Little Boy Jesus

In our last class, we briefly discussed the idea of the boy being a prophet-like figure. By the halfway point of the novel, I wasn’t convinced of this idea at all. However, it all changed as I finished the second half of “The Road.”

It is true that, from the beginning of the novel, we see the boy as a compassionate human being who yearns to help others even in the face of danger. At first, all of his requests to sacrifice part of their food supply to help people like the young “lost” boy are vehemently rejected by his father. However, with “Ely”, there is a shift because the boy is able to convince the father to help the strange old man. More importantly, in an exchange between the father and Ely, the father suggests that the boy is greater than all of them: “When I saw that boy I thought that I had died. You thought he was an angel? I didn’t know what he was. I never thought to see a child again. I didn’t know what would happen. What if I said that he’s a god? The old man shook his head. I’m past all that now. Have been for years.” (170). Although the idea of the boy being a divine figure is rejected by the old man, the author introduces the concept and sets up the boy to be somewhat of a messiah.

In the last class, we discussed the importance of baptism images. There is yet another one of these symbols in the second half of the novel. After the boy takes a swim in the freezing waters of the beach, the father “walked down to meet him and wrapped him shuddering in the blanket and held him until he stopped gasping. But when he looked the boy was crying. What is it? he said. Nothing. No, tell me. Nothing. It’s nothing.“ (215) This image of the boy crying and being frightened  reoccurs in the second half of the novel as he does not want to discuss his nightmares with the father. How does this make him a messianic figure? Well, it doesn’t directly make him messianic. To me, I found the boy’s reluctance to share his nightmares and fears to be a mysterious, almost prophetic quality. It seems as though he knows something that the father doesn’t. This is most evident, to me, after he gets sick and says to the father “I feel kind of weird” (249) and doesn’t want to talk about his “weird dreams.” (250). A page later, when the father realizes that their stuff has been stolen he shouts “Oh Christ. Oh Christ” and the boy immediately responds “What is it, Papa?” The boy’s response is obviously how any other boy would respond to their father’s panic. However, there is something powerful about the father’s usage of the word Christ around his son. This is also seen earlier in the novel when the father notices four men and two women coming toward their newly found home and he calls out “Jesus” and grabs the boy by the hand and says “Christ … Run. Run.” (108-109).

The boy’s desire to help all people along the road also includes a thief who attempts to steal all of their belongings. After the father forces the thief to remove all his clothing and leaves him stranded, the father and son have a dispute: “You’re not the one who has to worry about everything. The boy said something but he couldn’t understand him. What? He said. He looked up, his wet and grimy face. Yes I am, he said. I am the one.” (257-258). The boy’s response of “I am the one” is quite powerful. Not only is he saying that he is a person who has to worry about everything, he is THE ONE who has to worry about everything. The phrase is powerful because it gives the boy a divine element and adds to the argument of him acting as a messianic figure. More specifically, it seems to be a reference to Jesus who according to Christians actually had to worry about “everything” and everyone, for that matter, since he died for “all of our sins.”

As the boy is taking care of his sick father, the father says “There was light all about him.” (275) In class, we discussed the theme of darkness as a symbol of their difficult new world. The boy being enveloped by light provides a contrast to this darkness but also references the traditional images we have of prophets such as Jesus bringing the light and being surrounded by light themselves.

Finally, as a stranger takes the boy into an outside community “The” woman wraps her arm around the boy and says “I’m so glad to see you.” More importantly, she says “the breath of God was his breath yet though it pass from man to man through all of time.” (284) This quote is much like the passage we read in class in that it can be read in many ways. However, I found the implication of the boy’s breath being the breath of God a striking statement. For one who wants to argue that the little boy is a messianic figure, it really seals the deal.

3 thoughts on “Little Boy Jesus

  1. While I see all of the “clues” that point to the boy as a messianic or Christ figure, I wasn’t completely sold on the idea. I felt as though there was a certain reverence throughout the novel for children in general as a symbol of hope and of a future. In Children of Men the absence of youth was the absence of a future, and I think there is a similar mentality in The Road. I think we as readers are inclined to see the boy as a Christ figure because of the way the father sees his son. He is in many ways in awe of his brave and compassionate child because he knows how scary and hopeless the world has become. I would agree that the moment where the boy claims that he is “the one” who has to worry about his father and his own survival points to the boy as a Christ figure, but it isn’t very far off from the other instances of personal responsibility the boy feels for the conditions that he and his father are facing. I’m in agreement with you that there are definitely ways to look at the boy as a Christ figure, but I can’t say I’m convinced that the boy is in fact Christ or a prophet or any other religiously affiliated figure. I do believe, though, that he functions as a strong symbol for hope and goodness in a world that seems devoid of those things.

  2. I can see why you’re not 100% convinced. But, for me – after finishing the novel and having some time to reflect (and reading how the woman characterizes the little boy), I realized how significant and sacrificial the boys’ acts of kindness were. We all know that the father and son were starving most of the time. Their sense of satiation was always temporary and limited by the amount of canned fruit they had. The other people they encounter along the road were all either fleeing, ignored them or tried to sabotage them. When I looked at it this way – I thought it was really profound that the boy was so emphatic about helping the other people along the way, even the man who stole ALL of their things. There is something very different about him. I would’ve agreed with you that he is simply a symbol of hope, but I can’t after he confesses to be THE ONE to worry about everything, having light all around him, and having the breath of God! Of course, I could’ve been “looking for” these clues especially because we ended the class with this question. But, I definitely thought we were being pointed in the direction of him being a savior, prophet-like figure.

    However, I watched an interview McCarthy did with Oprah and I feel a bit embarrassed by my post. He basically shoots down people like me who read too much into the story. He just wants people to look at it as a story about a Father and son, and nothing else. So, I hope he doesn’t read my post!

  3. Authorial intention doesn’t get the last word! At least not in the way literary analysis operates in academic settings and, actually, for most readers who enjoy saying what a work of art meant to them.

    I would chime in on the Christ figure discussion by suggesting that a “figure” is not the same as a claim of actuality, so a character can function as a Christ figure without being a literal messiah of the same sort as Christ has been for Christians over two millenniums. The textual references that Ilirjan has noted here are astute ways to establish a theme of potential redemption, but they not indicate that the boy will be a sole redeemer (soul redeemer?). One thing to consider in this regard is the difference: Christ is said to die for humanity whereas the boy lives for it to stay on in the world. What is at stake in this difference? How does redemption get redefined, perhaps in less traditional religious ways?

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