Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
An undisclosed cataclysmic event has obliterated all but a few scattered forms of life on Earth. These are largely human predators, who carve a brutal, inhuman existence from the remnants of the old world. A few dogs, mere sacks of bones, remain in the wasted world, but other creatures—birds, insects, and fish—have disappeared entirely. There are scant remnants of fungi, but the landscape for the most part is a vast, cold ruin of dust and ash.
About ten years after the cataclysm, a man and his son journey toward the eastern coast, ostensibly in an attempt to escape the oncoming Appalachian winter. The man’s wife— and the boy’s mother—committed suicide soon after the boy’s birth. Only one season, nuclear winter, persists in this postapocalyptic world, and the man and the boy continually struggle against varying intensities of bitter cold throughout their trek.
Rain and snow mix with ash and toxic particulates that permanently shroud the sky; the biosphere has changed, and the few remaining people wear masks to reduce the torments of the diseased air they must breathe. Towns, cities, and all manner of human-made structures remain only as heaps of cinders and ashes.
The earth’s devastation occurred quickly; the man recalls that the clocks stopped at 1:17 a.m. With the end of human civilization came the end of the earth’s resources. The world is now filled with blood cults and marauders,...
(The entire section is 778 words.)
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Cormac McCarthy, winner of a 2007 Pulitzer Prize for his novel The Road, has created a story filled with some of the most horrendous acts human beings could ever commit. But it also demonstrates a bond between father and son that not even the near destruction of the world can tear apart. Only death could come close to accomplishing that, and even death fails.
In a storytelling style that is stripped as bare as the novel’s setting, McCarthy recounts the journey of an unnamed man and boy, in an undefined location, who search among the debris in the aftermath of some cataclysmic event for morsels of food and warmth. Though their lungs are tortured by the thick ash that discolors and taints the air, and their unshod feet are blistered and almost frozen, they trudge forever forward, always hoping for something better, something similar to the past. They rarely find it. And they dare not linger, because other wanderers, likewise cold and hungry, will inevitably come upon them, fighting for the tidbits that the man and boy have found.
In stark contrast to the devastated surroundings stands the man and boy’s unshaken devotion to one another. In a landscape where nothing blooms, their love flourishes and grows deeper, even as they wonder all the while which one of them will die first. They keep three things in mind as they move south toward a dream of warmth: they must find food, they must find clean water, and they must continually hide.
There are marauding groups of cannibals who look upon the man and boy as they themselves once looked upon livestock: as meat. The lone bullet in the man’s gun is saved for the boy, who has been instructed on how to kill himself should something happen to the man. This young boy, the only hope in a dismal environment, is all that matters to the man. He promises the boy that he will never leave him, but he cannot keep death at bay. The man finally succumbs. And the boy—still young in years, but aged through his challenging experiences—must find his own way.
The novel opens with a father and son sleeping outside in the cold. The father awakens from a dream of him and his child in a cave, facing a huge, nameless creature that eventually runs away into the dark. At dawn, the father (who, along with the son, remains nameless throughout the novel) surveys the landscape, trying to decide where they will travel next. He is unsure of month or day, because "he hadn't kept a calendar for years." The scene before him reveals ash from a post-nuclear holocaust falling from the sky and drifting across the landscape. The father and son are survivors, fighting to live in a world that has been destroyed by nuclear bombs and ravaged by chaos and confusion.
The boy wakens and they set off on their journey, following a road through the countryside. A grocery cart and knapsacks contain all of their belongings. There is a pervasive sense of danger, and they are constantly on the alert. Discovering an old, abandoned gas station, they explore the remains, hunting for food or other useful items. They find some motor oil and siphon it off to use in their only lamp. That night, at camp, the father reveals that they are heading south because it will hopefully be warmer there.
The boy and his father travel south for "days and weeks to follow," with not much break during the monotonous journey. They suffer from an endless "nuclear winter"—rain, snow, and bitter cold. The father has flashbacks to his childhood home, to fishing with his uncle, and to his wife, who likely killed herself because she could not bear living in such a dreary world. He also dreams, and when the dreams are pleasant, happy ones, he worries, feeling that bad dreams are normal, but happy ones are "the call of...death." He believes that his dreams, if pleasant, are harbingers of death to come. Weak and afflicted with a cough, he worries that if he dies he will leave his son behind to fend for himself. He also worries constantly about shoes, shelter, food, and the unnamed danger, which the reader eventually learns is from packs of barbaric survivors who have turned to cannibalism. The father and son carry a single gun with only three bullets as protection against those who hunt and kill any other survivors for food.
Along the road, they scavenge for blankets, canned food, and other useful goods from abandoned houses, grocery stores, barns, and sheds. The father at one point finds a can of Coca-Cola and gives it to the boy to...
(The entire section is 1442 words.)
Summary and Analysis
Chapter 1 Summary and Analysis
Cormac McCarthy’s novel The Road is classified as a post-apocalyptic novel. It takes place after an undisclosed, major disaster that has caused a total breakdown of society. At the opening of the novel, the narrator refers to a man only by naming him through pronouns, such as he and him. This man has awakened in the woods. He is with a young child. And it is cold and extremely dark. Even the days lack sunshine, as the skies are heavy with ash. The lack of light the man likens to a mythical, dreamlike journey through the insides of some beast. The man’s clothes stink, and the only shelter the man and boy have is a plastic tarpaulin. They have been on the move for years.
The man rises and leaves the sleeping boy to walk a short distance to the road. The road is leading them south. The man knows that their only hope of survival is to find warmth. He hopes the sun is stronger in the south, like it used to be. But there is no guarantee. The man believes it is October, but he is not sure.
The landscape that the man spies with his binoculars is barren. The trees are dead. The wind pushes small clouds of ash along the top of the road. He scans the sterile fields around him and beyond, looking for signs of life—something with color or columns of smoke that would signify other humans. The man squats down and waits for the sun to rise. He thinks about the boy and acknowledges to himself that the boy is all that remains for him. For him, the boy is the only sign left that God still exists. Everything else around him, this implies, has died or become desolate. If it were not for the boy, the man might completely lose his faith in goodness.
The man walks back to where the boy is still sleeping. He lays out the meager supplies of their breakfast, putting down a plastic covering that will serve as a table, placing some corncakes on plates, and pulling out a bottle of syrup. All that they own is either wrapped around their bodies to keep them warm or stored in a shopping cart. When the skimpy breakfast is prepared, the man sits again and watches the boy sleep. The man has a gun in his hand. Safety is his main concern. They are too close to the road, the man fears. As the day lightens, someone passing by might see them.
The boy awakens and calls out to his father. His father assures him that he is nearby. The boy sounds confident, knowing that his father is...
(The entire section is 1210 words.)
Chapter 2 Summary and Analysis
Memories are stirred as the man rummages through the house he had lived in as a boy. Though the roof has caved in over parts of the house, the man sees it as it once was. The boy, however, feels uncomfortable in the house, as if he could feel the ghosts that his father was seeing. They find the remnants of a small animal, now a neat pile of bones. The man thinks the animal might have been a cat, possibly someone’s pet at one time. The narrator insinuates that a human must have eaten it.
The backyard behind the house is a dead zone. Only skeletons of bushes and trees remain. The man and the boy look through all the rooms but find nothing they can use. They do not stay there long.
They travel for three days through the nearby mountains. They cannot find a safe place to build a fire, a place far enough from the road so that no one will see the flames. Instead they huddle together under the blankets that they had recently confiscated from one of the houses that they rummaged through. The man worries about the boy. He thinks of death. He remembers a woman (readers are not told who this woman is). The woman tells him that the only thing between him and death is his son.
One night, as they are sleeping, the man and boy are stirred. They hear a loud noise rumbling toward them. As it passes, the man feels the energy under the ground. The boy is scared and asks what it is. The man replies that it is an earthquake. The boy returns to sleep, but the man stays awake remembering what the first years on the road were like. There were more people then, most of them sitting in rags along the sides of the streets, staring out at nothing. He thinks about how the things he used to worry about, before this catastrophe, had suddenly disappeared. In comparison to the trauma that he was now experiencing, those earlier worries became insignificant.
The weather in the mountains grows worse. Snow is falling. There is at least two inches on the ground. Pushing the grocery cart becomes more difficult. If the snow gets thicker, the man thinks, they will have to leave the cart behind. But the snow helps them, too. The snow marks tracks, so they can tell if anything or anyone is near them. There are no tracks to be found. So each night, they build a fire to keep themselves warm and to cook their food. The man worries that they might not have enough food to get out of the mountains. But then, the...
(The entire section is 1121 words.)
Chapter 3 Summary and Analysis
When the man climbs onto the roof of the jackknifed trailer truck, he finds a hole. It is too dark to see inside the trailer, so he wads pages of a magazine he has in his back pocket. He sets the pages on fire and drops them to the floor of the trailer. In the dim light, he sees bodies, dead and dried, sprawled on the floor.
Later, as they walk along the road, the man looks out at the landscape. There are fires burning in the woods in the distance. When the man and boy get closer to the fires, they smell the smoke. They feel the heat. In places, the road is so hot it is melting, and they cannot progress. They duck into the woods and wait for the road to cool. The next day they see footprints in the now cooled road. Farther ahead, they see a man. He looks as if he has been burned. His clothes are blackened, as is his face and hair. They walk behind the man for a while but eventually must pass him because the stranger is walking too slowly. When they pass him, the boy cries. He asks his father to help the burned man. He also asks what is wrong with him. The father tells the boy that the man has been struck by lightning. There is nothing that they can do for him. They have nothing to spare. The boy accepts this reluctantly. He continues to look back and to tug on his father’s hand. Eventually, the boy stops crying and does not turn around again.
When they stop for the night, the boy has not talked to his father. So the father explains again that the burned man was dying. He tells his son they did not have enough food to share. If they had shared what they had with the man, they too would die. The boy says he understands. The father asks if the boy will now talk to him again. The boy responds that that is what he is doing.
Later, when he takes a break from walking, the man empties his wallet and flings the old, worn leather into the woods. He looks at the credit cards, his driver’s license, and a photograph of his wife. He leaves all these things on the road. He has no more use of them. Later, he wishes that he had kept the photograph. He thinks he should keep something of the boy’s mother. He does not know what to tell the boy about his mother. He thinks he could make up stories, but he decides not to.
The man has a memory of the beginning of the catastrophe. He is standing at the window of his house. His wife is standing nearby, cradling her belly. This image...
(The entire section is 1201 words.)
Chapter 4 Summary and Analysis
The man could tell by the tracks and the other imprints on the road that the men in the truck have spent the night there. He walked back to where they first encountered the strangers. The man made the boy hide in the woods as he searched for the grocery cart he had left there. When he found it, he discovered that the cart had been emptied except for some ragged clothes and a worn-out pair of shoes. The scant remains of the boy’s toys were there too. Everything else was gone.
In the dim light he also saw dried blood. In a corner was a pile of skin and bones. From the clues that remained, the man figured out that they must have boiled the man he had killed. From this description, readers can conclude that the strangers ate the dead man. Food is so scarce that cannibalism has set in as a survival mode.
The boy is very frightened, hungry, and cold as more snow falls and their provisions diminish. The man insists on washing the boy in the cold river. There is blood in the boy’s hair from his father having shot the stranger in the head. Parts of the stranger’s brain are also splattered on the boy’s head. They have only one blanket now and must also worry about the strangers in the truck. However, they find shelter under a bridge and are able to build a fire. The boy falls asleep from exhaustion after eating a meager meal. The man stays up most of the night, gathering wood to keep the small fire going. In a vision he sees his brother. Not much is said about this vision. It might rather have been used to show the deterioration of the man’s mind.
The next night, they eat the contents of the last tin of food—pork and beans, the boy’s favorite. The man had been saving it. He wishes he had been more careful with their remaining food. He is sorry that he lost it. He reminds the boy that he had wanted to see what the bad guys looked like. Now that is done. The boy is concerned and asks if they, the father and the son, are still the good guys. His father confirms that they are. The boy accepts this with another question, wondering if this will always be true. His father assures him that they will always be the good guys.
In the light of day, the man scans the landscape ahead, looking for signs of life. Unfortunately, a sign of life could be good or bad for them. It is hard to tell from a distance. But he sees nothing moving. The boy asks to look through the binoculars....
(The entire section is 1314 words.)
Chapter 5 Summary and Analysis
The weather is getting worse. Snow is constantly falling. The man and the boy have no food to eat. Their clothing is wet, and they are constantly cold. The boy is always shivering. The man looks at his son and barely recognizes him. The boy is so thin that his eyes are sunken in their sockets. They both are exhausted. But they must move on. Their footprints are too obvious in the snow, making them easy to track.
The man makes small fires each night. The wood is so dry, the fires do not last long. So he must spend most of the night collecting limbs to burn. Their shoes are not keeping their feet dry, so the man makes coverings for their feet by tearing pieces from the suit coats that he found earlier. He cuts the plastic tarp that they have used as a shelter at night and wraps part of the plastic tarp around their feet; he then ties the bundles with strips of material from the suit coats’ linings. After he makes these self-fashioned snow shoes for the boy, the boy insists that the father make some for himself. The boy is aware of the sacrifices that his father makes for him, so he feels he must remind the father to also take care of himself.
The snow is up to the man’s knees. This makes it impossible for the man to push the cart through the snow. So he empties the cart and puts as much as will fit inside his backpack, then he carries everything. But he does not have enough energy to carry the boy. The boy lags behind him as they walk along the road. The man must stop several times to encourage the boy to keep moving. Their lack of energy as well as the high drifts of snow slow their progress. The man guesses that they might be walking only three miles a day.
The author’s language is sparse throughout this novel, but in particular McCarthy uses very few words to evoke the emotions both the man and the boy are experiencing. The limited verbiage fits the stark landscape as well as the waning scraps of food and lack of warmth that the characters are facing. Thus readers sense the dire experience as if they were there, as hungry and as desperate as the characters.
The boy feels so desperate that he asks his father if they are going to die. The father, at first, tells the boy no. So the boy asks his father if this is true. The father tells the boy he does not know for sure. The boy wants to know how long they can last without food. Again the father tells him that he does...
(The entire section is 1230 words.)
Chapter 6 Summary and Analysis
The man and the boy remain as still as if frozen stiff. The people at the house did not see them, but they are afraid to move. While they wait for dark to fall, the man questions himself, asking if he would be strong enough to kill the boy should the people find them. Could he pull the trigger, he wonders. If the gun should fail, could he crush his son’s skull, kill him so the people would not torture him? The man cannot answer. His thoughts are too dull. His body is too tired. He does not want to think about the death of his son, though the thought has been haunting him for a long time. When night does come, the man finds that he is too tired to run. He pulls their single blanket out of his knapsack and covers the boy. The boy finally falls asleep.
The father cannot fall asleep. He must remain vigilant. When he hears blood-curdling shrieks coming from the house, the man covers his son’s ears. The boy does not stir. The man notices a small building like a tool house. Inside, the man imagines, is a man standing on guard outside the house. The guard is watching the road, waiting for anything to move. The man suspects that there is some kind of warning system with which the guard can warn the people inside the big house. The man and the boy must wait until all fires inside the house are put out. When the time comes, the man wakes the boy. They must move on. The boy totters on his feet. He can barely speak. He asks the man to carry him. The man does, but he must put the boy down every fifty feet. The man has so little energy to carry his own weight. But he knows if they do not move, they will be discovered.
They trudge on, weary from lack of sleep and no food. Days later, the man sees another house in the distance. He is concerned about making another mistake, but they still must find food. The boy is sound asleep. The man does not want to wake him, so he remains undecided. He also does not want to put the boy in any danger and take him with him as he had done at the other house that they just barely escaped. He decides that going to the house alone is the best thing he can do. So he lays the pistol at the boy’s side. Then he moves forward alone toward this new place, hoping for food.
The man searches the barn at the back of the house first. He finds bales of hay up in a loft and prods out several seeds and chews them, believing they must contain some nutrients. Then he walks...
(The entire section is 1169 words.)
Chapter 7 Summary and Analysis
The man explores the bunker he has uncovered. It is made of concrete blocks with a concrete floor covered in kitchen tile. Inside are cots with mattresses and blankets. The man cannot believe what he sees. He encourages the boy to descend the stairs. As he waits for the boy, the man continues to look around. There are shelves filled with boxes of canned food. The man finds vegetables, fruits, and canned meat. Plastic bags are filled with blankets and warm clothing such as sweaters and socks.
The boy is hesitant. When he finally comes down, his mind can barely comprehend what they have found. It is as if they have uncovered items from another world, a world that no longer exists for them. The boy questions his father, asking him who might have created this place. The man explains that some people must have planned for a future disaster, but they never got the chance to use what they had built. The boy feels bad that they are enjoying what those people were not able to. He asks his father if the people had died. His father assumes that they did. The boy wants to know if it is all right that they are eating someone else’s food. The father assures the boy that the people would have wanted them to, just as they would have wanted those people to use things they might have left behind had the circumstances been reversed. The boy asks if these people had been good. The father answers in the affirmative. He says they were good, just as the father and son are good.
After eating, the man discovers batteries and flashlights, lanterns, and a chemical toilet. They eat cans of fruit for dinner, being cautious not to overeat so they do not get sick. Their stomachs are not used to digesting since it has been so long since they have eaten anything. Then the man puts the boy to bed, covering him in blankets. He truly sees how filthy they both have become. The man finds soap and sponges, toothbrushes and toothpaste. In a side cabinet, he finds a heater and fuel. He also uncovers bullets, but no guns. The bullets, unfortunately, do not fit the man’s pistol. Then the man goes to sleep after eating a chocolate candy bar.
When the man awakens, he looks outside, slightly disoriented by where he finds himself. He sees a faint light in the sky, but when he positions himself correctly, it looks like the sun is rising in the west. Then he realizes that he and the boy have slept through the night plus the...
(The entire section is 1223 words.)
Chapter 8 Summary and Analysis
The boy signals for his father to stop. The boy had been walking in front of the grocery cart. The man and the boy are on the road again. The boy points to a figure up the road. The man cannot make out what it is at first. It looks not much more than a pile of rags. The boy asks what they should do. The father looks around. He sees only the lone figure. It could be a trap.
They walk slowly, but the figure ahead walks even slower. Eventually they come up to it and pass it. The man looks back. It is an old man, bent over, and holding a cane that he taps along the road as he shuffles his feet. When they pass, the old man tells them that he has nothing. He has a rag wrapped around his head as if he might have a toothache. He is even dirtier than the father and the son. And he stinks worse than anyone else they have encountered. The old man eventually squats down at the side of the road. The boy approaches him and puts his hand on the old man’s shoulder. The old man is shaking. The boy tells his father that the old man is scared.
The father tells the son that they cannot stop. They have to continue on their way. He also tells the boy that he should not touch the old man. The boy wants to give the old man something to eat. The father is reluctant, but he gives in. He hands the old man an opened tin of fruit. The old man looks as if he does not know what to do with it. The boy gestures with his hand, pretending that he is holding a can, which he lifts to his lips. The old man mimics him. Fruit juice soaks his already filthy beard.
Before the boy has time to ask, the father tells him that they cannot take the old man with them. So the boy wants to at least give the old man something more to eat. The father asks what the boy wants to give the old man. The boy does not know. So the boy, in turn, asks the father what he wants to give. The father says he wants to give the old man nothing. The boy persists, asking the father if they could fix the old man a warm dinner. The father gives in. They invite the old man to camp the night with them. The father fixes a warm dinner and talks to the old man.
He says his name is Ely and that he is 90 years old. Later, Ely denies that is his name or age. He admits that he wants no one to know anything about him. The less people know of him the safer he feels. "What people?" the father asks. Are there more people around? The man says...
(The entire section is 1173 words.)
Chapter 9 Summary and Analysis
The man is very sick. He attempts to hide his illness from the boy. He sleeps for three days straight. When he awakens, he is weaker still. But he knows they must go on. As the man grows weaker, the boy appears to gather strength. Though the man has lost some of his desire to continue, the boy urges him on.
They pass an area of newly burned landscape. They find boxes and suitcases now charred. In the distance, they come across burned bodies. What is left of the faces reflect the torment of their death. Their jaws are twisted in agony. Their remains have partially melted into the heat of the asphalt. The boy wants to know why they did not leave the road if it was so hot that it burned them. The father explains that everything, including the forests that surrounded the road, were on fire.
As they trudge forward, the man coughs with every step. The father is well aware that the boy is constantly watching him. They stop for a quick lunch. The boy asks what his father is thinking about. The father finally admits that he thinks someone has been following them. The boy says that that is what he thought too. The father tells the boy to hide their trash very carefully so whoever is following them will not think they have food. The boy wants to know if whoever it is behind them will kill them. The father tells him, no. The father suggests that they hide themselves in the weeds alongside the road and wait and see who these people are.
They hide the grocery cart, then hide themselves not far from a bridge. They promise to take turns watching, but the boy falls asleep. The man almost gives in to sleep, too, but suddenly, they are there. Four people stand on top of a ridge in the road. As they come nearer, the man wishes he and his son had hidden themselves farther from the road. When the strangers get closer, the father distinguishes three men and a pregnant woman. They look more haggard than he had expected. If they camp by the bridge, the man will not be able to build a fire. However, the group of four people crosses the bridge. Then they disappear in the distance.
As the man and the boy are walking the next day, they notice a plume of smoke in the distance. The father wants to explore the campfire. The boy does not. The boy is again terrified. But the father insists. He would rather know who these people are and what they are doing rather then just sneak away. They creep closer to...
(The entire section is 1118 words.)
Chapter 10 Summary and Analysis
The man and his son approach the old house and climb the steps to the porch. The door has been jammed open as if people were moving out. The boy does not want to go in, does not want his father to move. What if there are people inside, he wants to know. His father tells him that everything is okay.
Slowly they move inside, holding one another’s hands. The house was once grand, with an imported chandelier hanging from the ceiling of the front room. Furniture is covered in sheets. Marks cling to the walls where pictures once hung. In the kitchen, they find jars of canned food—corn, okra, potatoes. The man is not sure they should eat the food. It could be contaminated. He asks the boy what he thinks. Should they take the chance, the father wants to know. The boy repeats what his father had said earlier. They have no choice. So the father builds a fire in the living room fireplace and cooks the food, hoping the heat will purify the vegetables. They eat, then sleep in front of the fire. They stay there several days and wait out the storms that are lashing outside. They eat, sleep, and clean themselves. They find new clothes and cut their hair. They eat at a large wooden dining table, spooning their food out of expensive china bowls. At the side of them sits a grand piano. The boy wonders why there is so much food there. He wants to know why no one else found it. The man reminds the boy that the house sits far off the road. No one else has seen it. Even the father did not see it. Were it not for the boy’s astute attention to the landscape, they too would have missed it.
Over the course of those few days, the man and the boy rebuild their strength and renew their supplies. They collect new blankets and shoes. They refurbish an old wheelbarrow, which they will add to the grocery cart, giving them a greater capacity of carrying warm bedding and greater amounts of the food that they have found.
When they return to the road, they are still a long distance from the coastline. The man’s hopes are heightened but he does not know why. Why should the beach offer them any more than any of the other landscapes they have traveled through. Though they are farther south than before, the weather is still cold. Their days are long. The air still gray with ash. The boy reads the map his father has carried for years. The map is falling apart, but the boy has learned to read it. He has...
(The entire section is 1190 words.)
Chapter 11 Summary and Analysis
The man checks for the boy to make sure the child is standing on the beach. Then the man returns to his search of the interior cabins of the sailboat. He looks through all the cabinets, all the drawers. He finds food, more clothing, and tools. He also discovers a waterproof bag and loads it. He must swim back to shore, once again naked. He is cold and wet when he greets the boy.
The man makes several trips back and forth. At one time, he looks for the boy on the shore but does not find him in the usual place. The man panics. Then he locates his son walking down the beach. He sees that the boy is carrying the pistol in his hand. When the man returns to shore, the boy is standing there to greet him. However, the pistol is gone. The boy is worried about having made a grave mistake. The father is gentle with him. They retrace the boy’s steps and find the gun where the boy had left it. The father takes the gun apart and cleans out the particles of sand. He tells the boy everything is all right.
They carry the supplies the man has brought off the boat back to their campsite that is higher up on the beach. But they have waited too long. They lose the light of day. Then there are flashes of lightening and finally rain. The man puts his hand out in front of him as if trying to push the darkness away. They cannot see where they are walking. The man uses the wind and the sound of the crashing surf to direct his feet. With each strike of lightening, the man tries to mark their bearings. The rain drenches their clothing. Both the man and the boy are exhausted, cold, and hungry. In the distance the man hears a pattering sound. The boy is concerned. He wonders what it is. The man recognizes it. It is the sound of rain hitting the tarpaulin they had used to cover their grocery cart. They have made it back.
The next day, the man returns to the sailboat. The storm has shifted the boat’s position but not by much. He can still swim out to it. He makes several trips, hauling out more food, more clothing. On one of his last trips, he finds a flare gun. When he returns to the shore, he shows the boy all the things he has taken. He has a first-aid kit, some gasoline, and parts of a small stove. The boy is most fascinated by the gun. The boy wants to know how it works and what it is for. The man tells him that the gun can send a big flare up into the sky. The flare is used to send a signal. The boy...
(The entire section is 1250 words.)
Chapter 12 Summary and Analysis
The boy wakes up the next day and is thirsty. The father takes this as a good sign. His son is on the mend. The father asks the boy about his dreams. But the boy does not want to tell him. All the boy says is that the dreams were weird. While the boy eats, the father is so thankful for his son’s recovery that he cannot take his eyes off him. The boy asks his father to stop staring at him. The father tells the boy he will stop, but he cannot.
Two days later, the father and son are once again walking on the beach. As they head back, the father sees boot prints in the sand. This frightens him, and he starts running as hard as he can, which is not very fast. When they get back to their camp, everything is gone—their tarp, the grocery cart, and all their food and clothes. The man follows the boot prints. It is difficult to tell if the thief is a solitary figure or if there is a group of them. The father takes off in a haste and tells his son to stay close to him.
They see the wheel tracks of the cart in the sand, but once they get to the road, the wind has blown away all the ash and sand, so the man cannot find any tracks. He tells the boy to go in one direction and he goes in the opposite way. It is the boy who finds the first sign that the grocery cart has passed along the road. The father joins him, and they rush along the asphalt. The man tries to jog, but he is soon out of breath. As they progress down the road, the boy begins to cry. He wants to know if his father is going to kill anyone. The father can only say that he does not know. Finally they come upon a lone figure, a ragged old man. The thief turns around and pulls out a butcher knife when he sees them coming. The father notices that all the fingers on one of the thief’s hands are missing. He deduces that the man has been kicked out of a commune. There is no explanation about how he comes to this conclusion.
The father pulls out his pistol and tells the thief that if he does not put the knife on top of the items in the grocery cart, he will shoot out his brains. The thief complies. Then the father tells the man to take off his shoes and clothes. The boy starts to cry. He begs his father not to make the thief do this. The boy senses that although his father will not shoot the thief, the thief, nonetheless, will die from exposure and hunger. The boy wants the father to be kinder to the stranger. The father, however, knows...
(The entire section is 1198 words.)
Chapter 13 Summary and Analysis
The man and the boy continue to walk along the shore. Once again, they are running out of food. They see a half-submerged boat. It promises nothing for them so they leave it. There is no good place to camp, so they sleep in the sand dunes with a fire of driftwood. The boy falls asleep first while the father watches him.
In the morning, they pull away from the shore. They come across some of the first live plants they have seen in a long time. There are wild orchards, ferns, and hydrangeas. The narrator does not dwell on this discovery. The man seems unsurprised by the flourishing plants, and the boy is not curious. The living plants are mentioned only briefly as the man and the boy brush past them. This could be read as their having lost hope. They are drained of all energy, so much so that the phenomenon of living plants does not catch their interest.
The man’s cough continues to worsen. Their traveling becomes more difficult as they traverse the boggy countryside. It takes two days to go ten miles. They see a storm building in the distance. When they finally stop, the man knows that he can go no farther. He knows that this is the place where he will die. The boy kneels down next to his father, knowing that his father has reached the end of the road. When the man starts coughing, the boy fetches him some water. When he gets cold, the boy wraps his father in a blanket. The boy also searches for a way to protect his father from the oncoming rain. He finds a sheet of rotting plywood and creates a crude lean-to. The boy then opens the last tin of peaches. He offers to feed his father, but the man says he cannot eat. The boy says he will save the other half of the peaches for his father. The man tells the boy to save them for himself. The boy will need the food tomorrow.
The father tells his son that he must continue on. He must head south and do all the things that he has learned about survival. He must search for food. He must be cautious about strangers. He must forever be on the lookout for potential trouble. He tells the boy that he cannot go with him. He also reminds the boy how lucky they have been. He tells the boy that he will continue to be lucky. He will find food. He will stay alive.
The boy says that he cannot go on without his father. He pleads with the man to take him with him. The man says he cannot: he cannot kill his son. He cannot see his dead son in his...
(The entire section is 1269 words.)