The Road By Cormac McCarthy Summary and Analysis Section 11 - An old man, Ely" to "Leaving Ely behind, boy doesn't look back""

Summary

The man and the boy come upon an old man ahead of them on the road. The man is wary of the old man, worrying that he's a decoy for roadagents. The old man is filthy and in poor shape. The boy wants to give the old man something to eat. He wants to comfort him, but his father tells him that the old man can't come with them, that they can't keep him. He and his son make a deal: They give the old man a cup of fruit on the side of the road and invite him to eat dinner with them that night.

At their fireside, the man asks the old man about his time on the road, about how he has survived for so long and who else he's met along the way. The old man offers his perspective on the state of the world, saying that he knew something like this would happen eventually. The old man relates that he thinks it would be awful to be the last person on earth, and suggests that it might have been nice to have died already because while nobody wants to be living under the circumstances they're living in. The old man also confesses that no one wants to die, either. He says that his name is Ely, but also says that's a lie. He doesn't want to give away his real name because he doesn't want people talking about him. He doesn't trust anyone else with his name. Ely goes on to say that he doesn't believe in God, and that it'd be better if everyone did just die, because then all that would be left of the world would be Death, who would have nothing left to do. Ely admits that he thought he had died when he saw the boy, because he didn't think he'd ever see a child again.

The next morning, the man and the boy part ways with Ely. The boy has persuades his father to leave Ely with some cans of food. Ely, however, doesn't thank the boy, admitting to the man that he wouldn't have given them food if he'd been the one with supplies. The man says that the boy didn't give him the food for the thanks. Ely wonders if the boy believes in God. The man says he's not sure what the boy believes in.

Analysis

This section illustrates more of the moral dilemmas that the man and boy struggle with. The boy wants to help the old man, saying that he's scared and hungry, but the father is wary of the man, wondering if Ely might be a decoy for some roadagents. The father also knows that their survival depends upon them conserving their food, so helping others along the road isn't a good option. But the boy's sense of goodness and his desire to remain a good guy are enough to make the man give Ely some food.

Their discussion about whether they should feed the man calls up a father and son conversation common to the old world that usually focused on whether a child could keep a dog. They use the same language that would have once been used to negotiate a pet adoption ("Can we keep him"), but in this new world, such language refers to a human life.

This section, too, focuses on this theme of the future and death with Ely serving as the primary philosopher on the topic. Just as the man has wondered about whether it's better to give in to death or to keep going, Ely too has thoughts on this topic, believing that being the last man alive would be a horrible fate.

Ely admits that he no longer believes in God, but he wonders if the boy does. The man mentions that perhaps the boy himself is a god, again placing almost a mythical quality to the boy's role in the future of this new world. When Ely says that he never thought he'd see a child again, it adds to the boy's importance. The boy still represents hope and, perhaps, the presence of innocence and goodness alive in this new and caustic world. The boy's goodness is one that not even his father can understand, something buried deep within. The boy, more so than anyone, carries the fire.

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