The Road

The Road Summary and Analysis of Section 5

Section 5 covers pages 108 to 135.

The boy seeks affirmation from the father that they would never resort to cannibalism, even if they were starving to death. His father reaffirms that they are the good guys and that they are carrying the fire. The father starts to lose hope each day as they slowly starve. "The country was looted, ransacked, ravaged. Rifled of every crumb.... He was beginning to think that death was finally upon them" (109). In the charred remains of a house, he retrieves a candle.

Near a small town, the man and the boy see an outdated sign that warns of death. The child tells the man he wishes the little boy from earlier in their travels were with them. At night, the father continues to have “[r]ich dreams now which he was loathe to wake from. Things no longer known in the world” (111). During the day, the father continues to be extremely cautious, holding the boy and their pistol close. He nearly lifts the pistol at their reflection in a mirror.

In a toolshed, the father finds packets of seeds, which he keeps. He also finds some gasoline. Nearby, he realizes that something is hidden underneath the grass. The man digs up the dirt and finds a door, and the boy becomes upset because he does not want his father to open the door. The two of them improvise a lamp and then return to the door in the ground.

Beneath the door, the man finds a bunker full of untouched food, along with other useful items like utensils. They enjoy a can of pears and peaches for dinner. The boy goes to sleep inside the bunker, while the man finds more useful items: clothes, soap, tools, toothpaste, and so on. Though he finds cartridges and rifle shells, he does not find a gun. Finally, the man also sleeps.

Upon awakening, the boy finally enjoys a proper meal of coffee, ham, and biscuits. The boy wants to thank whoever left behind all of this food, but he thinks he does not know how. “Yes you do. You know how to say thank you” (123). Finally, the boy offers a kind of prayer: “Dear people, thank you for all this food and stuff … We’re sorry that you didn’t get to eat it and we hope that you’re safe in heaven with God” (123).

The father heats up water to make a bath for his son. They both can finally clean themselves of the accumulated dirt and grime, then put on the new clothes they have discovered. The boy asks how long they can stay in the bunker, and his father answers that they must leave in a couple of days because it is dangerous. The man attempts to hide their location by putting a mattress over the latch door above them. While the boy sleeps, he whittles fake bullets out of wood to give their pistol the appearance of being fully loaded.

In the nearby town, they find a working shopping cart. Back at the bunker, the man cuts his son’s hair and his own, then shaves. They enjoy another lavish dinner before going to bed. They stay at the bunker yet another day to eat and sleep, especially since the weather is rainy. The man and the boy collect what they will take from the bunker to load the cart. The next day, they leave.

The boy asks his father whether there are crows or cows, and his father says no. The father also reminds him that they survived their previously grim circumstances. He asks his son what happened to the flute, and the boy tells him that he threw it away.

As they continue, they see the remnants of a burnt city on the horizon. They stop on a hill, and the boy asks his father about their long-term goals, a phrase he heard from the man long ago. Neither of them knows what their long-term goals are.


This section is primarily about new hope. Although the father is losing hope each day as they get hungrier, realizing that the houses have been thoroughly picked over, he maintains the fire inside. The one thing he retrieves, the candle, is symbolically important because it evokes hope. One the father begins to regain hope, he even asks about the flute, which the boy had thrown away, but with new hope comes a chance for a new flute. They can wash and eat and make a fresh start with a new cart.

McCarthy also displays the man's sense of bitter irony in this section. Instead of whittling a new flute, he whittles fake bullets. Similarly, when he almost smiles at the old sign warning of death, he realizes that the sign is blatantly pointless, given their circumstances. Death has already pervaded the world after the catastrophe, with humans resorting to indiscriminate murder in efforts to survive. Thus, what good is a mere sign when the reality is unmistakable in every direction?

In the towns through which the man and the boy pass, McCarthy describes many anachronisms, obsolete objects from the past that have no place in the post-apocalyptic world. For example, "through the paint could be seen a pale palimpsest of advertisements for goods which no longer existed" (108). Even billboards are obsolete, and the objects they advertise are anachronistic in this setting. Even the bunker seems anachronistic and out of place, an oddity in comparison to the wasteland all around, and it no longer serves its function of protection if at any moment, other people might come and attack the father and his son.

Very infrequently, McCarthy uses the second person in The Road. One example of this usage lies in this passage: "So be sparing. What you alter in the remembering has yet a reality, known or not" (111). The second sentence is not clearly delineated as one of the man's private thoughts, nor is it part of the dialogue. As part of the narration, this would indicate an address to the reader, warning us that reality actually extends beyond what we perceive or remember. We do not create and define things by remembering them and giving them names; this is an artificial alteration of reality. There is more than meets the eye, more than what can be described. Yet, much of a thing’s reality for us is indeed bounded by what we perceive and say about it.

The man's use of an anachronistic figure of speech sparks a substantial dialogue between himself and the boy regarding crows. The figure of speech is "as the crow flies" (132). This describes a path of travel that is a straight line between two points. However, the boy is unfamiliar with this figure of speech and asks the man to explain it to him. There are no crows.

In this exchange, the crow serves as a metaphor for the boy's own hopes about what may be possible. He asks the father if a crow could fly to Mars or at least high enough to see the sun (132-134). These questions demonstrate the boy's willingness to hope for and to believe in the extremes of flight, what to us and to the father may seem impossible, especially for a crow. To some degree the crow symbolizes the boy himself, wishing to test the potential in his unknown future.