Chapter 10 Summary and Analysis
Last Updated on July 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1191
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 and 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 memorized the names of the rivers and the towns. He pinpoints where they are each night, measuring the distance yet to go.
As they draw near, the smell of the wind changes. The father recognizes it as the smell of the salty sea. With most of their food gone, they finally reach the beach. The man and the boy look out. The ocean is as gray as the sky and all the land they have encountered so far. Ash lays thickly on everything. The man looks down at the boy and sees the disappointment on his son’s face. The father had told the boy what the ocean used to look like. He had talked about the color of the sky and the surf. The beach looks nothing like the sea of his memories. The boy wants to convince his father that it does not matter. His father does not believe him and is saddened. Not only is the water all but black, there is also no life to be seen on the beach. The wind blows cold. The father and son take shelter behind a huge driftwood log. They see bones scattered along the beach. The man thinks they might be the skeletons of cattle.
The boy asks if the father thinks there might be ships out on the ocean. The father does not think so. The air is so thick with ash that no one could see well enough to steer the big boats, he tells his son. The boy asks if the father thinks there is life on the other side of the ocean. The father suggests that maybe another father and son are sitting on a distant beach, just as they are. He asks if that father and son would also be carrying the fire. This is another mention of the “light” or the “fire” that the two of them carry inside of them. There is no explanation again. Readers might assume this to be a religious or spiritual implication, a suggestion of goodness or holiness or purity. The father says that there is no way for them to tell if there are other people in the world. And even if they did know, they could not be sure that they were good people. So they must continue to be vigilant.
The boy asks how long they can stay there at the beach. The father says he does not know. This is when the boy decides that it might be a good idea to go for a swim. The father warns him that the water and the wind will make him feel very cold, maybe colder than he has ever been. The boy says he does not care. If the father allows him, he would like to go for a swim. The father watches his son undress. Then his eyes follow the boy down the beach. The boy is not only skinnier than his father imagined, his skin is also very white.
The boy frolics in the surf. When he comes out of the water, the boy’s lips are blue and he is shaking with cold. The man wraps him in a blanket and then notices that the boy is crying. The father asks why, but the boy does not answer.
When the boy is dried and warmed, they take a walk down the beach. They see an overturned sailboat, masts broken, swaying in the water about 100 feet from shore. The man must investigate, he tells his son, though the boy is scared as he watches his father leave his side.
The man swims out and climbs aboard. He sees no footprints in the ash on the boat and cautiously searches the interior of the boat. He finds canned food and rain gear. He dons a sweater he finds, as well as some boots and waterproof pants and jacket. He goes back up to the deck and waves to his son who is sitting on the beach. The boy stands up and stares as if startled. There is enough distance between them in the ash-polluted air that the boy cannot make out the figure of his father in the new clothes. The father sees that the boy is startled. He calls out to the boy, but the boy cannot hear him. So the man once again goes back down in search of more things they might be able to use.