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Ella Culton

Ms. Diaz

English II

26 October 2016

Maslows Hierarchy of Needs in The Road

The man and the boy experience a variety of challenges throughout the novel, The Road,

each challenge posed by the post apocalyptic world in which they live. One can imagine that

many of the levels of Maslows hierarchy of needs are not met, based on their circumstances.

However, the need of safety, that being the most basic forms, physical and social safety, are met

by the man and the boy, the two main characters in The Road. While love and belonging and

psychological needs are partially met by the main characters, safety is most accurately and

completely achieved. This is most notably seen through the objects that the characters carry and

keep with them throughout their journey. Although the safety of the man and the boy is often

threatened, the boy and man regain a sense of safety through each other and the items they carry.

To begin, for much of the novel the characters bring a shopping cart with them which

acts as their home, and as psychological safe haven. To elaborate, in a world that has degraded to

a state where only the fittest survive, and houses are a thing of the past. To replace this key

aspect of most of our average lives, the characters have become attached to a worn down cart

that now contains all of their physical belongings. Instinctively, we all find comfort and safety in

locations or objects that are always there, in good times and in bad. In this time of extreme

conflict and turmoil in The Road, the only comfort the characters have are with each other and

with the security that they can always come back to the cart. Moreover, Maslow writes,
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Fulfilling the safety needs might be likened to providing a bumper or airbags on a car; while

you dont always need them, having them gives you some confidence that you can face minor

bumps and bruises along the road of life. (Maslow, 1987, pgs 18-20) The minor bumps and

bruises mentioned by Maslow are elevated to a new more extreme level in The Road, with its

distinctive dystopian setting, which provides major challenges for the man and the boy to

overcome. These challenges are very traumatic, and in some senses can be soothed by the safety

of the cart. For example, when the man and the boy are chased by a blood cult, they return from

the near death experience to the cart, which no longer contains much but in of itself provides the

man with the feeling of security and protection. The man thinks in a sense that they have the cart,

so they are safe from harm.

Equally important, the tarp is the bed within the house that is the cart. To explain,

within a home, ones bed provides a resting place from harm and danger. Realistically, the man

and the boy use the tarp as physical protection from the elements (i.e. soot, rain, snow, etc).

However, if one thinks back to their childhood, and to scary nights afraid of monsters and other

creatures under the bed, one usually remembers pulling the covers over their head. This is an

instinctual reaction in an attempt to provide relief. The general mindset is that if you cannot be

seen and you cant see any dangers, you are safe and secure. One can apply this situation and

mindset to the tarp as the main characters hide under the covering at night, partially to provide

a sense of relief from the dangers all around. One must also remember that the boy is only a

child, and is likely afraid of the dark, albeit he has more reason to be afraid than many others. To

explain, blood cults roam the land, seeking essentially the flesh of the dwindling survivors.

Unfortunately, it is a real threat for the man and the boy to be victims of rape and cannibalism.
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Covering themselves with the tarp hides them from the blood cults in the way of if I cant see

you, you cant see me. In other words, when the man and the boy are under the tarp it is one of

the few moments when they are not immediately bombarded by the elements of their twisted

world such as in this moment from the text: They sat huddled together wrapped each in a

blanket over their coats and after a while the rain stopped (McCarthy 9)

Not only do physical possessions meet the need of safety for the man and the boy, in fact,

just the presence of one another provides a level of security and feeling of protection that no one

else is capable of producing. To explain, after the main characters experience with the blood

cult, the man and the boy try to find shelter for the night, and during one conversation the boy

nervous, saying, Im scared. to which the man replies, I know. But Ill just be a little ways

and Ill be able to hear you so if you get scared you call me and Ill come right away.

(McCarthy 71) This interaction shows the deep connection the man and the boy have, beyond

being father and son. While blatantly the boy is afraid to be without the man, the response from

the man indicates that fear is an emotion both are feeling strongly. That is to say that the man is

just as worried about losing the boy as the the boy is worried about losing his father, the man. To

add on, after the death of the mans wife and the boys mother, they are all that each other have

left to hold onto; they are all that keeps them from losing their minds and all that keeps them

alive. Notably, they motivate each other to survive in a world with very little hope left. It is key

to note that Maslow writes, safety to mean more than just physical safety. Economic, social,

vocational, psychological security all fall underneath this second tier (Maslow, 1987, pgs

18-20) To emphasize, the security of knowing someone is always there to care for you, and just

in a sense love you is very powerful, so much so that Maslow defined it as need of humans.
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While the characters of The Road do not experience every tier of the hierarchy of needs,

safety is one such aspect that is often felt by the man and the boy. In a world with so little met, it

is a miracle within itself that any of these tiers are met by the characters, including such basic

needs as safety. However, after analyzing this information, one has to wonder, will it always be

this way and how will that affect the wellbeing of the man and the boy? Essentially, will a

sudden deprivation of safety have a detrimental effect on motivation and happiness of the man

and the boy? Maslow suggests that a deficiency in any of these interferes with ones

psychological health and so one might react defensively, or at times irrationally, from a place of

weakness rather than strength. What will this mean for the characters throughout the rest of the

novel? One can only guess.

As the novel progressed and wound its way to a heartbreaking conclusion, several

instances became apparent connecting to Maslows Hierarchy of Needs. One such example is

love and belonging. To explain, towards the end of the text, the man and the boy come upon

more survivors who traverse the road. During each of these encounters, the boy shows incredible

empathy and love for these dangerous vagabonds he had just met. For example, when face to

face with a robber the boy pleads, Papa please dont kill the man. The thiefs eyes swung wildly.

The boy was crying (McCarthy 256) Even when faced with a life or death situation, the boy

feels a connection to this man through a love only a child can have. According to Maslows

Hierarchy of Needs, sense that having wider social connections and relationships are an

important part of being happy and an abundance of love and community often sustain people

through difficult times (Maslow, 1987, pp. 20-21). While the boy does not feel love in

abundance, the little love he does feel allows him to persevere through the post apocalyptic
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world of The Road and ultimately allows him to survive instead of the man. To explain, one

can infer that if the boy can have empathy and love for another person, he feels love himself,

likely for his father. Moreover, within the last few pages of The Road, the boy joins a group of

the good guys that find him after the man has died. This is key as this new family gives the

boy a sense of belonging from the onset as McCarthy writes, The woman when she saw him put

her arms around him and held him. Oh, she said, I am so glad to see you (McCarthy 286).

Within these two sentences the reader can understand her womans motherly loving role,

maining belonging and love for the entire group. As this group is a family of sorts, something the

boy has always craved, the need of love and belonging seems to have been met. To explain, the

boy now has an entire family to live and love with, providing him comfort and a level of safety

he never felt with the man, regardless of the love he had for him.

Works Cited

McCarthy, Cormac. The Road. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2006. Print.

Maslow, A.H. (1987). Motivation and Personality. (3rd ed). New York, NY: Harper & Row.

Desan, Paul. "Abraham Maslow." Pursuit of Happiness. United Themes, 10 Sept. 2016. Web. 01

Nov. 2016.