Motifs are recurring structures, contrasts, or literary devices that can help to develop and inform the text’s major themes.

Lack of Color

The novel’s gray colorlessness and dark landscapes pervade the characters’ lives. Whatever caused this apocalypse has also obliterated any view of the sun with a gray and black covering of clouds. This lack of color sustains a cold and ashen perspective of the world and the road the characters travel. In contrast, the man’s dreams and memories of the past are full of rich colors. The color of the man’s dreams take on a symbolic importance for him, as he comes to believe that the more colorful the dream, the closer he is to death. Yet, the richness of the colors in his dreams are so different from the world he inhabits that he sometimes doesn’t want to leave them behind. He hopes that the sea is still blue so that when they reach the coast the boy might see color. But of course the sea is ashen and gray like everything else in his world. The boy will never know a colorful earth, the way the planet used to be. The world that once was had color, but the new world is a colorless waste. It is a blank slate waiting (hopefully) to be colored in by a new generation of survivors. 


Dreams are a central and important part of The Road. For the man, dreams are dangerous and signify closeness to death. The more colorful and comfortable the dream, the worse off you are in the real world. Accordingly, as the man approaches death, he dreams more, and dreams more vividly. The boy dreams as well and never tells his father what his dreams are about, but it is clearly implied that he dreams about his father’s death. Thus, the dreams of the man and the dreams of the boy serve opposite purposes. For the man, the dreams are a source of comfort and a way to connect with and hold on to a better past. They are full of color and love and natural beauty. They are a place where the man takes refuge and spends much of his time in. The boy’s dreams, on the other hand, are nightmares of a future to come. It is a future in which he has no father and where the boy must begin to look after himself. The boys dreams are of the unknown and the unknowable. For him, they serve as a warning to be prepared for an unavoidable future.


With lack of food, cannibalism has taken hold in the world. Several times throughout the story, the characters come across cannibals and their victims. Each such encounter is a terrifying reminder of the danger posed by other people. The man and the boy have no idea who might be one of the “good guys” and who might be one of the “bad guys.” The episodes with the cannibals are particularly grotesque, and the man tries to shield the boy as best he can. In the end, the boy sees everything the man sees. The man cannot protect him from this harsh truth of the world they have come to inhabit and the threat of cannibalism represents perhaps the greatest danger in the novel. Cannibals haunt the road, and the man must stay ever vigilant. To be a victim of cannibalism is viewed by the man as the worst possible death. To protect his son from the horrific fqt3 of being eaten, the man keeps one bullet in his pistol. He has sworn, and made the boy swear, to use the bullet to end the boy’s life if he is ever captured by cannibals.