The Road

The Road Summary and Analysis of Section 7

Section 7 extends from page 159 to page 184.

The man remembers a winter long ago, when he was slightly older than his son’s present age. He watched a group of men set fire to a mass of serpents in the ground.

One night, his son has a nightmare but refuses to describe it to his father. The man says, “When your dreams are of some world that never was or of some world that never will be and you are happy again then you will have given up” (160).

They continue to travel towards the sea, but the father is extremely weak. They come across a gruesome stretch of road upon which corpses lay “half mired in the blacktop, clutching themselves, mouths howling” (161). These people were killed on the road in a great fire. The father tries to prevent his son from looking, but the boy is surprisingly serene.

At a stop, the father and the boy think they are being followed. They decide to leave less trash behind so that anyone behind them will not know they have a food supply. They make camp, and while the boy sleeps, the father sees a group of people, three men and a pregnant woman, who pass them by. The next morning, the protagonists continue onwards.

They see smoke coming out of the woods, and the boy fears it is a trap. They smell cooking, and the man and the boy circle around it. Nothing remains in the woods, and the man surmises that the people were frightened of the man since they have a pistol. The people left quickly, their food still cooking, so the man and the boy examine the abandoned campsite. A shocking sight awaits them, which the boy notices first: “a charred human infant headless and gutted and blackening on the spit” (167).

They continue walking. During one stop, the boy says, “If we had that little baby it could go with us” (168). In the face of the horror they have recently seen, the boy apologizes for having shown serenity about the corpses burned into the road earlier.

They find a water source, and the boy runs ahead to drink from the water. The father notes that he has not seen his son run in a very long time. They filter the water and drink, but they have not eaten for two days.

They see a house in the distance. The man insists they walk to the house to search for food. On the way, the man finds a few arrowheads and gives them to the boy to keep. Inside the house, they find very old cans of food. They make a fire in the fireplace, make dinner, and spend the night inside the house. The boy begs his father not to go to the second story of the house, but the man goes nonetheless. They find clothes in the bedroom. The two of them stay in the house for four days, and the man makes new clothes for his son. They also find a wheelbarrow, which they use upon leaving to transport their new set of blankets and canned foods.

They continue. At a grocery store with gas pumps, they manage to acquire a cupful of gasoline. They start to run out of food once again, but the land they travel slowly changes. They finally reach the sea, but the ocean is not blue, which disappoints the boy. As they sit together on the beach, the boy wonders what lies beyond the ocean. The boy goes swimming despite the frigid weather. After swimming, the boy cries but does not tell the man why. They make camp near the ocean.


The man's memory of the men who burn alive a great mass of serpents beneath a rocky hillside represents one of man’s reactions to evil. "The men poured gasoline on them and burned them alive, having no remedy for evil but only for the image of it as they conceived it to be" (159). Just as with the snakes, human beings have met evil with destruction, themselves bringing forth whatever evil catastrophe has destroyed the earth. The men in the memory also have an "image of [evil] as they conceived it to be." The serpents represent “evil” or all of the negative circumstances people face. Snakes can’t be transformed into something good; they can only be destroyed. The conclusion of this memory further emphasizes the men's callousness: "they disbanded in silence in the winter dusk each with his own thoughts to go home to their suppers" (159). Once the evil is destroyed, the people in the dream go back to their old ways, but in the present, the old ways are gone now that civilization itself has been destroyed.

Other reactions to evil are possible, too. This section of The Road demonstrates good examples of the boy's gradual character development. Earlier in The Road, the man usually instructs his son to turn his eyes away from the gruesome corpses they often see along the journey, and the boy wants to help people they meet. Here, they see the corpses of travelers who have been burned alive on the road's tar. Yet this time the boy is "[s]o strangely untroubled" (161). This calmer reaction suggests that the boy is maturing, not that he is callous but, like his father, knows which evils must be left alone. Later, the boy suggests to the father that they are being followed. This response to evil, wariness or flight, also demonstrates the boy's growing awareness of his surroundings and maturity. He is growing less dependent on his father for survival and comfort.

This does not mean that in leaving evil things alone, the boy loses hope. It is true that the dead infant being cooked on the spit obviously cannot be helped, but the boy somehow wishes that it could be alive, traveling with them. Earlier, the man and the boy encountered other cannibals, but this unspeakable monstrosity indicates the irreparable destruction of innocence and humanity. The next generation, for the cannibals, does not matter. The dead infant is a symbol of the utter death of man's innocence, and the boy has matured to the point that he knows his good motivations, his hopes, are going to be very difficult to fulfill. At least the hope of the ocean lies ahead.

McCarthy repeats the motif regarding the significance of naming and memory in this section. As the man surveys the road, he notes: "Rich lands at one time. No sign of life anywhere. It was no country that he knew. The names of the towns or the rivers" (170). Since the man no longer knows the names of the towns or rivers they are passing through, there is nothing to remember, and there is no new sign of life to produce a memory that matters.

As they cross a field, the man finds both an arrowhead and an old coin with Spanish lettering on it. The arrowhead is not a souvenir or interesting artifact so much as it is a symbol of human violence. In passing along the arrowhead to the boy, the father gives a private reminder of evil that complements the evil they see almost everywhere on their journey. In contrast, he drops the coin, which has no cultural value and is a reminder of what is lost. Human violence is one of the few things that did survive the catastrophe.

Of course, other essential elements of humanity have survived as well, and in part McCarthy has used this story to examine what does remain of humanity when almost everything of culture has been destroyed except for the objects themselves, which must be scavenged. Humans continue to scavenge hope; they continue to try to stay alive, many of them travel (and more or less in the same direction), and the man and boy have been on a mission to the south and the sea, even though they are not sure what they are going to do when they arrive.

At the end of the section, they reach a house with supplies that they make a haven for a short time. They seem more hopeful than before, not so paranoid about others finding them. They do, finally, reach the sea. Perhaps as expected, it is not so exciting, but the boy gives it a shot and goes swimming in the cold waters. When he cries, it is probably for several reasons. The ocean has probably not met his hopes. The swimming was ok, but now that they have arrived, is it really any better than where they were during their journey? It’s not even blue. The sea is actually a huge barrier to further progress across the whole east, so it is a major limitation on the boy and his father, contrasting with its traditional boundlessness.