Summary and Analysis
The man remembers the birth of his son, how he delivered him by the light of a drycell lamp and cut the cord with kitchen shears, the beginning of their special bond.
The boy asks his father if he used to have friends. The man said he did, that he remembers them, but they're all dead now. When they wake the next morning, they hear men coming, the bad men who carry lengths of pipe and clubs. The man topples the cart, hides it, and takes the boy and runs through the woods. They crouch behind an embankment, and the road gang's truck dies. Upon them comes one of the bad men who is going to the bathroom. The father raises his pistol at the bad man, they exchange words, and the father reveals in his speech that he has knowledge of human anatomy. The bad man asks if he's a doctor because they've got a man hurt. The father says he isn't anything and asks the bad man to go with them, but the man refuses, reaches for his knife, grabs the boy, and the father shoots the bad man in the head, covering the boy with the man's gore.
They run through the woods and hide, listening through the freezing night as the men search for them. The man holds his son close, trying to keep him warm. He thinks of the single round left in the revolver and wonders again if he'll be able to do it, if he'll be able to shoot his son should the time come.
The next morning, all that remains of the road gang are some tracks in the road and the dead man's remains. The dead man's gang boiled the man, ate him, and left behind his innards. Their cart has been ransacked and they leave it behind, continuing south, camping through cold and barren nights around a fire, their food supply running out.
Eventually they come upon a town and enter one of the stores, taking whatever supplies they can find. They move southward to the houses at the edge of town and they see a dog. The boy makes sure that they aren't going to eat the dog, and his father promises him that no, they won't hurt the dog at all.
That night, sleeping in a parked car, the boy asks his father if they're still the good guys. The man tells his son that they are still the good guys, that they are still carrying the fire.
The man sees the boy as something that is greater than himself, something holy, as is symbolized by the man referring to his son as the "golden chalice." He also describes the moment in which he washes the bad man's brains from his sons hair as some kind of "ancient anointing," something that indicates the boy's holiness in this new world.
Because the man was chosen as the boy's father, he has been entrusted by God to take care of him. The man reflects often on his role as the father, how he must be the one to wash the bad man's brains from his son's hair, and he questions again in this chapter about whether he'll be able to kill his son if the time should come. With one bullet left, he knows that
Fire continues to be a central theme, as many of the descriptions in this section focus on the building of fires, how the man shapes the fire, and how both he and his son stoke the fire. In many ways, the man is shaping and stoking the fire within his son, too, by sharing stories of the old world and by instilling a sense of right and wrong in the boy.
In this section, the boy still raises questions of morality, asking if they're still the good guys even though they killed the bad man. He wants to make sure that they are doing right even when so many others are doing wrong, as is indicated by the dog and how the boy wants to make sure that he and his father won't hurt the dog, a creature that many others would choose to eat. The fire is alive in the boy.
The bad man and the road gang in this chapter symbolize the deterioration of the human race. They embody the ugliness that has emerged in this new world where almost all things beautiful have been destroyed. For the man, though, he still has his son. And the boy still has his father. What is shared between them is something sacred, and McCarthy alludes to this by including the flashbacks of the boy's birth, how it is the father who delivers his son and how it is the father who is appointed by God to take care of his son no matter what evil and desperate situations befall them.