The Road Summary and Analysis
Section 4 covers pages 83 to 107.
The snowfall is deep, and the man and the boy struggle to retrieve their cart. When they finally find it, they must leave it behind because of the snow. The man first makes better footwear for the boy and for himself, using the suit coats and plastic. Traveling through the snow is exceedingly slow and difficult. The boy continually asks about their impending deaths, struggling. The father is too weak to carry him. There are not enough daylight hours to travel far, and the snow impedes their speed.
One morning, they discover wagon wheel tracks in the snow. The father is afraid that the tracks are from "bad guys," and they attempt to cover their tracks in the snow as well as possible. The man selects a high campground so that they can survey their surroundings. As expected, he sees two men traversing the road, but these men continue on their way without disturbing the protagonists.
After five days of no food and hardly any sleep, the man and the boy stumble upon a large house outside a small town. The father wants to investigate the house, noting that there are no tracks leading up to it from that direction. The house used to be grandiose and impressive; now, they find heaps of clothing and old sleeping bags. The boy is terrified inside the house but accompanies his father. The ashes in the fireplace are cold.
The father finds a steel padlock blocking the entrance to a door. The son wishes to leave, but the father insists upon hacking open the padlock with a spade. He is desperate to search for food for their survival. Inside the room, the father finds countless people, "naked people, male and female, all trying to hide, shielding their faces with their hands" (93). One man's legs have been amputated up to his hips, and the room reeks. The people beg the man for help. The man drops his lighter in his haste to leave the room, hurrying his son along with him. They slam the door behind them to leave.
Just then, across the field, the boy and his father see four men and two women approaching. They run away as quickly as possible, but the six people are quite close by. The father hands his son the pistol and tells him that, if necessary, he must commit suicide. "You know how to do it. You put it in your mouth and point it up. Do it quick and hard" (95). They remain in hiding as night falls, when the father hears "hideous shrieks coming from the house" (97).
The father realizes that the house is a trap. A box near the road allows people to watch for those like himself approaching the house, so that they can warn the others of the newcomers’ arrival. The newcomers are then trapped in the padlocked room and kept for food for the cannibals.
In the middle of the night, the father and the son run away through the woods, hoping that they do not accidentally circle back to the house. Dazed, not knowing their location, they must press forward in the morning. The man regrets the danger in which he put himself and his son, thinking about the house and the padlocked room. "It was desperate that had led him to such carelessness and he knew that he could not do that again. No matter what" (99).
Leaving the boy sleeping, the father goes to investigate a barn, where he takes seeds from the bales of hay for food. He enters a house near the barn and finds a flavored powder with which to make drinks, and he takes it with him. He also takes away a screwdriver and a new blade. Near the barn, "he stood there thinking about cows and he realized they were extinct" (101). He finds an apple and eats it entirely, then realizes that he has come upon an apple orchard (there are fruitful plants after all). The father collects as many apples as he can. Back in the house, he also discovers a good water source. "He lay there a long time, lifting up the water to his mouth a palmful at a time" (103). The father empties jars from the kitchen to fill them with water.
He returns to the boy, still sleeping, with the apples and the jars of water. When the boy wakes up, they eat together, and the man makes the powdered drink for his son. Later that day, they collect more apples from the farmhouse and fill more jars of water. They endure an extremely difficult night in the cold. They cannot make a fire because the man had dropped his lighter earlier. The boy seeks confirmation from the father that the people from the first house were going to eat them, thus validating why he and his father could not have helped them.
If this is Georgia in November, the snow represents a drastic climate change somehow related to the tragedy. As far south as they are, the weather is a major antagonist for them. The towns are the most dangerous places, even if they provide buildings that can offer shelter from the weather, for that is where cannibals and others tend to remain, in wait for newcomers to kill and eat. The orchard at least provides apples, so the prospect of benefiting from nature has not entirely disappeared. The scene with the apples and water provides a ray of hope, strongly contrasting with the ultimate despair of the naked humans who are the food of cannibals.
The boy's first reaction to that house foreshadows the terrible discovery they make and the gruesome fate they narrowly avoid. When the man and the boy first stumble upon the house, the boy has a bad feeling and does not want to enter the house. Even as they continue to explore the house, the boy's misgivings do not fade but increase. However, the father is relatively confident enough to continue searching the house for supplies. Here again the son perceives a moral reality that the father does not fully appreciate. Even in the face of the father's confidence, the reader still has the uneasy sense that the house may be dangerous due to the foreshadowing with the boy, and this disease is proved right when the truth is uncovered.
The people who run the cannibals’ house are some of the most frightening antagonists the man and the boy face. They are a direct threat to the protagonists' survival. The four men and two women survive by trapping people in the house and keeping them there, slowly starving, to use as food later. The danger is quite real; they nearly catch the boy and the man, who fortunately manage to elude capture. This dramatic conflict is a major struggle between life and death, providing great suspense in addition to the horror of the situation itself.
The narration in this section is punctuated by rhetorical questions that emphasize the hopelessness of the protagonists' plight. "In what direction did lost men veer?" (99) underscores the realization that the man and the boy may be forever lost, that they have no direction. When considering the possibility that cows are in fact not extinct and that there may be one cow somewhere being cared for, the man wonders, "Saved for what?" (102). Again, this rhetorical question only underscores the sobering fact that there is no reason to save life, whether human, animal, or natural, in the post-apocalyptic world, except for its own sake, or else for personal love, like the father’s love for his son.
Throughout The Road, the boy's reactions to the people whom they meet during the journey demonstrate how he and his father act as foils to one another. For example, in this section specifically, the man is not depicted contemplating their inability to assist the naked people who are awaiting their inevitable deaths. He in fact is unperturbed by this situation, amazingly hardened by past experience. His emotion is relief once he and his son have escaped. Yet, the boy is bothered by the fact that they are unable to help the naked people, just as he was upset when the father did not allow him to help the burnt man or the little boy. Unsettled, the boy seeks justification for their actions by confirming that they simply could not help the naked people without themselves being killed and eaten. It is very difficult for the boy to understand how it is possible to be a good guy when there are so many bad guys limiting their choices. We do not know why, but hopefully things are better wherever they are going.
The Road Essays and Related Content
- The Road: Major Themes
- The Road: Essays
- The Road: Questions
- The Road: Purchase the Novel and Related Material
- Cormac McCarthy: Biography
- The Road Summary
- About The Road
- Character List
- Glossary of Terms
- Major Themes
- Quotes and Analysis
- Summary and Analysis of Section 1
- Summary and Analysis of Section 2
- Summary and Analysis of Section 3
- Summary and Analysis of Section 4
- Summary and Analysis of Section 5
- Summary and Analysis of Section 6
- Summary and Analysis of Section 7
- Summary and Analysis of Section 8
- Summary and Analysis of Section 9
- Summary and Analysis of Section 10
- McCarthy, Genre, and Violence
- Related Links on The Road
- Suggested Essay Questions
- Test Yourself! - Quiz 1
- Test Yourself! - Quiz 2
- Test Yourself! - Quiz 3
- Test Yourself! - Quiz 4
- Author of ClassicNote and Sources