Chapter 5 Summary and Analysis
Last Updated on June 30, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1142
The weather is getting worse. Snow is constantly falling. The man and the boy have no food to eat. Their clothing is wet, and they are constantly cold. The boy is always shivering. The man looks at his son and barely recognizes him. The boy is so thin that his eyes are sunken in their sockets. They both are exhausted. But they must move on. Their footprints are too obvious in the snow, making them easy to track.
The man makes small fires each night. The wood is so dry, the fires do not last long. So he must spend most of the night collecting branches to burn. Their shoes are not keeping their feet dry, so the man makes coverings for their feet by tearing pieces from the suit coats that he found earlier. He cuts the plastic tarp that they have used as a shelter at night and wraps part of the plastic tarp around their feet; he then ties the bundles with strips of material from the suit coats’ linings. After he makes these self-fashioned snow shoes for the boy, the boy insists that the father make some for himself. The boy is aware of the sacrifices that his father makes for him, so he feels he must remind the father to also take care of himself.
The snow is up to the man’s knees. This makes it impossible for the man to push the cart through the snow. So he empties the cart and puts as much as will fit inside his backpack, then he carries everything. But he does not have enough energy to carry the boy. The boy lags behind him as they walk along the road. The man must stop several times to encourage the boy to keep moving. Their lack of energy as well as the high drifts of snow slow their progress. The man guesses that they might be walking only three miles a day.
The boy feels so desperate that he asks his father if they are going to die. The father, at first, tells the boy no. So the boy asks his father if this is true. The father tells the boy he does not know for sure. The boy wants to know how long they can last without food. Again, the father tells him that he does not know. He diverts the boy’s attention by pointing out that they still have water. Water can keep them alive a little longer.
Their plight does not improve. More snow falls. The man fears they will not make it, but he does not tell the boy. He knows they must keep moving to keep warm and to keep from being found. But he also knows that they have barely enough energy to keep themselves alive. He sees tire tracks in the snow. He believes it is a wagon being pulled. He knows that people are nearby. However, this does not keep him from searching abandoned homes. His need of food is more pressing than his concern for safety.
One night he hears noises nearby. At first, he cannot tell where they are coming from. Then he realizes that the dead trees are falling under the weight of the snow. He wakes the boy in the middle of the night and tells him they must once again move. They are camped under trees. The man now knows the campsite they have chosen is dangerous.
After days of pushing themselves through the snow, they come to a large, once-magnificent old house. Though the boy pleads that his father not go near it, the man insists. He continues to remind the boy that they need food. In the yard, he finds an empty wagon, but his mind is so focused on food, he does not connect this wagon with the tracks he had seen earlier. He enters the house. He finds piles of clothes and sleeping bags. Still he is not alarmed. His mind is numb to everything but hunger. He searches pantries and cupboards. He glances out at the yard. Everything is still, so he goes on. Then he sees a trap door on the floor in one of the large rooms.
The door is bolted with a lock. He tells the boy he must find a tool to break the lock. Again the boy pleads with his father to leave the house. The boy is trembling with fear. The father insists that there is a reason for the lock. He believes something valuable must be hidden there. He must find a crowbar or some other strong tool. He pulls the boy with him when he goes into the yard; he then pulls him back into the house and begins to hack away at the trap door. Eventually he destroys the door and finds it leads to a staircase. He descends, pulling the boy behind him.
He creates a flame with his lighter and becomes so disgusted with what he sees that he drops the lighter and flees. In the basement are men in chains. Some have no legs. All of them beg the man to free them. The man runs out of the house completely horrified. The impression is that these people have become a source of food. They are being eaten piece by piece.
As the man runs away, he tries to hide the boy’s eyes. He hopes the boy has seen none of this. When they reach the upper floor, they both see a group of men and women, walking up the drive. The man and boy run out another door and race toward the woods. The man knows they have only seconds before they are seen. He pushes the gun into the boy’s hands and asks him if he remembers what to do. The boy is hesitant, but says that he knows. The father reminds him that he needs to stick the gun in his mouth and pull the trigger if anything should happen to him or if he does not return.
Then the father takes back the gun. He senses that the boy is not strong enough to kill himself. The father had wished that the boy could commit suicide in order not to be taken by these cannibals. He was planning on running in the opposite direction, trying to pull the people off the trail of the boy. But when he realizes that the boy will not kill himself before he is caught, the man decides to stay with the boy and take his chances that the people have not seen them. After all that running, the man has to fight the urge to cough. If they make a sound, the people are near enough to hear them. The man and the boy crunch down in the snow and the dry leaves, awaiting their fate.