The Road

The Road Summary and Analysis of Section 9

Section 9 goes from page 211 to page 231.

The man agonizes over his son’s illness. He sleeps restlessly. Eventually when he awakens, the boy is better and his fever has broken. A couple of days later, the man and the boy continue to finesse their beach campsite. One day, the man sees prints in the sand as they return to their camp. They hurry back to their belongings, which have been completely ransacked.

The father decides to hunt down the robbers, so they track the prints. They find the thief pushing their cart and wielding a butcher’s knife. The man aims the pistol at the thief. “He was an outcast from one of the communes and the fingers of his right hand had been cut away” (215). The man cocks his pistol and warns the thief to step away from their cart. The boy begs his father not to kill the thief. Accordingly, the father instead forces the thief to take off all of his clothes and put them in the cart.

The man leaves the thief naked on the side of the road. “I’m going to leave you the way you left us” (217). The boy cries and continues to look back at the thief as they return to their camp. The man tells him to stop crying. Nonetheless, the boy insists that they could still save the thief, who “was just hungry, Papa. He’s going to die” (218). When the man points out that his son is not the one who must worry about the danger, the boy replies, “Yes I am, he said. I am the one” (218).

They return to the road where they left the thief and call out to him. They hear no answer, and they spend some time searching for him. Finally, the man simply leaves the thief’s clothes and shoes in the road. Back at the camp, the father assures his son that he did not intend to kill the thief. The boy responds, “But we did kill him” (219).

They continue on their journey, and their health worsens. They find little along the way to help them. At the edge of one town, they are suddenly attacked with arrows by a man hiding in a building. The father is hit in the leg, but he manages to shoot the flare pistol at the building and set it on fire. The man tells the boy to remain with the cart in hiding, while he enters the house with the reloaded flare pistol.

Inside the house, the man sees a woman holding the arrow man. It is unclear whether he is dead or alive. She curses the father as he explores the house and searches for the bow, to no avail. Finding nothing, he leaves the house and departs with his son and their cart. They make camp at a store in the town. The man treats his wounded leg with the first aid kit. The man snaps at the boy when he does not respond quickly to the order to retrieve the first aid kit, but he later apologizes for yelling.

Ever since they left the thief naked, the boy has been quieter than usual. Cooped up in the store, the man tells the son that they must talk to each other. He offers to tell his son a story, but the boy rejects him. “Those stories are not true…. In the stories we’re always helping people and we don’t help people” (225). The father says that the son should tell him a story, or even a dream of his, but the boy replies that his stories are more “like real life” (227), unlike his father’s stories. The boy thinks it only “okay” that they have survived many dark experiences.

Later, the man says aloud that he thinks their story of survival is pretty good. His son still does not want to talk, but he asks his father whether his father killed the arrow man. His father says no, reassuring him that this is the truth despite remaining privately unsure.

They leave the town two days later. During their journey, the man removes the stitches from his leg. During the nights, the man continues to dream of “human love, the songs of birds, the sun” (229). He grows steadily sicker as they plod forward. They pass by abandoned cars with corpses inside. As they walk, the man coughs up increasing amounts of blood. Among the items left on the road they find a canvas bag and a suitcase, which they take with them. The man must stop to rest on an old couch by the road.


The incident with the thief presents a major conflict in The Road. At first it is a conflict between the protagonists and the thief, but it soon brings back the primary conflict between the protagonists. The thief's actions lead the man to punish the thief in a manner that the boy finds not only inappropriate but deathly wrong. Even though the man later agrees to return to help the thief, the thief has disappeared, and the boy says, " we did kill him" (219). Once the thief no longer has the knife, the boy responds to the thief in a way similar to how he responded to others they encountered. This incident further underscores the fundamental differences in outlook between the man and the boy with respect to how they treat others. The son wants to help as much as they can, and not to kill others, while the father is rightly suspicious of others and is willing to punish infractions with death or what amounts to death.

The scene with the arrow man continues the same theme. Given the son’s empathy, the father does not want to suggest that he has killed yet another person. Thus he makes use of his superior position to resolve the ambiguity of whether the arrow man died, asking his son to trust him that the arrow man did not die.

This section also features an oft-quoted passage that alludes to the power of storytelling and human narrative. "At a crossroads a ground set with dolmen stones where the spoken bones of oracles lay moldering.... What will you say? A living man spoke these lines? He sharpened a quill with his small pen knife to scribe these things in sloe or lampblack? At some reckonable and entabled moment? He is coming to steal my eyes. To seal my mouth with dirt" (220). The first part of the passage relates to the oral tradition of humans, their storytelling ("living man spoke") and to their literate storytelling as well (literature and narrative written with a quill) However, the one who comes to steal the man's eyes or to seal his mouth with dirt is preventing human communication, getting in the way of seeing others’ writing and getting in the way of speaking. It appears that the so-called living man is the same one who returns to destroy communication. This perhaps alludes to death. In death, the man will be unable to narrate his own story and to validate the reality of his existence, and whatever he wrote comes to nothing. Or perhaps the storyteller, by carving specific lines, freezes his story at a time and place in a way that makes it impossible for the next person to speak or see something different. Either way, it seems to the narrator that the living man wrote the lines for himself and his time, not for the ones whose mouths will be sealed with dirt. It is a cynical, dejected view of storytelling that probably fits the protagonist father’s present worldview. The father’s stories are no longer of interest even to his son, who realizes that the stories of helping others do not match reality.

The nature imagery in one passage emphasizes the inevitability of death in the universal sweep. "Perhaps in the world's destruction it would be possible at last to see how it was made. Oceans, mountains. The ponderous counterspectacle of things ceasing to be. The sweeping waste, hydroptic and coldly secular. The silence" (231). Nature, "coldly secular," again indifferently proceeds without concern for man and his problems. Since the world's "destruction" correlates with "how it was made," we see an infinite expanse of indifference in the universe's existence. Death is present at both the inception and conclusion of the universe; it is strange and anachronistic that life somehow exists in the middle.

The man's worsening health and his leg wound point to the inevitable conclusion that his own death is near. One sentence in particular foreshadows how quickly his death is approaching. The man looks at his son, "[s]tanding with his suitcase like an orphan waiting for a bus" (231). In only a few days, the boy will indeed be an orphan. He will be standing on the side of the road, where he will be found by the man with a shotgun who "picks him up" (like a bus).