Summary and Analysis
Section 19 - Another town, man gets shot with arrow" to "Boy asks Papa if he killed the arrow man
They set out the next morning and the man tries to get the boy to talk. The boy, still upset about the thief, says he's trying to make conversation. The man hears the earth rumble and thinks about the past and what's ahead in the future, what's coming for them.
The man goes through their cans of food once more to toss whatever seems like it might be rotten. They make their way into a town and as they're pushing the cart through some back streets, the man is shot in his leg by an arrow. He covers the boy and shoots a flare at a man with a bow, who is standing inside a window of one of the houses. He and the boy hear the man with the bow scream. The man tells the boy to stay put while he runs inside. He finds a woman holding the man who had the bow, who may be alive or he may be dead. The woman curses the man, but the man asks the woman where the bow is. She claims not to have it, and the man realizes there must have been others with the two of them, who have taken the bow and left the injured man and the woman behind. She says that she chose to stay behind.
Outside, the man gets the boy and they go into a building that was once a store. The man's leg bleeds heavily, and he rinses out the wound, cleans it with disinfectant from the first-aid kit, and stitches it up. The boy asks if it hurts and the man says it does, but that it's okay.
The man and the boy spend the next day in the store, where the man asks the boy if he wants to hear a story. The boy does not, because stories aren't true because in them, his father tells him that they're helping people. The boy no longer believes they are helping people. The man asks the boy to tell him a story, then, or to tell him about some of his dreams. But the boy refuses to talk about his dreams because his dreams aren't happy. The boy believes that stories should be happy, but his stories are like real life. The boy says that real life isn't so great.
The boy tells his father that when he goes out to the road and starts coughing, that he can hear him. He says he can also hear him cry sometimes and that if his father won't allow him to cry, then he shouldn't cry, himself. The boy asks his father if he killed the man who shot him with the arrow. His father says no. The boy asks if his father's leg will get better, and he says yes.
In this section, the boy is still trying to reconcile the sadness he feels for the thief that they left naked in the street. The boy's father is thinking about stories, musing on the story of himself and his son. He wonders how old the boy is, what time of the year it is, essentially organizing the setting of the story in his mind. Stories, after all, are what have allowed him to keep the old world alive for his son up until this point. The earth, however, interrupts the man's thoughts, creaking as if to remind him that stories of fiction and stories of reality have changed and will forever be changed in this new world. The man wonders what is coming for him, what is going to "steal" his eyes and "seal" his mouth, perhaps foreshadowing his death and how it will silence him as it has silenced so many others' stories before his.
The theme of stories and of dreams both continue throughout this section. The man asks the boy if he wants to hear a story. The boy does not, because the stories the man tells aren't real. The man tries to tell stories to make the boy happy, which is why he creates stories in which they help others. But the boy, presumably still thinking about the thief, says that they don't really help others. For the boy, being a good guy is one of his primary reasons for continuing on in their journey. He doesn't see much of a point in life if he isn't helping others. When his father asks him to tell him about his dreams, the boy refuses because his dreams are sad. The boy wants stories to be happy. He remembers that bad dreams are a good sign, though, because they mean that he hasn't given up. The man asks the boy about real life, and the boy admits that real life is pretty tough, a comment very reminiscent of others that the boy has made about wanting to be with his mother, wanting to be dead.
The man's ability to stitch up his own wound recalls an earlier section on the novel. Before the man shot the bad guy in the truck, the bad guy asked if the man was a doctor. The man answered by saying that he isn't anything. Obviously, the man has medical skills: he birthed his son, and he can suture wounds.
When the boy wants to know if his father killed the man with the bow and arrow, his father tells him that he didn't. The boy wants to believe his father, just as he wants to believe that they're still the good guys and don't kill people. Whether the man with the bow and arrow is really alive or dead remains unclear; all the boy (as well as the reader) has is the man's word. The boy also wants to believe his father when he says that his leg will get better. Throughout the novel, the boy has second-guessed what his father tells him, especially when it concerns whether or not they are dying.