In a post-Apocalyptic world, McCarthy asks the reader to examine what matters most. The "old life" has completely vanished and with it, the trappings, mores and behaviors of recognizable modern life. When everything is gone, what remains?
For the man and the boy, the primary motive is a dogged survival instinct which drives them onward in search of food, shelter, a hospitable climate. There is no particular destination which might offer tangible hope. There is, in fact, nothing tangible at all. The only tangible thing is each other and they are, as McCarthy writes, "each other's world entire."
In contrast to the bleak, desecrated environment is the tender care the father shows toward his son. The father's love sustains the boy and immunizes the father himself against despair. The story is as much a struggle of the mind as it is of physical survival. When not fortifying himself against the seduction of despair, the father must hide he and the boy from marauding gangs of cannibals.
There is no rubric or template for this nomadic, starving life. School, church, community have all become extinct. The roads are the last remaining vestige of civilization. Death is the only eventuality and yet, despite all this--they journey on.
I enjoyed The Road in the way one experiences a Holocaust museum. There is nothing titillating or suspenseful, it does not seek to entertain. It demands that we ask ourselves the hard, brutal questions of our humanity. What makes life worth living even when death is the only eventuality?
The Road reminded me of Waiting for Godot. Is there a point to telling a story that has no perceivable story-arc, no satisfying conclusion, no tidy ending? I say yes because like life itself, the purpose is not the destination, it is the journey.