“The boys” are how the man
refers to his traveling companions who he’ll meet up with at the end of a day of solo travel. The boys, who never appear within the space of the story, but who repeatedly appear in the man’s thoughts, function as a symbol, rather than as characters. This generic group represents many things to the man: his destination, security, comfort, and companionship. His focus on the boys evolves over the course of the story as his circumstances change. He looks forward to reaching the boys. He is disappointed when he stumbles into the water because it will delay his arrival at the camp to meet the boys. He imagines the boys finding his dead body and feels, as he dies, that he no longer belongs in their group. The boys symbolize an unattainable goal of “civilization,” a space that is controlled by humans. The man is not with the boys because he is in nature, alone. Nature, the opposite of the boys, presents physical threats, isolation, and indifference.