The Moral Wasteland

Quotes from The Road

"It took two days to cross that ashen scabland. The road beyond fell away on every side. It's snowing, the boy said. He looked at the sky. A single gray flake sifting down. He caught it in his hand and watched it expire there like the last host of christendom."

"On this road there are no godspoke men. They are gone and I am left and they have taken with them the world. Query: how does the never to be differ from what never was?"

"I should have been more careful, he said.

The boy didn't answer.

You have to talk to me.


You wanted to know what the bad guys looked like. Now you know. It may happen again. My job is to take care of you. I was appointed to do that by God. I will kill anyone who touches you. Do you understand?


He sat there cowled in the blanket. After a while he looked up. Are we still the good guys? he said.

Yes. We're still the good guys.

And we always will be.

Yes. We always will be."

"There is no God and we are his prophets."

"Nobody wants to be here and nobody wants to leave."

"We used to talk about death she said. We don't anymore.

Why is that?

It's because its here. There's nothing left to talk about."

“We wouldn’t ever eat anybody, would we?

No. Of course not. ...

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.”

"He walked out into the gray light and stood and he saw for a brief moment the absolute truth of the world. The cold relentless circling of an intestate earth. Darkness implacable. The blind dogs of the sun in their running. The crushing black vacuum of the universe. And somewhere two hunted animals trembling like ground-foxes in their cover. Borrowed time and borrowed world and borrowed eyes with which to sorrow it."

Discussion Questions

Can the actions of the cannibals be interpreted as moral from their point of view?

At what point does the need to survive override philosophical views?

Are morals inherent in humanity or traits developed over time?

When Morals Go Wrong!


The Moral Wasteland in The Road

At the center of The Road is the struggle to maintain morality in a world that has utterly lost it: the moral wasteland is the land the man and boy travel through, with all morals in the world completely extinguished outside of the fire carried in the hearts and minds of the two family members. For example, today we find the idea of eating another human being repugnant, disgusting on all belief; would you feel the same way if a deceased man was potentially the only food for hundreds of miles? Conflicts in The Road mostly revolve around attempts to reconcile morals with basic survival needs, or rather, the survival of morality and main tenets of civilization compared to individual survival needs. The above quotes illustrate the man and boy's struggle to preserve morals for the future; however, can they stay alive long enough to do so without every option on the table? This is the moral wasteland at its core. There are even times when the man seems to abandon morality for a time; for example, he took the possessions of the man who stole their cart. His justification was that it was vengeance for what the stranger tried to do to the man and the boy; following this logic, the man should eat the next cannibal he sees, since that's what would have happened to him. An eye for an eye mentality seems out of place among the man's attempts to preserve morality. On the other side of the spectrum, immorality is blatantly shown by actions of the so-called marauders, who do everything from eating newborn children to keeping starved people locked in a basement as a steady food supply. However, it's uncertain if that's genuinely immorality; are the marauders wrong to do everything they can to survive? To the cannibals, McCarthy's brainchild is likely a survival wasteland, not a moral one. From their perspective, what good are morals to you if you're not alive to safeguard them anyway? For the man and the boy, the ends do not justify the means; the apparent savages would argue otherwise. Which side is in the right is up to the reader to decide.