Those that should survive an apocalyptic event would face a terrible struggle for survival. The principle of survival of the fittest would be one of the only things keeping individuals alive; people would have to resort to cannibalism and to killing each other as a food source to increase their longevity. In The Road, McCarthy examines the essence of human nature in a post-apocalyptic environment and ventures into the darkest corners of the human subconscious, showing that when an individual is forced to live in some of the hardest conditions imaginable, it is human nature to do anything to survive. In this desolate world, the individuals lose their morals and values and become remorseless and apathetic. The man and the boy encounter an old man along their journey to the sea. There is a glimpse of the values lost by most of the survivors as he says, “I don’t have anything…You can look if you want.”(162) The old man instantly assumed that the man and the boy were there to try and steal his supplies, leaving him with nothing.
When they offered the old man food, the old man says, “what do I have to do” (166) as if he would have to do something in return for the kindness. The old man’s reaction to kindness reflects the state of the social values and morals in this post-apocalyptic world, proving that things such as pure kindness and generosity no longer exist in this world. Trust is also a rare occurrence in this remnant of a society because morals are lost in individuals who will do anything to stay alive A main motif that McCarthy tries to portray is the benefits and the damages that mistrust can cause.. This motif is depicted when the man denies all existence of the child that the boy found. The man said, “ There is no one to see, do you want to die?”(85) The man is so terrified of the people on the road that he would abandon a helpless child to ensure his survival. An action such as this would be considered a travesty today, causing the boy to feel ashamed of his father.
This ingrained self-interest shows the extent to which someone would go to just to secure his or her own survival. When the boy’s father then refuses the aid of a man who could potentially help himself and the boy, the benefits of mistrust are shown. The father and the boy crossed paths with a stranger who said, “ Bet that boys hungry … why don’t you come get something to eat”(65). If the man had not refused, both him and his son would be dead. For trust to exist there must be honesty; however, in this scared and twisted world, honesty is not much more than an after thought.
The story also examines what human nature will turn into in the absence of food. Whereas in present day society cannibalism is frowned upon, it is the common method of survival in the post-apocalyptic world. In the book, one family survives by keeping a cellar full of people who they eat piece by piece. Once the man and the boy break into the cellar, they are confronted with “naked people, male and female, all trying to hide, shielding their faces with their hands. On the mattress lay a man with his legs gone to the hip and the stumps of them blackened and burnt.”(110) Surprised and shocked by this experience, the man and the boy then proceed to try to run away as fast as possible. The fact that normal people have to resort to cannibalism and have a cellar full of people for food suggests that it is the nature of humans to do anything to survive, including eating their own race.
When someone is forced to survive in a foodless environment, they have to choose between morality and survival. As seen in The Road, most of the people choose the later because they can’t stand the thought of death. Because the values of society have changed so much in this new world, luxuries such as trust and kindness died with the planet. Human nature, when forced to face a life or death situation, tends to become cold and emotionless to allow individuals to climb to the top by stepping on others. Even though this book portrays a hypothetical situation, McCarty’s The Road suggests the frailty of human altruism.