Chapter 9 Summary and Analysis
Last Updated on July 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1117
The man is very sick. He attempts to hide his illness from the boy. He sleeps for three days straight. When he awakens, he is weaker still. But he knows they must go on. As the man grows weaker, the boy appears to gather strength. Though the man has lost some of his desire to continue, the boy urges him on.
They pass an area of newly burned landscape. They find boxes and suitcases now charred. In the distance, they come across burned bodies. What is left of the faces reflect the torment of their death. Their jaws are twisted in agony. Their remains have partially melted into the heat of the asphalt. The boy wants to know why they did not leave the road if it was so hot that it burned them. The father explains that everything, including the forests that surrounded the road, were on fire.
As they trudge forward, the man coughs with every step. The father is well aware that the boy is constantly watching him. They stop for a quick lunch. The boy asks what his father is thinking about. The father finally admits that he thinks someone has been following them. The boy says that that is what he thought too. The father tells the boy to hide their trash very carefully so whoever is following them will not think they have food. The boy wants to know if whoever it is behind them will kill them. The father tells him no. The father suggests that they hide themselves in the weeds alongside the road and wait and see who these people are.
They hide the grocery cart, then hide themselves not far from a bridge. They promise to take turns watching, but the boy falls asleep. The man almost gives in to sleep too, but suddenly, they are there. Four people stand on top of a ridge in the road. As they come nearer, the man wishes he and his son had hidden themselves farther from the road. When the strangers get closer, the father distinguishes three men and a pregnant woman. They look more haggard than he had expected. If they camp by the bridge, the man will not be able to build a fire. However, the group of four people crosses the bridge. Then they disappear in the distance.
As the man and the boy are walking the next day, they notice a plume of smoke in the distance. The father wants to explore the campfire. The boy does not. The boy is again terrified. But the father insists. He would rather know who these people are and what they are doing rather then just sneak away. They creep closer to where a small fire has been left burning. All signs of the people are gone, except for some food that is burnt black on a spit. The father wants to get closer. He senses that these people noticed the father’s gun and took off fast to get away from him. But the father is also wary that the campsite might be a trap. So he is looking all around him as they draw nearer the fire. When they are close enough to see what the people were cooking, the boy hides his face in his father’s pants. He does not want to look any more. The father asks the boy what he has seen, then he looks toward the fire. On the spit is the form of a baby, which has been beheaded and gutted.
The father worries that his son might never speak again. The vision of the baby skewed on the spit is one of the worst they have seen. Even the boy seems to be aware of this. He tells his father that the bodies they had seen melted into the road were not as bad as he had first thought. It is obvious that the burned baby was more horrific. The boy says that if they had found the baby first, it might still be alive. They could have taken care of it. He asks his father where he thinks the baby came from. The father does not answer. Readers can assume that the pregnant woman must have given birth.
The man and the boy walk two more days without anything to eat. The man senses that they still have many days left before they reach the coast. The skeletons from the once-thriving vegetation indicate that they have reached the southern states. In their threadbare clothing, however, the man and the boy still experience nights that are very cold. The rain continues to fall. They sleep longer now; their hunger and fatigue make them more lethargic. At one point, they wake up and find they have fallen asleep in the middle of the road, as if they were the victims of some car accident. The narrator describes their condition as the sleep that death brings.
They pass through more towns but find nothing to eat. In the distance through the sooty air, the boy sees a house. At this point, the man cannot walk without leaning heavily on the metal frame of the grocery cart. Before approaching the house, which the man insists that they do, they must hide the cart. The man is not sure if he will have enough energy to come back to it. But he knows their only hope is to find some morsel of food in that house. The boy begs his father not to go, but the father pushes on. He tells his son they have no choice. They have not eaten in days. The boy tries to convince his father that he is not hungry. The father tells him that he feels no hunger because he is starving.
As they cross the field that once held crops, the man stumbles upon an ancient arrowhead. He shows it to the boy. He tells the boy to keep his eyes on the ground. There are bound to be more. And there are. The man also finds an old Spanish coin, an artifact that once would have been worth something. He picks up the coin and cleans it with his fingernails, then he realizes the folly of it. The coin is worthless to them now. It would buy them nothing.
When they are standing at the front of the house, the boy asks if they can wait before they enter it. The father agrees. They stand listening for any sound that would suggest movement. They watch as darkness falls around them. Finally the father tells the boy that he is convinced there is no one there. He reaffirms to his son that everything is all right.