Cormac McCarthy’s The Road – Literary Analysis [Part 2: Ely’s Character Analysis, Religious Symbols, and Symbolic Conclusion

The Road Literary Analysis By Cormac McCarthy [Part 2]

Death and Rebirth: God, Can You Hear Me?


The father and son duo: the “good guys” vs the “bad guys” in Cormac McCarthy’s The Road

What is the character significance of Ely in Cormac McCarthy’s The Road?

This cyclical nature of deterioration engendering renewal continues with Ely, an old road traveler, who asserts that “things will be easier when everybody’s gone” (172). Ely is an allusion to the biblical Elijah, the prophet announcing the revival of Messiah, mankind’s savior. However, he asserts the “gone” absence of God and “everybody,” contrasting from the original biblical reference. By reversing the religious allusion and only naming Ely in the novel, McCarthy highlights the unorthodox significance of his words, echoing the recurrent idea of destruction, “gone,” that leads to future and “easier” rebirth. Through these religious allusions, McCarthy thus underlines the contiguities of loss and renewal.

In the deep glens where they lived all things were older than man and they hummed of mystery – The Road by Cormac McCarthy


McCarthy also uses the motif of God to not only explore the ambiguities of divine presence and morality but also examine the empowering reconnection with others. Enveloped in darkness, the man glances up to see “weird gray light…Pray for lightning” (234).Although “lightning” typically represents an act of God and illuminates the father and son’s path, it simultaneously is “weird[ly] gray.”The “gray light” underlines the uncertainties of the presence of God within the land and thus the ambiguities of associated morality.

[[Read more about The Road ‘s symbolism of gray light, hope, ashes, and fire in our lesson here!] –>]]

Any resemblance with the Holy Trinity and the final reconnaissance at the end?

God and the Holy Trinity Symbolism in Cormac McCarthy’s The Road

Yet, despite these ambiguities, McCarthy closely examines human connection as a possible source of healing and rebirth through the ending. The boy is embraced by the veteran and the “woman held him…the breath of God was his breath…passed from man to man” (287). Through the boy’s final discovery of other ‘good guys’ and the warmth of “[holding him],”McCarthy evokes a heartfelt sensation. The boy’s union with a new man and woman also parallels to the underlying religious convergence of the Holy Trinity. In the beginning, the emblematic Holy Trinity through the father and son was incomplete, consisting of the Holy Father and the Holy Son but missing the deceased mother or the Holy Ghost. Perhaps, it is this absence of the Ghost that dissonance permeates from the start of their journey. By revitalizing the ending with the “woman” and the Holy Ghost, McCarthy highlights the completion of the Holy Trinity and thus uses this harmonized convergence, this connection of “pass from man to man,” to suggest the healthiness of meaningful connections within humanity.

Thus, McCarthy employs religious allusions and symbols to examine the cyclical nature of death and rebirth, and although the novel still ends with ambiguities of God and morality, McCarthy seems to suggest the beauty of human connection and its possible impetus for carrying the fire into a brighter future.

[[Read Part 1: The Relationship between the Boy and the Man in The Road and Religious Symbolism –>]]


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