How we cite our quotes:
He loaded the flarepistol and as soon as it was dark they walked out down the beach away from the fire and he asked the boy if he wanted to shoot it.
[The Boy:] You shoot it, Papa. You know how to do it.
[The Man:] Okay.
He cocked the gun and aimed it out over the bay and pulled the trigger. The flare arced up into the murk with a long whoosh and broke somewhere out over the water in a clouded light and hung there. The hot tendrils of magnesium drifted slowly down the dark and the pale foreshore tide started in the glare and slowly faded. He looked down at the boy's upturned face.
[The Boy]: They couldnt see it very far, could they Papa?
[The Man:] Who?
[The Boy:] Anybody.
[The Man:] No. Not far.
[The Boy:] If you wanted to show where you were.
[The Man:] You mean like to the good guys?
[The Boy:] Yes. Or anybody that you wanted them to know where you were.
[The Man:] Like who?
[The Boy:] I dont know.
[The Man:] Like God?
[The Boy:] Yeah. Maybe somebody like that. (336.1-336.15)
The Man doesn't really believe either "the good guys" or God will actually see the flarepistol. But the way McCarthy describes the flare's explosion over the water – "hot tendrils of magnesium drifted slowly down the dark" – suggests that the gesture is somehow beautiful. To put it another way, we have a hard time believing McCarthy would use such pretty language if he wants us to feel despair. Rather, we think McCarthy wants us to see The Man's irrational hope of finding other "good guys" (or God) as both tragic and beautiful.
The days sloughed past uncounted and uncalendared. Along the interstate in the distance long lines of charred and rusting cars. The raw rims of the wheels sitting in a stiff gray sludge of melted rubber, in blackened rings of wire. The incinerate corpses shrunk to the size of a child and propped on the bare springs of the seats. Ten thousand dreams ensepulchred within their crozzled hearts. They went on. Treading the dead world under like rats on a wheel. The nights dead still and deader black. So cold. They talked hardly at all. He coughed all the time and the boy watched him spitting blood. Slumping along. Filthy, ragged, hopeless. He'd stop and lean on the cart and the boy would go on and then stop and look back and he would raise his weeping eyes and see him standing there in the road looking back at him from some unimaginable future, glowing in that waste like a tabernacle. (373.1)
Well, things sound pretty dim for most of this passage. The Man and The Boy are losing track of time, and there are corpses everywhere. Plus, there's the ever-present night and cold and muck of the novel. But despite all this horrendous suffering and bleakness, The Man actually sees something beautiful and hopeful in The Boy. It's kind of surprising. To The Man, The Boy is the shrine of some possible good future.
He took the cup and moved away and when he moved the light moved with him. He'd wanted to try and make a tent out of the tarp but the man would not let him. He said that he didnt want anything covering him. He lay watching the boy at the fire. He wanted to be able to see. Look around you, he said. There is no prophet in the earth's long chronicle who's not honored here today. Whatever form you spoke of you were right. (380.1)
The Man is finally dying. McCarthy has hinted for much of the book that he doesn't have long – note the coughing and weak lungs – but The Man doesn't actually die until the last pages. McCarthy walks a fine line in the death scene here. On the one hand, we could say The Man is simply hallucinating and speaking nonsense. He thinks daylight moves with The Boy and says something unintelligible about prophets and forms. On the other hand, there's some wisdom in what The Man sees and says. The Boy is good and so it makes sense that the light would follow him. And doesn't The Boy honor all fathers and prophets by caring for The Man in his last hour?