This story contains an almost equal balance of good and evil, though it also raises questions of what is truly good. It blurs the line between good and selfish or thoughtless. Characters’ actions sometimes appear impure, but in the long run, are good.
In this story Billy is faced with a wide range of undeserved punishments, but shows good through all of them with his strong will and determination. He accepts the things that happen to him in a levelheaded manner, which works to keep the story from becoming a tragedy. The first instance of undeserved punishment is the death of Billy’s family. Not only was he unable to help them in any way, there was no good reason for it to happen. While Billy could lose all hope, become depressed, and angry at the world or at God for this injustice, he instead sets out to right the wrong.
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Billy’s patience is also tried when he learns of his heart murmur. He is attempting to do an already noble thing by joining the army, but is disallowed due to his heart murmur. Billy, undeterred, decides to, “go try em in Albuquerque.” When receiving the same response, Billy replies, “You could pass me if you wanted to.” It may seem that Billy is trying to beat the system, or trick someone, but in truth, he’s only trying to do a good thing, not a selfish one.
While Billy and Boyd are trying to get to Casas Grandes, another good-hearted character appears. After an old man draws them a map in the sand, three of the four men sitting on a nearby bench begin laughing at Billy and Boyd. Billy asks if the map is incorrect, and one man says that it’s, “not a question of a correct map, but of any map at all.” While the three men mock the boys, one man actually is kind and helpful to them. The man tells the boys of landmarks on the path, and the duration of the journey. Instead of just agreeing with his peers and mocking Billy and Boyd, the man went against what was expected of him to help them out.
Another character who demonstrates purity in his actions is the doctor who helps Boyd. The doctors initial statement is, “You have nothing to pay of course.” He doesn’t even seem to expect payment for his services. Even when Billy offers him a horse, the doctor won’t accept it. Rather than bettering himself, the doctor is more concerned with helping Boyd. Many modern day doctors would think only of the cost of their time and effort, not of the health of the patient, while the doctor in the story is working for the greater good, rather than money.
McCarthy uses the many tragic events in the story to place emphasis on the acts of kindness. There are multiple examples of Billy being taken in by a family he’s never met, and being fed and clothed. McCarthy implies that throughout life’s many tragedies, there will always be the people who are there to help, thinking of the greater good, rather than themselves.