The Road

The Road Summary and Analysis of Section 8

Section 8 spans pages 185 to 210.

While the boy sleeps, the man stands on the beach and reminisces about his life when his wife was still alive. When he returns to their camp, the boy is awake and frightened. In the morning, they explore the beach. They come across an abandoned ship. While the boy keeps lookout on the beach with the pistol, the man swims out to the boat to explore it.

The ship is named Pajaro de Esperanza, or Bird of Hope, and hails from Tenerife, a Spanish island. The boat has not been ransacked, and while the sea apparently has destroyed most of its contents, it turns out that much remains. The man is able to retrieve some clothes for himself and the boy. He also recovers a toolbox, a bottle of gas, and a sextant, which “was the first thing he’d seen in a long time that stirred him” (192). In the end, the man is able to collect may useful items to bring back to his son.

They hurry to make dinner, and the father asks for the pistol. The boy realizes he has left it behind and begins to cry. They lose valuable daylight going to recover the pistol, which they find lying on the sand. When they return to the main path, night has fallen. Using lightning bolts, they find their old tracks and are able to find their old piece of tarp for shelter.

The next day, they spend the morning unloading goods from the ship. The father’s cough continues to worsen; he coughs up blood often. “Every day is a lie, he said. But you are dying. That is not a lie” (200). The man finds a flare pistol from the ship and a first aid kit. The son learns that the man has kept the flare pistol to shoot people, not to signal, because there is no one to signal. The boy wants to shoot it that night as a celebration.

The boy asks whether the people who owned the ship are dead or alive. The man insists they could be alive, but this idea concerns the boy, who does not want to steal from others. In the end, the man agrees that they are most likely dead. On the beach, the boy suggests writing a message in the sand for the good guys, but the man mentions that the bad guys might see it. This discourages the boy. The man says they could still write a letter. They decide not to do so.

In the sand, the boy maps out a grid of streets. "The man walked down and squatted and looked at it. The boy looked up. The ocean's going to get it, isn't it? he said" (206). The man responds in the affirmative.

At night, they shoot the flare. The boy wonders who might be able to see the flare. When his father suggests God, he replies, “Yeah. Maybe somebody like that” (207).

The boy becomes ill and vomits. The father gives him expired antibiotics from the ship’s first aid kit. The boy remains sick for some time, and the father’s health gets no better.


The one inevitable conclusion is death. While everything humans do and hope for could be seen as a kind of lie, an attempt to thwart death and make something lasting or at least something meaningful, the truth is that man is mortal. Thus the imagery of death in nature becomes more prominent in this section. Though the man and the boy have reached the ocean as they hoped, neither they nor the reader feels fulfilled by their accomplishment. The wasteland of death only continues at the coastline. "The bones of seabirds. At the tide line a woven mat of weeds and the ribs of fishes in their millions stretching along the shore as far as eye could see like an isocline [parallel pattern] of death. One vast salt sepulchre. Senseless. Senseless" (187). The repetition of "senseless" here emphasizes the indifference of the universe to death, even while mankind is all too keenly aware of and dismayed by it. At the sea, the man’s health does not improve, and the boy becomes ill.

The short exchange about the ocean destroying the artificial streets carved into the sand is a metaphor for this broad theme in the novel: the infinite universe will eventually destroy man’s constructions, whether through indifference or the insensible onslaught of the atrophies of time. The boy's mapping out of streets represents manmade phenomena like the civilization that is now destroyed. Meanwhile, the ocean, part of nature and the natural universe, will eventually obliterate the boy's map.

The name of the abandoned ship, Bird of Hope, is paradoxical. At face value, the ship does provide hope. Like some of the buildings along the way, it offers them many useful supplies to sustain them in the days to come. Yet, it seems that time and the sea have destroyed much else that would have been useful; the ship merely offers remnants. Besides, the Bird of Hope has ended up abandoned and stuck ashore. It did not complete its original mission and has been left for scavengers.

The sextant, which the father finds in the ship, is described as "the first thing he'd seen in a long time that stirred him" (192). A sextant helps people determine their position in relation to the celestial objects. In other words, the sextant is an invention of man that enables him to look up into the universe, to seek something higher, something beyond the earth upon which he lives, and locate himself in that context. Taking this into account, the sextant could be construed as a metaphor for hope.

The flare, too, symbolizes hope in a divine or celestial context. The boy wants to shoot it in celebration, not save it to shoot one of the bad guys. Maybe God will be the kind of being who sees it, since there are few people around to communicate with, and pretty much all of them seem to be the bad guys. Nevertheless, the boy in particular maintains a hope of human fellowship with the good guys. If the flare won’t be seen, maybe a message in the sand will do. Yet, communication tends to be irreducibly ambiguous and can reach the bad guys as easily as the good guys, so the man and boy decide not even to write a letter.

Notably, darkness is personified in this section. When the boy and the man hurry to find their campsite before night falls, the boy asks, "Is the dark going to catch us?" (196). Unfortunately, it does. Like death in a previous section, the darkness is described as a human stalker, chasing the man and the boy across the road in search of shelter and safety. The flare, usually intended as a sign of distress, just lets the darkness know where to find them. They have to rely on the brief bursts of lightning, representing only momentary flashes of hope or solace, to get where they are going.