The representation of childhood in the novel, The Road by Cormac McCarthy is important to many of the themes throughout the novel. The representation of childhood shapes the meaning of the work as a whole by conveying the innocence of youth, tribulation of youth, and effectively contrasting youth and adult-hood.
Throughout the novel the wasteland through which the man and the boy travel is devoid of innocence. This is apparent through the criminal groups and savage actions taken upon others such as when the trapped people tied in the cellar of the house which sits in front of a row of heads on sticks are encountered. One of the only things which still possesses innocence is the boy. Despite being born during the apocalypses, the boy still possesses the attribute of innocence children have whilst young. Throughout the novel the boy does not take any violent actions against anyone and actually is quite charitable. This action of giving is observed when he lavishes goods to the old blind man despite his father’s objection. The boy also constantly asks if him and the man are still the good guys. This consistent need for reassurance furthers his innocence through his want to not become like the violent men he and his father constantly encounter. The boy, as a beacon of innocence in a world devoid of it, conveys the idea in the novel that just because things have gone bad does not mean one must sink to villainous acts such as murder.
The tribulation of youth also shapes the meaning of the work as a whole. This highlights the idea that nobody is safe. The boy experiences tribulations not often common to children such as being held at knife-point. The intense levels of tribulation he faces convey the need to quickly grow up. The man is aware of this and shows it on multiple occasions such as when he leaves the boy alone with the gun to protect himself. The idea the novel is conveying is that there is almost no such thing as youth in the traditional sense, like the man remembers it. The tribulations the boy goes through are not only foreign to most children but are also not common for most adults. The novel pushes the idea that youth is gone and all that remain are people trying to survive.
The novel also contrasts youth and adulthood to shape the meaning of the work. The boy and the man are foils of one another. The boy is often afraid, skittish, and requires more care while the man is brave, calm, and puts his son before himself. This dynamic between the boy and the man continues throughout most of the novel. However, roles quickly begin to change as the man becomes more ill and the boy does more for himself. The boy becomes more of a caretaker for his father by making sure he is warm by a fire and bundled with blankets. When the man finally dies, the boy becomes more like the man. He becomes more caring by ensuring the man is covered with a blanket after he dies and even stands up to the new man in the way of questioning him and the use of his pistol. The author utilizes this dynamic change to convey the changes everyone must go through as a part of the process of growing up. It shows that despite this major loss, the boy is strong enough to keep going and the meaning of love is shown through this change.