On Reading Well
Karen Swallow Prior

Chapter Six
The Road
By Cormac McCarthy

Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.

~Romans 5:3–4

In Chapter Six of Karen Swallow Prior’s On Reading Well, the relationship between the man and the boy in Cormac McCarthy’s The Road illuminates the relationship between watchfulness and hope. Here we see the essential element of expectation in its fullest range.

As Karen wrote

Hope is not the same as oblivion or naiveté. Hope requires reckoning with the world as it is, with reality. The man does this. When the boy asks the man if crows still exist, the man tells him it’s unlikely. And when the boy realizes that they have narrowly escaped being cannibalized, his father does not deny this horrific truth, as well as the fact that they couldn’t help other soon-to-be victims because then they’d be eaten too. Being reasonable is one of the man’s most prominent characteristics. He remains watchful all the time on the road. When the boy asks if he’s scared, he says, “Well. I suppose you have to be scared enough to be on the lookout in the first place. To be cautious. Watchful.”

Watchfulness is part of hope. Watchfulness counters both despair and sloth, which is the “beginning and root of despair” and inhibits “courage for the great things.”

Describe the relationship between the man and the boy. How does the man’s hope help them to survive?



Published by

Rick Wilcox

Editor in Chief | Literary Life