Summary and Analysis
The man and the boy come upon a house that was obviously once very nice. They are starving and the man wants to go inside to search for food. The boy, however, finds the house terrifying and doesn't want to go inside. But the man pushes on. Inside they find mattresses and bedding sprawled in front of a fireplace and a pile of clothes, shoes, belts, and coats in a corner of one of the rooms.
In a small room adjoining the kitchen, something like a pantry, there is a door in the floor that's locked with a large padlock. The man finds tools to break the latch, while the boy begs him not to open it. The boy claims that he's' no longer hungry anymore and just wants to leave. The man persists; he opens the door in the floor and the two descend into a cellar — the stench almost unbearable. They find naked and starving men and women. They see a man with both of his legs gone to the hip; his torso, where his legs would have started, burned. The people beg the man and boy for help, but the two run back up the stairs and through the hatch. Through the window they see four men and two women walking across the field to the house.
The man and boy run for the woods. The man fears that this may finally be the day when he's going to have to kill his son. He thinks about running in the direction opposite the boy to lead the bad people away. He tries to leave the pistol with the boy and tells him that if the people find him, he has to shoot himself. He directs the boy to stick the pistol's end in his mouth and aim up, but the man sees that the boy is too scared and that he can't leave him there alone. The man wonders what he'll do if the pistol fails, if he'll be able to pummel the boy's skull with a rock. They wait out the night in the cold woods.
This section illustrates more of the evil that the man and the boy are up against. The juxtaposition of the house, itself, which was once a grand estate, and the horrible things that are now going on inside the house speaks to the novel's ongoing theme of how a once beautiful world has disintegrated into something so cold, stark, and ugly.
This section provides a glimpse into the atrocities that some people are willing to commit to keep themselves alive. While there are hints throughout the house that something terrible is occurring (such as the pile of clothes and the bell attached to a line), the man doesn't recognize the warnings signs until it's too late. Instead, it is the boy who senses that they need to leave, but his father doesn't listen and they almost end up paying with their lives.
It is implied that the people in the basement are being kept alive only to be eaten, a limb at a time, as illustrated by the man on the bed whose legs have been burnt off. Before opening the door, the man says, "There's a reason this is locked" (108). He believes it's because there is food down there, and, in a morbid sense, this is true. The humans in the basement are being treated like livestock, and there's nothing that the boy or man can do to help them, or they might end up in the same position.
This section also investigates the man's internal struggle about whether he'd be able to kill the one thing that is keeping him alive: his son. The man does everything in his power to protect his son and to make sure the boy doesn't fall into the hands of the bad people. It is a continuous struggle for him to weigh the risks surrounding them while they are on the road. Houses and enclosed spaces may lead to danger, as this house does, but these places also offer the possibility of food, which is detrimental to their survival.