Summary: Section 8

“The falling snow curtained them about.”

The snow’s depth reaches a half foot on the ground when the father and son—starving and freezing—make their way to a stand of cedar trunks, which provides enough of a clearing for them build a fire. Later, the sound of trees cracking with the weight of the snow awakens the father. The father and son dart up, move their bedding away from the trees, and listen to the tree trunks falling around them. In the morning, they abandon the cart because of the high snow. Within five days, they had run out of food, so they decide they must search a mansion in the outskirts of a small town. In the basement, the father and son find naked, kidnapped people who beg the father to help them escape. One of the people has already been half eaten. The father and son sprint away from the house just as four men and two women are returning. While they hide, the father wonders to himself if he will have to kill his son to keep his son from being captured and killed for food. The father and son wander in a stupor, the father carrying the son, who is now too weak to walk. They sleep during the night in a field.

Summary: Section 9

“Across the fields to the south he could see the shape of a house and barn.”

The father sees a house and barn in the distance, and he decides to leave his sleeping son and investigate on his own. He finds apples in the orchard and discovers fresh water in a well. He returns to his sleeping son, and they spend the afternoon eating apples and drinking water. They get back on the road. The son remembers the people in the basement and asks for assurances that he and his father would never eat people. The father tells him that they are the good guys who carry the fire, and secretly, the father thinks their end is near. They come upon a house in a field. In the garden shed, the father finds gasoline for their campfires. In the yard, he discovers the buried door to an underground bomb shelter stocked with water, food, beds, blankets, clothing, bathing supplies, and a stove. They stay several days, taking baths in the house, washing their clothes, cutting their hair, playing checkers, and feasting. The son offers a prayer of thanksgiving for the people who built and prepared the bunker. The father feels a twinge of regret that with this respite, their ordeal must continue. They find another shopping cart at a local store and prepare to get back on the road.

Analysis: Sections 8–9

Already discussed but not yet described, the motif of cannibalism comes into vivid focus in the locked basement of the house. In one of the book’s most difficult sequences, the threat of cannibalism pushes the father to nearly kill the boy to spare him from this evil. Now the necessity of potentially killing the boy also becomes clear, moving from a conceptual argument with his wife into a stark reality in the immediate present. The man holds his boy, breathlessly hiding from the cannibals, and wonders about pulling the trigger. He forces the boy to take the gun and put it in his own mouth, a grim test of the boy’s willingness to end his own life should his father fail to do so. Death, it seems, is making inroads into the lives of both man and boy. The nights are cold and described as “casket black,” tying physical coldness to the coldness of the grave. When the threat of the cannibals has passed, the man weeps over his sleeping son but not for the boy’s fragile and dismal life. The man weeps instead at a loss of beauty in the world, and he weeps for knowing the contrast too well.

As if to relieve the reader as well as his characters, McCarthy brings father and son to an abandoned backyard bunker, replete with food, fuel, and other essential supplies. Up to this point, everything on the road has been a horror, or a dismal sadness. Now the man and the boy bathe in hot water and eat their fill of canned provisions. When the boy questions their actions as theft, the man describes how one of the “good guys” must have died before they could take advantage of the shelter they made. He tells the boy that this “good guy” would want them to have the supplies and shelter. The boy thanks the long-gone owner of the bunker solemnly, again showing his strong moral compass in a world seemingly devoid of morality. But the bunker is not all salvation for the man, who cynically wishes they had never found it, and quietly yearns for their long struggle to be over. This almost echoes the boy’s wish for death, something the man is constantly arguing against. Somehow, the fleeting comfort of the bunker only enflames the man’s dark fears for the future.