Summary and Analysis
Section 2 - Man and boy continue south" to "Gap in mountains""
The man and the boy continue south. They walk for weeks through the raw landscape, passing old aluminum houses and burned countryside. They struggle against the cold nights and the man worries about keeping their shoes in good shape and finding their next source of food. They eat sparingly and watch out for the bloodcults, roadagents, and marauders. They stop in an old barn, where bodies hang from the rafters. The man and boy speak very little and trudge on through the unforgiving landscape.
The man has dreams about his wife, but he mistrusts these dreams, that take him back to the phantom world of what once was. He believes that his survival depends upon his dreams remaining dark and perilous, whereas pleasant dreams mean that he is succumbing to death's beckon. The man wills himself to stay alive because the boy needs him.
At a supermarket, the man finds a soft drink machine with one Coca-Cola inside. He lets the boy, who's never seen a soda before, drink from the can. The boy knows he might never taste this drink again.
They make their way into a city where all that remains are the mummified dead. Farther south they find the man's childhood home, which stirs up memories of his sisters, his mother, his father. The boy is scared of the house, just as he is scared to go inside many of the houses and enclosures that they come upon.
They make their way into the mountains and the man recalls the first years of the world's demise, how the refugees wore masks and goggles and sat along the sides of the road, their spirits destroyed. Now very few survivors remain, and the man worries often about death. As they make their slow ascent, the cold worsens, as does the man's cough, which leaves a mist of blood on the gray snow. They come upon the gap in the mountains, the man unsure of what they will find at the coast, or if they'll even make it there at all.
The man continues to draw a link between the boy and God. When he sees the boy catch a gray snowflake in the palm of his hand, the man thinks about taking the host, the body of Christ. And it is the boy whom the man calls "God's own firedrake." The boy carries the fire and keeps the fire alive within the man.
The theme of fire, and of carrying the fire, is also an important theme in this novel. Fire is an important source of warmth for the man and his son; they have to struggle through many cold, wet nights without it. The flames, though, stir hope in the man.
Dreams and memories continue to play a large role in this section. The man must fight back dreams of his wife and dreams about things that will never happen again, such as walking through the wildflowers and forests, tasting a peach, spending a Christmas in his childhood home or a night by the fire with his sisters. These dreams, he believes, are the call of death, the phantoms that will make him want to give up.
There is a recurring juxtaposition of the old world with the new, the phantoms and shapes that remain of a world that will be no more. In this section, along with the man's dreams and his childhood home, the man and boy also see a lake that has no more fish, a concrete dam that will remain long after people, and newspapers that contain "quaint concerns."
The man's cough is ominous in this chapter, as is his uncertainty about what they will find at the coast. As much as he encourages his son onward to the south and to the coast, he is very aware that all of his plans and promises could be empty, that maybe there is no chance of survival. Still, for his son, he presses on and carries the fire, wondering all the while if he'll be able to do it "when the time comes." While the man doesn't say what he's referring to, it becomes clear that he thinks he may have to one day kill the boy, to spare him.