The Road

The Road Summary and Analysis of Section 10

Section 10 begins at page 232 and ends at the end of the novel.

After two more days of travel, the protagonists arrive at a broad river with a collapsed bridge. The man says oddly, "What are we going to do Papa?" The boy answers, "Well what are we" (232). They raise a tarp for shelter, and the boy falls asleep. In the morning, they begin to walk inland, the man's cough worsening continuously. Finally, they reach a cleared area in the woods by a stream. "Here they camped and when he lay down he knew that he could go no further and that this was the place where he would die" (233).

The man is bedridden. He refuses to eat his share of a can of a fruit, but the boy insists on saving his father's half for the next day. The boy tries to make a tent, but his father does not want to be covered. The man wishes to be able to see, to watch his son sit by the fire. While the boy investigates their surroundings, the man remains at the camp. When the boy returns, his father begs him to continue the journey with the pistol.

The boy refuses to leave without his father. The man assures the boy that he knows how to carry the fire, that the fire is real inside of the boy. The boy reminds his father that he promised never to leave him. The man promises his son that he can still always talk to his father, even if they are not physically together. "You have to make it like talk that you imagine. And you'll hear me. You have to practice" (235).

The child travels down the road but then returns to his father, who sleeps. The boy talks to him and tries to listen for a response, then tries again. The father wakes up, still coughing. The boy asks his father if he remembers the little boy, and the man assures his son that the little boy was not lost. "Goodness will find the little boy. It always has. It will again" (236).

During the night, the boy holds his father. When the boy wakes up, his father is dead. The boy weeps, goes to the road, then returns to his father's side to hold his hand, crying his name. The boy remains by his father for three days. Finally, he returns to the road. He notices that someone is approaching. The boy stands by the road with the pistol in his hand. He has piled blankets over the man's body.

A man with a shotgun approaches the boy and asks him about his father. The boy tells him that his father has died, and the man tells the boy to join him. The boy asks whether the man is one of the good guys. The man says yes and tells the boy to put away his pistol. The man asks the boy to show him his father's body, but the boy is unresponsive. The man reveals that he is with a larger group of people who have known about the man and the boy. They apparently discussed whether or not to check on the boy. The man adds that the boy must take a chance with them or else die with his father.

The boy asks him whether he also carries the fire, but the man does not understand. When asked a second time, however, he responds that he is indeed carrying the fire. The man reveals that he has two children (a boy and a girl) and a wife. He promises the boy that they are not cannibals. The boy decides to join the man and his family.

The man checks the father's body and then tells the boy to go stand by the road. He will follow with the boy's belongings and the blankets. The boy does not want to leave his father or want people to see him, and he asks whether they can cover the body with one of the blankets. The man says yes.

When the man joins the boy, the boy tries to hand him the pistol but is told to keep it for himself. The boy asks to say goodbye to his papa, so he returns to the woods. "He cried for a long time. I'll talk to you every day, he whispered. And I wont forget. No matter what" (241).

The wife of the man, upon their arrival, hugs the boy. She tries to talk to the boy about God sometimes, but the boy finds it easier to talk to his father. "The woman said that was all right. She said that the breath of God was his breath yet though it pass from man to man through all of time" (241).

The Road ends with a short paragraph describing trout swimming in a stream from a distant time. "On their backs were vermiculate patterns that were maps of the world in its becoming. Maps and mazes. Of a thing which could not be put back. Not be made right again. In the deep glens where they lived all things were older than man and they hummed of mystery" (241).


At the time of his death, the father reassures the son that they can still talk to one another and that the son will be able to hear him. "If I'm not here you can still talk to me. You can talk to me and I'll talk to you. You'll see" (235). Later, the boy does choose to talk to his father instead of talking to God. The woman agrees that this alternative is acceptable, saying "that the breath of God was his breath yet though it pass from man to man through all of time" (241). This could be her acceptance of secular prayer, an alternative form of spirituality, but it more likely is her acknowledgment of the divine fire within human beings that connects them to God.

These alternatives express the ultimate, metaphysical conflict in the novel. Is the universe really so indifferent, as the whole environment has seemed, or is there something irreducibly divine in the human spirit, a fire that really does make people “good guys” if they choose to be? Is life a weird anachronism in the universe’s expanse of indifferent death, or are human life, compassion, and hope impossible to ignore as real phenomena within the universe?

On the eve of the man's death, the boy and the man discuss the little boy from Section 3. The son remains concerned that the little boy is lost, and we wonder if he is thinking about himself. He is soon to be in the boy’s position, with nobody looking after him, being “the one” to whom it falls to make moral decisions and choices where life and death are at stake. The son wants to know who will find the little boy, which suggests a similar concern about himself after the man's death. When the man reassures his son that goodness will find the little boy, it is hopeful foreshadowing: "It always has. It will again" (236). While there seems to be little chance of this result, indeed some rare "good guys" find the son and rescue him. This preservation of the son into the next scene, into the next generation, suggests the hopeful alternative for human civilization rather than the one that characterized the father’s generation of death and destruction, of the seeming total indifference of the world.

The Road's denouement is thus a rescue. It is the redeeming act that the father seems to have been looking for. The journey, at least from the father’s point of view, was to ensure his son’s survival. He suggested that it was mission appointed by God in order that the boy be protected. Finally, at the conclusion of the novel, it appears that this goal has been achieved. The boy now has a family again and some kind of home, and he is presumably going to be relatively safe once again, perhaps no longer to wander the road.

The trout, described in the last passage of The Road, recall an earlier mention of trout near the beginning of the novel: "Where once he'd watched trout swaying in the current, tracing their perfect shadows on the stones beneath" (25). At the conclusion of the novel, the trout are described as having backs with "patterns that were maps of the world in its becoming. Maps and mazes. Of a thing which could not be put back. Not be made right again" (241). This vivid imagery suggests that the trout bear some significance in the novel, encoding the unfolding and refolding of life and civilization in the world, bearing the mark of the universe’s inevitable playing out of first principles. The secrets ("maps and mazes") of the world from its inception ("in its becoming") are retained by these trout, which are the present’s incarnation of the first principles in action. Furthermore, these secrets "could not be put back"—like Prometheus’ fire or Pandora’s box, the laws of the cosmos will continue to unfold. Indifference, violence, hope, whatever emerges in the universe will play itself out and will not "be made right again." If human civilization inevitably leads to its own destruction, the basic patterns of humanity will last so long as there are humans, and the basic patterns of the universe, mapped on the trout, will last so long as the universe lasts.

Finally, the man and the boy remain noticeably unnamed in The Road, as do almost all of the other characters. This lack of naming, which prevents the reader from pinpointing the novel's setting "[a]t some reckonable and entabled moment," lifts the status of the protagonists' story to that of a parable, rather than just another post-apocalyptic tale. The man and the boy could be any father and son who carry the hope of basic humanity. Through the character of the boy in particular, McCarthy demonstrates the power of human resilience in the face of the universe's seeming indifference. Despite the human capacity for violence, the boy survives as one of the "good guys" and manages to carry the fire. This fire refers to the human capacities for hope and love. These capacities protect mankind from itself and suggest that the universe might not be totally indifferent after all. If the boy will be able to take part in a new construction of civilization, he may learn whether despite everything, goodness will continue to find its way.