Summary: Section 15

“In the morning they ate and set out.”

After three days, the father and son come to a small port town, where someone shoots the father with an arrow, opening a gash on his leg. The father uses the first-aid kit he got off the sailboat to suture his wound. The father and son rest in a building for a day, at odds with one another. The son refuses to hear the father’s stories of helping people because they are untrue. The father’s leg heals, but he coughs up blood often. They head inland and camp at a crossroads when the father realizes he can go no farther. As he lies dying, the father knows he can’t bring himself to shoot his son and hold his son’s dying body. Instead, the father tells the son goodness will find him. He dies in his son’s arms. The son sits with his father’s body for three days and then walks out to the road. A man approaches and asks about the boy’s father. On learning of his death, the man invites the son to come with him. The son asks if he is one of the good guys, and the man says he is, assuring him that he, his wife, and their two children don’t eat people. The man wraps the father in a blanket. After the son mourns, he leaves with the man. The wife greets the son with a motherly hug and expresses her gratitude that he is now with them.

Analysis: Section 15

The man’s decision not to kill the boy before he dies shows how the man’s survivalist mentality wins out over the cynical view of the boy’s mother. The man foretells the boy’s rescue by the scarred man at the end of the novel, or at least wishes for it with all his remaining strength. Father and son also switch roles as the man’s condition worsens. The boy takes on more responsibility as his father’s body fails. In a moment of weariness, the man asks the boy, “What are we going to do Papa?” In this reversal, the man has rendered himself as helpless as the boy once was, completing the boy’s ascendency to being the one “who has to worry about everything.” It becomes clear that the boy possesses a strong will to survive, and that the man’s lessons were not in vain. The scarred man submits to the child’s questions and appears to answer them honestly. Confirmation of his rescue by “good guys” comes later when the boy is embraced by a motherly figure, the scarred man’s partner. Life has somehow beaten death, at least for the boy.

The novel ends abruptly with vivid animal imagery as McCarthy describes the trout swimming against the current and making beauty in every moment, closing the story with strong symbolic meaning. This departure from the man and boy at the novel’s end leaves a profound uneasiness over impending ecological devastation wrought by human hands. By ending the novel with this simple description of living nature, McCarthy gently brings his readers back to the world they live in, a world where the sky and sea are still blue and trout still swim in mountain creeks. This is certainly a relief after such a brutal story, but the ashen gray imagery of the desolate road persists in contrast to the living world. This last symbolic contrast in the novel’s world, the trout, emphasizes appreciation for the precious gift of living nature as well as its fragility.