Summary and Analysis
Section 18 - Boot-prints in the sand" to "Boy sad for the thief""
The man and boy spend two more days at the beach. They eat large meals and work to get their stores down to a level that will make travel a bit easier for them on the road. One day they come back to the camp and the man sees boot prints in the sand. They reach their campsite and everything is gone: the cart, their food, the tarp, blankets, and shoes. Everything has been stolen from them.
The man is beside himself, calling himself a stupid ass. He and the boy race up to the road and try to find traces of sand so that they can see in which direction the thief, or thieves, headed. The boy sees some sand and they follow it. By the time they overtake the thief, it is dusk. It's a single man, an outcast from one of the communes. His clothes are ragged, the fingers of his right hand have been cut off, and he's filthy. He holds a butcher knife in his hand, but steps back when the man raises his gun at him. The man tells the thief to step back from the cart and take off all of his clothes, even his shoes. The boy begs his father not to kill the thief, but the man responds by saying that's what the thief was doing to them — killing them by stealing all that they had.
The thief tells the man to listen to the boy, who's begging his father to let the man be. The man forces the thief to pile his clothes and shoes on the cart. Then the man and the boy leave the thief in the road — alone, naked, and starving. The boy cries for the thief, but his father tells him to stop. The man tells his son that he's scared because he's the one who has to worry about everything. The boy refutes his father, claiming his father's statement is not true: It's him, the boy, who's the one that has to worry. They return to the place in the road where they last saw the thief. They call for him, but no one comes. The boy remains sure that the thief is there, hiding because he's scared. The man leaves the thief's clothes and shoes in the road.
That night, the man assures the boy that he wasn't going to kill the thief. The boy, though, claims that they did.
This section illustrates more of the boy's compassion for others, even those who might have done harm to the boy and his father. The boy has a strong sense of right and wrong and a commitment to humanity, which again recalls the boy's desire to carry the fire. The boy represents hope for the world's future, proof that humanity still exists. Even the thief recognizes this in the boy, as he is described as seeing something "very sobering" to him in the child.
The man, however, finds it harder to forgive. He believes that the thief left them for dead, so he plans on repaying the thief back in the same manner. When he tells the boy that he's scared because he's the one who has to worry all of the time, he doesn't realize that the boy worries, too; that the boy feels just as much of the burden as he does. It is an epiphany for the man, to see that his son is shouldering his own burden. It is because of the boy that the man decides to return to find the thief and leave his clothes for him.
The man wants the boy to know that he wasn't going to kill the man. The boy, however, states that by taking the man's clothes and leaving him for dead that, for all intents and purposes, they did kill him. The boy's comment could regard the thief's life, literally, or it could refer to a metaphorical killing. The boy's father treated the thief as something less than human, killing something inside of the man that cannot be recovered. The boy so strongly desires to be a good guy that he doesn't even wish harm to his enemies, a righteousness that the man finds difficult to support.