Summary and Analysis
Section 16 - Boy forgets the pistol" to "Shooting the flare gun""
The man and boy start making their way back to their camp when the man asks the boy where the pistol is. The boy realizes he forgot it on the beach and they have to turn back. The boy apologizes, but the man says it's his fault; he should be making sure they have the pistol at all times. They return to the beach and the man cleans the sand from the gun. The boy is nervous, asking if the dark is going to catch them.
A storm moves in and they hurry to get to their camp before nightfall. The night does catch them, though, and so they move with the help of the lightning. Then the man hears the rainfall hitting their tarp. They take refuge for the long, cold, wet night.
The next morning they go back to the ship and spend the day offloading whatever supplies they can find. They sleep on the beach that night and the man's bloody cough returns. He admits to himself that he is dying. The following morning, the man makes one more trip to the ship and finds a raft, a first-aid kit, and a flare gun, which excites the boy. The boy asks about the flare gun and what it's used for, and the man says it's for signaling, so that people know where they are.
That night, the man shoots off the flare gun. The boy asks who they might signal to, wondering if there's anyone else out there. The man says he doesn't know, that he's not sure where the other people are. The boy says he doesn't know what they're doing then, and the man changes his mind about people, telling his son that there are others out there and that they'll find them.
The man continues to try to protect his son, blaming himself and not the boy when the pistol gets left behind. This is similar to an earlier scene in the novel when the boy forgot to turn the gas off on the stove and the man said it was his fault, that he should have checked to make sure both valves were closed.
The man continues to struggle with his bloody cough, which foreshadows his death as well as his involuntary abandonment of the boy. Because the man fears he'll soon be leaving his son to fend for himself, it is even more important to him to encourage his son and inspire hope in him. When the man shoots off the flare and says he doesn't think many other people are out there, the boy says he isn't sure what they are doing then, that he doesn't know why they continue with their journey on the road if all hope is lost. The man changes his mind, deciding that it's best to tell the boy that there are others out there like them and that they'll eventually find these people. He wants the boy to believe that there is purpose in their time on the road and that there is hope for the future.
The boy continues to maintain a deep focus on the morality of his and his father's actions. He asks his father if he thinks the people from the ship are dead. The man, understanding the motive behind the boy's question, says he thinks the people are dead so that his son doesn't think they are stealing somebody else's belongings. The man knows his son so well that he recognizes the boy would be more upset if the people from the ship were alive and came back to find their belongings plundered.
While the flare gun serves as a source of entertainment for the boy, it also allows the boy to feel as if they are orienting themselves on the earth in some way; as if they are signaling to God, telling God where it is they stand. The boy, like his father, is fascinated by maps and studies theirs frequently. The flare gun represents one more way in which the boy is trying to understand what it is he and his father are trying to do as some of the last remaining good guys on earth.