Summary: Section 6

“Something woke him.”

The father and son sleep in the brush by the side of the road when a grisly procession comes into view. Father and son run for cover. A society of road agents appear: hooded, masked leaders carrying homemade weapons followed by a truck trundling slowly with armed men in the bed, scouting for travelers. One of them comes into the woods for a bathroom break and stumbles upon the father and son. The father draws his pistol, and the two men have a standoff. The father threatens the man in clinical detail, explaining that he’ll put a bullet in the man’s head if he doesn’t hang back until the group is gone and let them go on their way. The man grabs the son and puts a knife to his throat. In the same moment, the father shoots the man in the head, using up one of the two rounds left in his gun. The father then lifts the son onto his shoulders and runs with him into the woods, where they evade pursuit. Returning the next morning to their cart, the father and son find it plundered and their food stores ransacked. Two days later, they eat their last tin of food, and the son asks the father if they are still the good guys.

Summary: Section 7

“In the morning they came up out of the ravine and took to the road again.”

The father decides to risk going into a town to look for food. The father and son sleep in a car and see the lights of fires in the buildings that indicate the presence of other people. As the father searches a house for food, the son glimpses a boy about his age and tries to follow him, calling for him. The father scolds the son for the risk he took and reassures him that the boy he saw is not alone but with people who are hiding. The son cries inconsolably, and as they leave, he continues to ask the father to go back and find the boy. They sleep in a muddy field and then strike out for a barn to look for food. Inside, they find the remains of butchered people and a gruesome array of human heads, ritualistically displayed. The father and son awake the next day to a grim procession led by marching warriors with wagons drawn by slaves, a consort of women—some pregnant—followed by young boys in dog collars yoked together. The son asks if those people are the bad guys, and the father confirms that they are.

Analysis: Sections 6–7

The motif of “good guys” and “bad guys” also comes into play when human antagonists invade the powerless intimacy of father and son. Road agents, merciless, armed scavengers, appear with truck and weapons and the man is cornered. He must use one of his three precious bullets to protect the boy. The man has shown his instinctual survival skills in previous sections, but here we see a father pushing himself to the utmost extremity to save his son’s life from these “bad guys.” The man kills the road agent without a thought and then ignores his failing lungs to run from the death or enslavement the road agents offer. More antagonists, with women chained to a wagon, further push the man into survival mode. When the boy’s spirit fails and he wishes for death, the man prods him about “carrying the fire.” This hopeful phrase has been taught to the boy before the story began, revealing how the father’s drive for survival has affected the boy’s development. The man reassures the boy that the road agent was one of “the bad guys,” another method of coping for the boy, who does not fully understand the world he inhabits

The man and the boy are united by love and necessity, but their relationship is susceptible to change as they encounter more and more ravages of the apocalypse. Already the boy has fixated on helping the burned man, and in Section 7 the boy’s desire to care for others further distances him from his father. The man scolds the boy for opening himself to danger, but the boy will not listen. He instead fixates on a small boy he thinks he sees in the ruins of a city. Expressing a desire to help the boy, the son opposes his father’s grim individualism and survivalism. But when the boy falls deathly ill, the father does everything he possibly can to keep the boy alive. He even makes a ceremony of his care for the boy, drawing on anything he can muster to do his duty as a father. While these actions seem to show the father as merciful, like the boy, the man’s lack of empathy for the small boy, and others they meet on the road, opens a divide between father and son that will widen as the story continues.