in The Road

2. God, Morals and Justice in The Road
2.1. God in a godless world
2.2. The way of the good guys
2.3. The connection between godly and good people

3. Is The Road a realistic prediction of the end of humanity?

4. Bibliography

1. The Post-Apocalypse in The Road

“With the first grey light he rose and left the boy sleeping and walked out to the road and squatted and studied the country to the south. Barren, silent, godless” (McCarthy 4). This is one of the first sentences of the novel The Road, in which Cormac McCarthy depicts a world in which everything has been destroyed and the very fundaments of society have decayed and vanished. What arises from the ashes of a past civilization is a couple of lost souls struggling desperately for survival. Morals and virtue no longer have a place in this reality where people have to push past the most extreme boundaries, such as murder and cannibalism, to survive.

But with everything gone comes the opportunity to reestablish society, maybe an even better upgraded version of the old one. For that to happen, one must assume that values and morals have not evolved by chance the way they did to create modern civilization but are inherent to the human nature so that even after the reset button was hit by a global catastrophe a civilized society can be restored.

The scenario of the story favors the unscrupulous slave holders, raiders, murderers and cannibals to come out on top though. It seems that solely the father and his son still believe in God and distinct between good and evil, which puts them in a huge disadvantage in the fight which is the survival of the fittest. But somehow they are blessed with luck and coincidences ease the hard path they chose for themselves. It seems that McCarthy wants to hint that the good guys are being supported by some divine power.

In this paper I want to discuss on how Cormac McCarthy treats the topics God, morals and justice in the post-apocalyptic setting of his prize-winning novel The Road and give insight on how these constructions work in general.

2. God, Morals and Justice in The Road

2.1. God in a godless world

God is a very central topic of the novel. It is not clear however if God exists in The Road. A catastrophe wiped out almost everything and the people that by chance survived are suffering horrible fates. Some are taken as slaves. Some are being held like cattle, waiting to be slaughtered and eaten by their captors. Everyone is struggling not to starve. How can there be a God wanting all this? A man who the father and son encounter on the road sums it up as: “Where men can’t live gods fare no better” (McCarthy 172). Considering the setting and the circumstances of the novel, it seems unlikely that there is an entity that is just and caring, only wanting the best for its children roaming the earth and having a plan for every single one of them. In this first part of the paper I will try to explain the role of God in the McCarthy’s story and how different characters in the book think about God.

With God gone the idea of a meaning of life also disappears. It furthermore means that there are no consequences for one’s actions, which opens the way for taboos and laws to be crossed, even if they technically do not exist anymore. Surviving becomes a question of how far you are willing to go and most of the strangers in The Road have no limits at all. This gives the impression of an absence of God in the novel.

On the other hand we often catch glimpses of divine intervention in the book. The father and his son for example find a bunker with a storage of canned food when they are on the edge of starvation. The man’s reaction to this fortunate uncovering is: “Oh my God, he whispered. Oh my God” (McCarthy 138) It seems this coincidence has restored his faith in God when he was just about to give up.

Just as unlikely are the events at the end of the novel when another group of survivors appears and picks up the boy after his father has passed away. It could be that McCarthy wants to make the reader think that the boy and the man are rewarded for trying to be the good guys and keeping faith, but we never know for sure since everything that happens could also be coincidental.

The man and his son do believe in God. Although the father recognizes that the world is “[b]arren, silent [and] godless” (McCarthy 4) he keeps hanging on to life and the life of his boy. The thought of a divine power and a meaning in life gives him strength to do so. For him the life of his child itself is evidence for God’s existence: “He knew only that the child was his warrant. He said: If he is not the word of God God never spoke” (McCarthy 5). The man founds his belief in God in a concept that Peter Byrne describes in his book Kant on God in the following as a typical argument for God’s existence by theists:

The world exists and God sustains it.

Therefore God sustains the world.

Whatever sustains something must exist.

Therefore God exists. (Byrne 25)

In case of the father the proof for God sustaining the world is the existence of his child and therefore God exists.

This also shows that he thinks that if it was not God who gave him this son then there is no God at all. In the midst of all the misery the man has to make a sense of the horrible events that are happening and as there is none that is sensible, he has to believe in a transcendent entity that governs everything and has a plan that is beyond human comprehension. Else he would probably go insane or at least would not have enough motivation to carry on: “My job is to take care of you. I was appointed to do that by God” (McCarthy 77). The father keeps himself motivated by making up a mission that was given to him by God. Through this mission his own and his boy’s life and their journey get a meaning. If it was not for that god-given task, he might have shared his wife’s decision and committed suicide with her.

In contrast to the father and his child stands the blind man the two encounter on the road. He has long abandoned the possibility of there being a God and has lost all faith for mankind. He tells the man how “[t]hings will be better when everybody’s gone” (McCarthy 172) and has accepted the demise of humanity: “When we’re all gone at last then there’ll be nobody here but death and his days will be numbered too. He’ll be out in the road there with nothing to do and nobody to do it to” (McCarthy 173). Him including death in this sarcastic comment shows that he thinks God and other supernatural beings like the personification of death are mere human constructions and with all of the people who believe in them gone they will vanish as well.

In David Hume’s A Treatise of Human Nature he elaborately discusses on the nature of ideas and beliefs. Hume essentially says that it does not matter if something really exists or if someone has an idea of the existence of something. As soon as the idea of existence becomes a belief, it is the same as if the existence of an object (cf. Hume 94). This is transferable on the father in the story. It does not matter whether God really exists in The Road or not. As long as the man believes in God’s existence, the idea of God’s existence has real effects on the man’s action and his thinking. Thus it was as if God existed because he is the cause for existing objects. Hume’s writings are also reflected in the blind man’s idea. When the one who believes ceases to exist, God also ceases to have effects on existing objects and therefore ceases to exist as well.


Excerpt out of 11 pages


God, morals and justice in the post-apocalyptic world of Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road"
University of Würzburg  (Institut für Anglistik und Amerikanistik)
Themenbereich Amerikanistik: Masters of Transgressive Fiction: Ellis, Palahniuk and McCarthy
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ISBN (Book)
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The Road, Cormac McCarthy, Transgressive Fiction, God, Morals, Justice, Apocalypse, post-apocalyptic, McCarthy, morality, human nature, mccarthy the road
Quote paper
Andre Almacen (Author), 2011, God, morals and justice in the post-apocalyptic world of Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road", Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/187799


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