The apocalypse that preludes the events of The Road begins with the end of linear time: “the clocks stopped at 1:17” (52). The end of time signals the end of stability, and the devolution of the world into an anarchic wasteland populated by cannibals and blood cults. In the relentlessly gray twilight world, “things believed to be true” (89), such as the existence of God and the different between good and evil, right and wrong, are thrown into question. The man struggles to hold onto some semblance of normality, and the remnants of the old world. He thinks in terms of days and weeks and months. He plots their journey along the old roads using his old map. He tells his son stories of his childhood, and how the world used to be. And yet, the questions remain. How do people remain moral in an amoral world? How do we maintain our humanity when we are confronted with the signs of human brutality? Most importantly, how do we find meaning in a meaningless world?
For the man, the boy is his entire world, and the only meaning to his life. He believes that it is his God given duty to protect the boy, and to take him down the road to whatever lies at the end. He also tries to instill in the boy some sense of the world from before. One of the smaller tragedies of the novel is that the boy is a post-apocalyptic child; the only world he knows is one of depravation, and fear. The man realizes that to the boy he was an “alien” and he “could not enkindle in the heart of the child what was ashes in his own” (154). As the people who knew the world from before die out, the world as it used to be dies a second death. Furthermore, though the man has managed, as best as he can, to preserve the child’s innocence, it is difficult to see how his goodness, and his genuine empathy for other human beings, can survive.
In many of the apocalyptic texts we read in class, the apocalypse was seen as the catalyst for renewal. For its sins, the old world had to be destroyed – cleansed – and then God’s chosen would inherit the new world. The Road, on the other hand, seems like the story of a second fall, and the survivors have been banished from paradise. In the scene where the man stumbled upon the bunker full of food and supplies, finding that untouched piece of the past was a godsend, and the only thing that saved them from certain death. It was their “tiny paradise” (150).