Parenthood was never knowing what was going to hurt your kids, but knowing only that something, inevitably, would.

This quotation from Chapter 28 highlights a recurring theme in the novel: that a parent’s primary task is to protect their children, even in the face of profound uncertainty. After Archie wakes up with a fever and vomits, Clay thinks of how ironic it is that, despite their years of making sure Archie always had his allergy medication with him, something as seemingly harmless as a noise has made him ill. Clay knows there is no way anybody could have prevented what happened, but he still feels as if he failed Archie by not being able to keep him safe. All four adult characters share and understand the drive to protect children from harm, and they also know the task is impossible. Despite their differences in race, age, and class, each one of them knows only too well the pervasive uncertainty that comes with parenthood. G. H. and Ruth are preoccupied with the safety of their grown daughter, Maya, and her toddler sons, but they are helpless to keep them out of harm’s way. All they can do is support Amanda and Clay, who try to keep Archie and Rose safe in the midst of an apocalyptic disaster.

G. H. had been foolish. People disappointed. He would do better. They would still be good, kind, human, decent, together, safe

This quotation from Chapter 39 shows G. H. recovering from the disappointment he experiences when Danny offers no support or assistance. Before he and Clay stop by Danny’s house, G. H., thinks of Danny as a friend and a neighbor, but afterwards, he realizes that Danny is racist, hostile, and selfish. He expects Danny to have information and even potential solutions. Instead, Danny makes it clear he doesn’t want to talk to G. H., and that their relationship was purely transactional. Danny was able to put on a show of caring when he was being paid to do a job. Now that everyone is in danger, Danny has gone into every-man-for-himself mode. G. H. isn’t naive and knows that many people have forgotten how to act as a community. He quickly gets past his disillusionment and intensifies his commitment to his own small community. He vows to do better and to hold onto his humanity, no matter what the future holds.

She’d seen once, on the internet, that trees knew not to grow into one another, held themselves at some remove from their neighbors. Trees knew to occupy only their given patch of earth and sky. Trees were generous and careful, and maybe that would be their salvation

In this quotation from Chapter 40, Rose reflects on the wisdom of trees as she returns home from her mission to find practical help during the emergency. Unlike humans, trees know how much space they ought to occupy in the world, and they don’t invade space that doesn’t belong to them. Unlike trees, humans invade the territory of others and alter the landscape around them, with little thought. This greedy way of life will be the downfall of human civilization. Being careful and generous by nature may be enough to save the trees from the mess humans have created, but it seems too late for humanity to learn those lessons and find salvation. This quote also offers a faint glimmer of hope. Rose understands and values the lessons the trees can teach us, and we learn that she will survive. If most survivors are like Rose, it may be possible for the next generation of humanity to live in harmony with their surroundings and with each other.