Can I ask you something? he said.
Yes. Of course.
Are we going to die?
Sometime. Not now.
This quote makes it clear that whatever happened at the beginning of the novel it has left everyone with a sense of hopelessness. Here the son is asking his father if they are going to die, the father just tells him that they aren't going to die at that moment. I find it kind of depressing that a young child would be asking his parent if they are going to die, and even more so that the father is honest enough to tell him that even though they might not die soon, they will have to die in the future. It just shows that the father and son have must have gone through many hardships just to stay alive. By this point in the novel they haven't encountered anyone else and Cormac describes their surroundings as appearing unchanged, but weathered. Everyone else must have already died except for groups of cannibals and thieves, making the boys survival symbolic. I think that, for the father to be that honest to his son about death, he must have decided that there isn't any way for things to go back to the way they were. He is only there to protect the boy as long as he can.
Death is written over everything in the book. The characters expect to die at any moment, and the father often checks if his son is still breathing. Right from the beginning, the father has a bad cough, and as the weather gets worse, the coughing fits become more frequent, and the father begins to cough up blood. He tries to hide the coughing fits from his son, but at the end, the boy admits that no matter how far away the father went to cough, he always heard him. No doubt, this prompts the boy's constant questioning of whether they are going to die.
Then they set out along the blacktop in the gunmetal light, shuffling through the ash, each the other's world entire.
The father and son basically learn to live for each other. They have no one else in their lives and probably couldn't keep moving forward if it wasn't for their bond. The father feels obligated to keep on living to protect his remaining flesh and blood; his only son. His loyalty to his son is so deep that he even tells his son that if he died, he would want to die as well just so that they could be together. The father loves his son so much that he cannot possibly go on without him. Through their travels on the road the father is faced with numerous opportunities to kill himself and his son yet time after time he chooses to live in their bleak world. The boy is a symbol for hope in a place filled with despair. It has been the man and his son against the world for a long time and the father would be willing to kill himself because he views it as his job as a father to be self-sacrificial. The father also tries to look for the good in their world and share it whenever the opportunity arises. His son on the other hand is aware that the only reason he has survived this long is because of his father's protection, there are many cannibals on the road and the father ends up killing other travelers. No matter what happens the father would never let his son die before he did, he even taught his son how to use the pistol if he ever had to kill himself.
On this road there are no god spoken men. They are gone and I am left and they have taken with them the world.
After reading further into the novel it is likely that the world faced a nuclear holocaust, where nukes were detonated on a massive scale. In order for the world to have gotten to that point, the bad in the world had to be more than the good, enough to let the people in charge be willing to cause near human extinction in their war. Most of the people that survived are not men that are good, they are evil. They are men with no sense of God, and when you leave God out of the equation, a moral compass and any sense of what is right and wrong is also gone. The people left are willing to bear children just to eat them; they are willing to murder, kill, hunt, and cannibalize anyone that comes into their paths, just like whoever was nuking each other was willing to kill anyone who threatened or opposed them. In this way, the type of people that are left, even though fighting for daily survival, are much like whomever it was that made the decisions behind the world's current condition. Anyone who survived and wanted to maintain their morals would have to face a huge struggle to survive, the boy's mother obviously thought it was easier to just die. Life was not worth living for her anymore; survival was not worth the struggle. When the god spoken men were not heard anymore, then the evil could roam free. The remaining people let what happened occur; instead of trying to unite to rebuild they gave into their own savage instincts. When there was no one willing to stand up for what was right the world just collapsed. The father is the last man who holds God dear to him and refuses to become a heartless man, instead he devotes his life to protecting his son.
He pulled the boy closer. Just remember that the things you put into your head are there forever, he said. You might want to think about that.
You forget some things, don't you?
Yes. You forget what you want to remember and you remember what you want to forget.
Everyone has memories and thoughts they would rather forget. Both the father and son have seen and experienced horrible tragedies that they would rather not have to remember. It seems as if whenever we try to forget something the more it becomes engraved in our minds, and similarly things we want to remember tend to be forgotten. In this passage from the novel the father is just trying to give his son some advice, he shouldn't try to think about their situation to much cause the more thought you put into the negative the bleaker reality becomes. Since the boy is so young his memories of a how things use to be will most likely fade with time. Like when he had a family and when he could be a kid. Instead he will probably only remember the hardships he faced with his dad. Being aware of the fact that children are a primary source of food for some of the travelers, and how slim their chances of actually surviving are. By the end of the novel I was surprised at all the thoughts the young boy had, how much he understood about his father and the changed world around him. The whole time he knew that his father was dying and how his mother had committed suicide rather than struggle to stay alive with her husband and son.
Listen to me, he said, when your dreams are of some world that never was or some world that never will be, and you're happy again, then you'll have given up. Do you understand? And you can't give up, I won't let you.
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.
They passed a mirror and almost raised his pistol. It's us papa the boy whispered.