Chapter 3 Summary and Analysis

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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 are 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 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 insinuates that the wife is pregnant. In the distance, there are explosions and bursts of red light. The lights in the house go out. The man instinctively turns on the faucets in the bathtub and captures as much water as is left. He does not explain what he is doing. His wife thinks he is about to take a bath. Readers can deduce that the man is saving water for drinking. The man senses that, like the electricity, the water will also be cut off. They will need water to survive. He also remembers hearing a flock of geese in those early days. The geese were migrating. It was the last flock that the man ever heard or saw again.

One morning the boy awakens to his father’s coughing. The boy tells his father that he wishes he were with his mother. The father asks if the boy means that he wishes he were dead. The boy answers in the affirmative. The father tells him that he should not think like that. When the boy asks how he can stop thinking these thoughts, his father has no answer for him.

The man reflects on his past. He remembers the night his wife committed suicide. She tells him she cannot go on. She is afraid that one day people will meet up with them and will rape and kill her. She is also fearful of the same acts done to her son. She tells the man that she would kill her son if she could so he would not suffer. The man begs her to stay. She tells him she cannot. She reminds him that he has only two bullets left in his gun. The insinuation is that those bullets are to be used to kill himself and his son should they be overtaken by people on the road, people who come to kill and eat them.

Back in the present moment, one morning as the man and boy awaken, they hear a noise, the sound of an old truck coming down the road. They are quiet. The boy is terrified. The man pushes the grocery cart into some underbrush and turns it on its side to better hide it. A stranger, a large-built man, enters the woods and passes by very closely to them. The father pulls the pistol out from under his belt and makes the man stop. The father has seen the truck. There were many other men standing in the back of it. The father asks where the truck is going and what the men are doing. The stranger claims not to know. But he tells the father and his son that they should join them. The stranger continues looking at the son. The father is caught of guard when the stranger drops the belt he was holding. In a quick flash, the stranger has grabbed the son and holds a knife to the boy’s throat. The father shoots one bullet, and it meets its mark in the middle of the stranger’s forehead. Without thinking, the father grabs his son and places him on his shoulders and starts running as fast as he can.

The man runs until he cannot run any longer. He is coughing violently. Blood smears his face. He catches his breath and tells the boy that they must continue. They still hear noises from the men. They move on until night. The boy is shivering by the time they stop. They have only one blanket now. The man wraps the boy in the blanket, then opens his jacket and snuggles the boy close to him. The boy is so cold that his body is jerking. The man cannot see because it is now night. The darkness is thick around him. He holds the boy’s hand and tells him he must move to keep warm. They continue until the boy collapses.

When light returns, the man sits and listens for sounds. They hear the truck but no footsteps can be heard in the woods. The man goes out to the road and sees the tire tracks. He has no idea how far ahead of them the truck is. If they continue, they could walk right into an ambush. The man stops and feeds the boy as he tries to figure out what to do next.

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