Summary: Section 5

“The clocks stopped at 1:17.”

In a flashback, the father remembers the unexpected apocalyptic event that occurred years earlier: the streak of light, the atmospheric concussions, the red glow outside, the power grid immediately going down, his reflexive action to fill the bathtub with water, and his pregnant wife asking what was happening. He recalls their candlelit dinners watching distant cities burn a few days before their son’s birth. The father recalls his wife’s labor, him focused only on the delivery and insensitive to her suffering. The father then flashes back to the three of them on the road—his wife, his son, and himself—and his endless debates with his wife, him advocating for survival over self-destruction, her lack of faith in his protection, and finally her suicide. His wife chose death over an inevitable end of being raped, killed, and eaten. The father then regrets leaving his wife’s photo behind in the road, and he realizes that he says her name in his sleep. The son wishes he was with his mother, and the father tells him it is wrong to wish to be dead.

Analysis: Section 5

Jumping backward in time, greater context of the novel’s world is meted out slowly, while insight into the man’s character and motivations is gained by his reaction to the disaster. Fleeting imagery of the disaster, lights in the sky and low, powerful concussions in the ground cause him to immediately fill the bathtub with potable water. In short dialogues, the author uses his wife’s contrasting view to reveal the man’s unshakeable need to survive. They even disagree about calling themselves “survivors.” Now the man’s driving intensity to keep his boy alive has gained more context, as the man argues with his wife over the worth of living in a dead world. Ultimately the woman’s suicide is her last point in the argument. Now the man must keep the boy alive, since he has no one else to protect.

The boy’s mother and father agree on one thing: the man may have to kill the boy to keep him safe from rape or cannibalism, bringing the novel once again to the theme of unavoidable death. The man is unsure of his ability to do this terrible deed, but the boy’s mother clarifies and expands the “need” for suicide at the end of the world and slips away from the man, killing herself with a blade to save precious bullets. Even at the end of her life in this dying world, fierce pragmatism demands conserving resources. The man bitterly remarks that “the coldness” of her method of death was a gift. But the gift is only a bullet, saved for the boy, which the man must conceivably use to prevent his son’s torture. The gift of a quick death is a gift fit for such a world.