Summary and Analysis
The next morning they begin to search through more houses. The boy sees another little boy, about his age, and chases after him, shouting that he won't hurt him. The man chases after his son and grabs him, asking him what he was doing, but doesn't see the other little boy himself. The man believes that there are people there watching them, but they're hiding.
They move southward, and the snow and cold continue to be relentless. They are almost completely out of food, and the man can feel the old world moving farther and farther out of his reach. He cannot remember certain colors or the names of birds. They come upon more burned houses where all that remains is the shape of each place.
They follow a stone wall past the remains of an orchard, and hanging on another wall they find dried human heads and raw skulls. They move slowly and wake from camp one morning to find the bad guys tramping by them, an army wearing red scarves at their necks. They carry lengths of pipe and every manner of bludgeon. There are pregnant women and slaves harnessed to wagons. They move past the boy and the man who hide along the roadside.
While they walk, the boy asks if the man will tell them if they are about to die. The man says he doesn't know, but that they're not going to die.
One night they camp in the snowy woods and the trees begin to fall down around them. The man and the boy run to get out of the path of the falling trees and huddle under the tarp until it stops. The next morning, they find the cart, and the father rewraps their feet to keep them warm and dry.
The man asks the boy if he still thinks they're going to die and the boy isn't sure. He doesn't know if his father would lie to him about that. The man admits that he might lie about dying, but that he isn't lying now and that right now they're not dying.
They come upon wheel tracks in the snow. Someone had passed their camp in the night, and the man believes that the bad guys are coming. He and the boy make a maze of tracks in the snow so that they can't be followed, and move to higher ground from where they can watch the road. Two men come through, but they pass by, not seeing the man and his son.
In this section we see the constant dangers that the man and the boy must face. They fight starvation, the cold, and must evade the bad guys. While their daily purpose remains the same — to stay alive and to move south — the threats that they encounter vary, and they must learn to deal with these threats in various ways.
We see that the boy is very concerned for the other boy's safety, wondering what will happen to him and asking if they can take the boy with them. In many ways, the boy's fear for the other boy represents the fear and worry that he has for himself. He fears losing his father and being left all alone.
The man's inability to recall the birds and colors and pleasantries of the old world illustrate how the old world is falling away from him, in much the same way that the physical world is being scaled back, too. The trees in the forest collapse, and all that is left of the old world is a shape, the skeletal remains of houses, barns, buildings, and roadways. This theme of sparseness and skeletons continues in this section as is seen through the image of the human skulls on the stone wall, the image of the "trellis of a dog," and even the thinness of the boy as observed by the man. McCarthy continues to reflect the barrenness of this world in the barrenness of the language. The writing style is often in fragmented form, especially when the father and son are exchanging dialogue.
The description of the bad guys as wind-up dolls recalls the nightmare that the boy has earlier in the novel when he dreams of a penguin toy that walks without being wound-up. The bad guys are just as soulless as the penguin wind-up toy. Whatever was once human in them — the fire — has gone. It is up to the man and the boy to carry the fire and be the good guys.