Chapter 12 Summary and Analysis
Last Updated on July 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1197
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 that kindness no longer works in the world in which they live. If he feeds the man and leaves him his clothing, the thief will hunt them down and steal from them again. There is also the possibility that the thief will kill them. The father tells his son that he does not understand. He also adds that he is the one who has to worry about everything. The boy counters his father by telling him that he is wrong. It is he, the young boy, who has to worry about everything. This is a reference to the boy feeling that he must remind his father to be nice to others.
The father decides to turn around. They go back to the spot where they left the naked thief, but he is gone. When the father calls out to him, there is no answer. The boy tells him that the thief is afraid to answer. So before they leave, the father piles the man’s shoes and clothes on the side of the road. That night before falling asleep, the boy voices a thought. He tells his father that even though they did not shoot the man, they did kill him.
The man and boy come to another small town. As they walk along the back streets, the man hears something whiz past his head. He knocks the boy down and covers him with his body. Then another sound and a hot pain pierces his leg. He looks down and sees a crude arrow sticking out from his leg. He looks up the side of one of the buildings and sees a man holding a bow. The father pulls out the flare gun and shoots it at the figure in the window. Then he hides the boy and climbs up the back stairs of the building. He finds a woman who is holding the wounded man in her arms. She claims there is no one else there.
The father and son spend the night in a vacant store building at the edge of town. The man uses the materials in the first-aid kit to clean and then suture his leg wound. When he is finished stitching the three-inch cut, the boy asks if his father is in pain. The father answers yes. In the morning, the man re-dresses his wound. His pant-leg is soaked in blood. They spend another day there. To pass the time, the father asks his son if he wants him to tell a story. The boy does not want to hear any more of his father’s stories. The boy says that the stories his father tells are not true. The father emphasizes that that is what stories are like. They are meant to be untrue. So the father asks the boy to tell him a story. But the boy tells his father that stories are supposed to be happy. He does not have any happy stories to tell. The things he thinks about or dreams about are like real life, which is very sad.
The boy adds that he would actually prefer some quiet time. He does not want to talk about anything. He then tells his father that he knows his cough is getting worse. He knows that his father tries to walk away from where the boy sleeps at night. But the boy still hears his father coughing. He also tells his father that sometimes he hears him cry.
Two days later, the father and son move on. The man cannot walk without limping. The road they are now on is more cluttered with debris, corpses, and tangles of wires. It becomes increasingly difficult to push the cart down the road. So they lighten the load and carry as much as they can, leaving the cart on the side of the road. The man’s health continues to deteriorate. He is constantly spitting blood. It is now winter, the man guesses. The wind is cold, even there in the south. At one point the man stops and looks at his son. The boy is carrying a suitcase. The image the man sees of his son is that of an orphan. This is a foreshadowing of the father’s impending death.