Chapter 11 Summary and Analysis
Last Updated on July 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1249
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, which is higher up on the beach. But they have waited too long. They lose the light of day. Then there are flashes of lightning 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 wonders who might see it. He wants to know if his father thinks anyone else is still alive. His father cannot answer his questions. The boy asks if they could shoot a flare. The father says they will do so that night in celebration of their findings.
They take everything back to their camp and eat a great meal. When darkness falls, they shoot the flare, which lights up the dark sky. The boy wants to know if the gun could also kill someone. The man tells his son that the gun cannot kill but that if shot directly at someone, the gun might set the person on fire.
With all the work that the man has done in unloading the boat and carrying the supplies back to their more secure campsite, the man has worn himself out. The swimming in the cold ocean to get on and off the boat has chilled him. These conditions have worsened his cough. At night, he tastes blood in his mouth and knows he is dying. He thinks about what kind of life he is living. He acknowledges to himself that every day seems like a lie. He continues trying to convince his boy that everything is all right. Then he realizes that not everything is a lie. His inevitable death is true.
The boy thinks of death, too. He asks his father about the people who once owned the sailboat. He wants to know if his father thinks they are dead. His father tells his son that the people might be still alive somewhere else. Then the father realizes why the boy has asked this question. So the father alters his answer, telling the boy that the chances of these people being dead are very great. The boy raises this question because he feels bad about taking the food and the clothes from the boat. The boy then presses his father with more questions. He wants to know if his father thinks people might have escaped to another planet. Could there be people alive somewhere else? The father says that people could not live on another planet.
The boy ponders this information and then makes a statement that troubles his father. The boy says that he does not understand what he and his father are doing. Readers can interpret this to mean that the boy is beginning to think that their lives are meaningless. Their struggle to stay alive is useless. Another interpretation could be that the boy thinks that if everyone else in the world is dead, then their own deaths will probably come soon.
After fully comprehending his son’s thoughts, the father attempts to raise the boy’s spirits. He does not want the boy to lose all hope of survival. So he tells the boy that there are people somewhere in the world. Not only are there people, but one day, he and his son are going to find them.
The boy plays in the warm sand as his father fixes their dinner. This is the first time that the story includes a scene in which the boy acts like a child. The boy is not struggling for his own survival, nor is he consumed by fear. Instead, the boy is building a town in the sand. However, when the father comes over to inspect his son’s creation, the boy tells his father that he knows the ocean will take the town away when the tide comes in. So even though the boy is enjoying a moment of play, he is still very much aware of death.
The next morning, the boy wakes up sick. He is running a very high fever and has trouble swallowing. The man wraps him in blankets and cools his forehead with a wet rag. He feeds the boy aspirin from the first-aid kit, but that is the only medicine he can offer. Although the man is exhausted, he stays up all night watching his son, feeling for his heartbeat to make sure the boy does not die. While the boy sleeps, the man takes the boy’s clothes to the ocean and washes them. The father gathers wood and keeps the fire going all day and night. This further exhausts the man. His cough continues to worsen. After getting his son to drink some of the juice from a can of fruit and putting his son back to bed, the man walks down to the surf and falls on his knees, trying to release his rage. Then he returns to his son’s side and finally falls into a deep sleep.