Chapter 13 Summary and Analysis

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Last Updated on July 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1267

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 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 further. 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 arms. The boy must be strong. He reminds the boy that he must continue to carry the light. The boy is afraid that he will not remember how to do anything. The father tells him that he can still talk to him. The father explains that he will talk inside the boy’s head. The boy must practice listening.

The boy wants to know if the light, the fire they carry within them, is real. The father confirms that the fire is indeed real. The boy wants to know specifically where the fire is. The father says that he can see the fire inside the boy. The boy reminds the father that he had promised he would never leave him. The father apologizes, but he gives the boy no hope that they can remain together.

The father has to stop talking. He says that if he continues to talk, he will start coughing again. The boy tells him that it is all right for his father to remain silent. The father closes his eyes, and the boy practices talking to his father without using words. He tries to hear his father’s voice inside his head. But he cannot.

The father sleeps, while the boy tends the fire. In this scene, the roles of the father and son have been reversed. Before this, the father was the one who stayed awake to make sure the fire did not go out. Now it is the boy’s turn. The tide has turned. When his father opens his eyes, the boy asks him if he remembers the young boy they once saw in a distant town that they walked through. The father confirms that he does remember the young boy. The son wants to know if the father thinks the boy was lost. He asks if the father thinks the young boy is okay. The father tries to help his son find some confidence and courage. He tells his son that he is sure that other young boy is okay. The son says he is scared that that other young boy was lost. He asks his father what might have happened to the other boy if he were lost. The father says that he is sure the child was not lost. The boy continues. If he were lost, the son asks, who would find him. The man answers that goodness would take care of him.

This dialogue represents the boy’s apprehension of being on his own. He is afraid of what will happen to him when his father is gone. What if he should get lost? Who would find him? His father senses this, and tries to reassure his son.

The son sleeps next to his father that night. In the morning when he awakens, his father’s hand is cold. His body is stiff. The boy knows that his father is gone.

The boy stays next to his father for three days. When he gets up the courage, he walks out to the road. He sees someone coming. It is a man carrying a shotgun over his shoulder. There is no explanation of where this man came from, but when he approaches the boy, he asks him what happened to the man he was with. There was no hint given in the earlier narration that the father had sensed someone was following them. The boy does not recognize the stranger. This man just suddenly appears.

The boy tells the stranger that his father has died. He shows where his father’s body is laying. The stranger leaves the body wrapped in one of the blankets, then tells the boy to gather his things. He also asks if the boy knows how to use the pistol that he is holding. The boy tells him yes. The boy starts to give the pistol to the stranger, but the man refuses it. He tells the boy to keep it but to not point it at him.

The boy asks the man if he is one of the good people. He also asks the man if he is carrying the fire. The man does not understand this question, but in the end, the man answers yes. He is carrying the fire. The man wants the boy to come with him. The boy wants to know if he has any children. The man tells him he has a son and a daughter. Before they start walking, the boy asks if the man eats children. The man says no.

The story jumps to a scene in which the boy meets the man’s wife. She tells him how glad she is to see him. She tries to teach the boy to talk to God. But the boy does not know God. So instead, he talks to his father.

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Chapter 12 Summary and Analysis