Summary and Analysis
Section 21 - Man tells boy to leave him behind" to "Boy sets out with another family
The boy takes the revolver with him and goes out to find food. But he returns with nothing, and his father tells him that he needs to press on and head south by himself. The man tells the boy to find the good guys and carry the fire. When the boy asks if the fire is real, the man assures him that it is; that it's inside the boy. The man tells his son that he will always be able to him and that if he practices talking to him, he'll be able to hear the man's response. The boy goes down the road as far as he can, but then turns around to go back to his father who's asleep.
The boy asks his father if he remembers the little boy that he saw in one of the towns. The man says he does remember the other boy, and that he thinks the boy is all right, that goodness will find him because it always has.
The boy sleeps close to his father that night and when the boy wakes the next morning, his father is dead. The boy stays with his father for three days and then sets out on the road. A bearded man with a shotgun comes toward him. The man with the shotgun asks the boy if the man was his father. The boy confirms it was and that he died. He asks the man with the shotgun if he's one of the good guys, and the man with the shotgun assures the boy that he is. The man with the shotgun tells that boy that his group of companions discussed whether they should come after the boy or not, but they'd decided to ask the boy to join their group and travel with them. The boy asks if the man is carrying the fire, and he says that he is. Then the boy asks if there's a little boy in the man's group, and the man confirms that there's another boy about his age and a little girl too. The boy asks the man with the shotgun if he and his group eats people, and the man tells him that no, they don't eat people.
Before the boy sets out with the man, he wants to say goodbye to his father. His father's body is covered with a blanket, just as the man promised it would be. The boy cries over his father's body, and then sets out on the road once more. The woman in the group welcomes the boy. She and the boy talk about God, but the boy says he prefers to talk to his father, which the woman says is all right, and that God passes through all men through all of time.
This section begins with a shift in roles between the boy and the father. It's now the boy who carries the revolver and leaves in search of food. The man knows that it's time for the boy to go ahead of him, to be a part of a future that doesn't involve him. He continues to encourage his son to carry the fire and tells the boy that the lightness (goodness) is a part of him, a quality the reader has witnessed throughout the entire novel. The man calls his son "the best guy." All along the boy has wanted to be a good guy, and here his father calls him the best.
When the boy asks his father about the other little boy, he not only calls to mind this thought that others could be there around them, offering hope, but he might also be voicing concerns about himself. He wants to know what his father thinks happened to that boy, and, indirectly, wants to know what will happen to himself, too. His father seems to sense this, and tells the boy that goodness will find the little boy because it always has.
After the boy's father dies, a new man enters the novel. The boy carries the revolver in the same way his father used to. The boy has to decide whether he can trust this new man or not, and so he asks him about carrying the fire and about eating people, two of the boy's major concerns throughout his journey. The man says that there's a little boy with them, although it's not clear if this is the same boy that has been mentioned throughout the novel.
The boy decides to trust the new man and go with him, and the children and woman with him. When the boy goes back once more to say good-bye to his father, we see that the new man has left the boy's father covered with a blanket, just as he'd promised. This indicates that the man is, presumably, trustworthy and is, in fact, a good guy.
In such a bleak world, questions of God's existence emerge both for the boy and the man. Throughout the novel, the man has often seen glimpses of God in the boy. He sees a light in the boy and has referred to him as a "glowing tabernacle," a "golden chalice," and a god. But at the end of the novel, the boy reveals that he prefers to talk to his father instead of God. The woman tells the boy that the breath of God passes through all men and, in this way, the boy is able to recognize a bit of God in his father. Earlier in the novel, when the man is talking with Ely and Ely asks if the boy believes in God, the man says he doesn't know what the boy believes in. In this final section, the boy reveals that he believes in his father, thus perpetuating the mystical, and seemingly holy, connection that exists between father and son.
The novel's final paragraph begins in storytelling form: "Once there were . . . " The frame for this final paragraph recalls the man's thoughts about storytelling and about the death that was going to put an end to his story. This paragraph shows that while the old world remains a story, there is a future — and the boy is a part of it. The stories of the men from the old world, like the boy's father, will remain so long as the boy is able to carry the story on. The boy continues to carry the fire of his father and a new fire that lives within him and that he will spread over time.