Summary: Section 13

“They ate more sparingly.”

The father and son have almost run out of food again when they round a bend and come upon the ocean, which is a bleak, gray mass. When he sees the disappointment on his son’s face, the father apologizes to his son that the water is not blue. As far as the eye can see, the bones of millions of dead fish line the shore. The father swims out to a wrecked sailboat and brings back food, drinking water, clothing, shoes, blankets, a first-aid kit, and a flare gun. The father notes that he no longer feels gratitude for good fortune. They camp on the beach, sleeping under a tarp at night. The son suggests they write a letter in the sand to the good guys so they know where to find them. The father explains why they shouldn’t, saying the bad guys might find the message and track them down. The son becomes ill with a fever and hovers between life and death. The father feels terror at the thought of losing his son, and he prepares to shoot himself with the last bullet if the son dies. The son recovers on the seventh day.

Summary: Section 14

“In two day’s time they were walking the beach as far as the headland and back . . .”

Returning to the camp after walking the beach, the father sees boot prints in the sand and realizes that the cart and all their belongings have been stolen. The father and son give chase with pistol drawn, the son asking apprehensively if they will kill the thief. When they catch up with the thief, he wields a butcher knife with his left hand, as his right hand has no fingers, and the father threatens to shoot the thief. Something about the son, however, makes the thief put down the knife and back away. The son begs his father to spare the thief’s life. In a fury, the father makes the thief undress and put everything into their cart. Then the father and son leave the thief standing naked in the road. The son can’t stop crying at this mistreatment. The father defends his actions, claiming to be the responsible one of the two of them, but the son sets him straight, noting that he possesses a conscience. They turn back to return the thief’s clothes but can’t find him, so they leave his things in the road. The father rationalizes his actions, saying that he wasn’t going to kill the thief. His son observes that they did kill him.

Analysis: Sections 13–14

At long last the family of two reaches the coast, but the ocean reflects the gray of the ashen sky, another reminder of the cold, colorless environment the travelers cannot escape. The boy’s eagerness to find more “good guys” with a letter is like his hope to see a blue ocean. The father cannot allow the message to be written, covering up the boy’s optimism just as the ash covers everything potentially beautiful. On the wrecked boat, however, the man finds a brass sextant, a beautifully crafted instrument that stands strong against the all-encompassing gray. The red flare also, like a firework, pushes against the grayness, and reminds them each of “carrying the fire.” But again, no hope or optimism can last long in this world, and the boy nearly dies on the beach in his fever. Death looms over the man and the boy like the gray sky looms over the sea. 

When all their possessions are stolen, a daunting run-in with a fellow human draws out the burgeoning separation between father and son. The weakened thief is quickly tracked down by the man, whose vigor rises at the height of conflict. His survivalist instinct keeps him clear-headed in a crisis, but it also makes him ruthless. He strips the man naked and takes everything, even his stinking rags. The boy cannot help but accuse his father of essentially killing the man by leaving him on the road with nothing. The man defends himself by pointing out that the thief did the same thing to them. But the boy is disenchanted. He longs for a more merciful world, and unlike the man, he still refuses to accept the necessary evils of the road. The man, now clearly dying, is still doggedly trying to teach his son to survive. To point out the eventuality of his death with heartbreaking clarity, the father’s weak point about the boy not being the one “who has to worry about everything” is countered when the boy says “Yes I am.” Now death is completing the separation between father and son that has been growing throughout the novel.