The Road

The Road Summary and Analysis of Section 3

Section 3 covers pages 59 to 82.

The father is unsure whether the people from the truck have left for good or are lying in ambush. The man and the boy come across the truck crew”s old campsite, which is still warm, so the father instructs his son to stay put while he investigates. The father finds the cart of his and his son”s belongings. It was plundered, and only a few of the boy”s belongings remain. The father notices that the truck crew are cannibals; they left behind boiled bones.

The father and son return to the bridge to make camp, and the father goes to retrieve wood for a fire. The boy is frightened. Later, the man sits down to make dinner. He then bathes the boy to rid his hair of the remnants of the dead man”s blood and brains.

The next day, they once again set out. The father expresses regret over what happened with the man from the truck: "I should have been more careful" (65). He tells his son that those were the "bad guys" and assures him that they are and will always be the "good guys." During their journey, the father carves a flute for his son, who begins to play it.

They survey the valley below them for signs of life, and the boy spies smoke. The father decides they must investigate, despite the danger, because they need food. After passing through an abandoned store, the man scavenges suit coats. Unfortunately, they find nothing else of use or value at the store or in the abandoned houses at the edge of the town.

On the way back to their camp, they hear a dog. The man promises his son they will not kill it, but they never hear the dog again. They sleep that night inside a parked car, and when they wake up, they manage to find some utensils, clothes, and plastic to use as a tarp. The father feels as though they are being watched, but they see no one.

After they eat, the boy suddenly notices someone looking back at him from a house across the street. The son sees another little boy about his age and runs after him. "Come back, he called. I wont hurt you. He was standing there crying when his father came sprinting across the road..." (71). As with the burnt man, the son wishes to help this boy, but the father refuses because the threat of danger is too high. Again, the boy becomes extremely upset and claims he does not care whether he dies. The father apologizes and tells him he must not say such a thing.

As they continue on, the boy asks his father whether the other boy has anyone to look after him. The son remains deeply moved by the incident and still wants to help the boy. "We could go back, the boy said softly. It”s not so far. It”s not too late" (73). The man recalls another incident from back when his wife was still alive. At that time, their family came across another dog. The father considered killing it, but his wife walked away, and the boy had begged him to spare the dog”s life.

Their slow and painful journey continues. The father guesses that the month is November. They find an orchard with "a frieze of human heads, all faced alike, dried and caved with their taut grins and shrunken eyes" (76).

One morning, the father awakens to see a large group of people marching up behind them. The man and the boy hide close to the ground, where they are not visible from the road. The people continue to march onward, all of them carrying deadly weapons such as chains and spears and lances, as though bearing "wagons drawn by slaves in harness and piled with goods of war" (78). The two escape notice, however, and resume their journey. The climate grows unbearably colder, and the snow worsens, falling quickly.

They make camp and struggle in the falling snow to retrieve wood for the fire. The father goes to fetch wood, and his son follows him to help. At night, the man is in despair over his son”s "sunken cheeks streaked with black" (81). He awakens from his sleep because of the sound of falling trees, and he decides that they must quickly depart. They find another place to sleep.


An important contrast in this section is between the cannibalism of the men who boil bones, on the one hand, and on the other hand the fact that the father washes away the blood and brains of the man he shot. In both cases, the unwanted body parts are gotten rid of. But the bad guys kill and eat people, while the good guys kill only when necessary and then try to remove the awful reminder of what they have done.

One passage in this section employs anthropomorphism of nature and natural elements to heighten the descriptions. McCarthy writes, "it burned with a frail blue flame and he ... watched the fire climb upward..." (61). Fire, an important theme in the novel, is thus anthropomorphized, as "frail" is an adjective usually applied to people. While the verb "climb" is a common metaphor for rising fire, it evokes the higher moral aspirations of the human heart. The climbing flame, however, is frail, like the fragile morality of the father, representing humanity in its most positive incarnations. The fire symbolizes the capacity for hope and the ability to love, both qualities which the man and especially the boy possess—as the "good guys"—qualities that are deeply challenged in their experience.

McCarthy also, perhaps, alludes to the pied piper (a well-known German legend) in this section. The initial legend of the pied piper describes him as a deathly figure whose pipe music lures children away to their disappearances and presumed deaths. McCarthy may invoke this image when the man constructs a makeshift flute for the boy. Behind the man, the boy "seemed some sad and solitary changeling child announcing the arrival of a traveling spectacle ... who does not know that behind him the players have all been carried off by wolves" (66). If this analysis is correct, McCarthy reverses the image of the pied piper in that the boy is a benign piper and a child himself who does not realize the damage his playing has done. He does not seek to bring his invisible followers to their deaths, but ironically they are "carried off by wolves" without his knowledge. This also alludes to human technology having unintended consequences.

In one paragraph from this section, McCarthy switches seamlessly between different narrative points of view. Though most of the narration is told from the third-person perspective, focusing primarily on the man”s perspective, McCarthy uses the first-person perspective in this paragraph (74). In fact, he changes the narrative style within one sentence, which is jarring and very unusual in literature: "The dog that he remembers followed us for two days" (74). The use of "he" implies third person narrative, while "us" switches to first person. We seem to be inside the head of the father in a different way. Indeed, the dog is significant in explaining the father”s moral vision. A dog is unlikely to want to kill and eat a person, even in desperation, it seems, or at least a dog is easily defended against. Thus it is ok to encounter a dog without attacking it, in contrast to all people, even children, who cannot be trusted to be safe.

Other literary devices used in this section are the rhetorical question, anthropomorphism, and onomatopoeia. The rhetorical question, intended to make a statement rather than to ask a genuine question, appears in, "More fragile than he would have thought. How much was gone already?" Although it is a genuine question for the reader, the question is meant to automatically signal that the answer is that very much is already gone, an unspeakable amount. Next, as seen in the last section, McCarthy anthropomorphizes nature when he writes that the "snow whispered down in the stillness and the sparks rose and dimmed and died in the eternal blackness" (81). There is something haunting about a humanized nature in such a desolate context. Finally, examples of onomatopoeia also occur, as they commonly do, in descriptions of nature, such as when the trees in the woods are falling in the snow. "The whump of the falling trees and the low boom of the loads of snow" (82) employs onomatopoeia with “whump” and “boom.”