Summary: Section 10

“The cart was too heavy to push into the wet woods . . .”

The father and son leave the underground bunker with their cart packed with supplies and food. They encounter an old man traveling alone. The father feels wary that he could be bait in a trap set by the road agents, but the son believes the old man is scared and wants to help him. The old man says the sight of the son made him think he’d died because he never thought he’d see another child in his life. Deferring to his son’s request, the father reluctantly stops for the night, and they share their meal with the old man. The old man gives his name as Ely, but believing his survival depends on staying unidentified, he admits that’s not his real name. The father and Ely discuss what survival means and whether it’s better to be alive or dead. The next morning, the father argues with his son about giving Ely any more food but finally shares a few cans of vegetables and fruit. The father wants to hear Ely thank his son, but Ely refuses to feel gratitude for a gesture of kindness that he would not have made. When they part, the son doesn’t look back. The father’s cough worsens.

Analysis: Section 10

Ely, a near-blind old man, thematically forces the inevitability of death into the man’s mind in Section 10. Ely is the novel’s only named character, and the author also declines to give names to towns, cities, or countries. In this ashen, dead world, names have lost their use. But Ely has named himself, inhabiting the persona of a biblical prophet from the book of Samuel. Ely’s sentiments are not exactly prophetic, but he discusses death and God in erratic bursts of dialogue. “There is no God and we are his prophets,” he says. In confused language, the man and Ely intermingle religious discussion and paranoid interrogation. In the end, Ely says everything will be better once all people have died, and that death itself will die when there is nothing left alive. Ely parts with the man and the boy in continued ambivalence, having found his peace in solitude and eventual death. But Ely’s presence has shaken the bond between father and son by showing the boy’s tendency for mercy once again. This divide will deepen until the father dies, as foreshadowed by the boy withholding the details of his dream from his father, and the father’s persistent, worsening cough.