Symbolism, Imagery, Allegory
In a book filled with disturbing images, this one is probably the most shocking. Both The Boy and The Man notice that someone is following them, so they hide their cart and watch the road from higher ground. Pretty soon, three men and a pregnant woman pass them on the road. Later they catch up with the group and encounter this grisly sight:
They walked into the little clearing, the boy clutching his hand. They'd [the three men and the pregnant woman] taken everything with them except whatever black thing was skewered over the coals. He was standing there checking the perimeter when the boy turned and buried his face against him. He looked quickly to see what had happened. What is it? he said. What is it? The boy shook his head. Oh Papa, he said. He turned and looked again. What the boy had seen was a charred human infant headless and gutted and blackening on the spit. He bent and picked the boy up and started for the road with him, holding him close. I'm sorry, he whispered. I'm sorry. (276.1)
This is an image of absolute social breakdown. The weakest and most helpless of human beings – an infant – is preyed upon by this group. Like we said, there are other violent images in the novel, but this one seemed important to note. It represents the extremes of violence, hunger, and abasement that the novel imagines.