In Jack Ketchum's short “The Box”, what exactly was in the box? I really want to know!

  • 2
    I'd answer, but I don't want you to stop eating and die, I value human life too much to share the knowledge.
    – Jeff
    Commented May 20, 2011 at 14:38
  • 3
    It's obviously Tracy Mills' head. Commented May 21, 2011 at 3:57
  • I've often wondered that. Lifelessness perhaps? It doesn't just drive the plot, the kids talk about it and I think it is supposed to be something unknowable but something or nothingness regardless.
    – user17466
    Commented Sep 20, 2013 at 1:11
  • 1
    Judging by his surname, my guess is a Poké ball :-) It's what was inside that Poké ball that is the true mystery... Commented Feb 19, 2017 at 15:51

4 Answers 4


Nothing is in the box.

What's in the box is something which drives the plot - its true substance, mass, shape, and form are unknown and unknowable.

The object in the box isn't revealed because it isn't important. It's a McGuffin.

It's like asking what was in the briefcase in Pulp Fiction. It doesn't matter, except in that it has the properties which the story requires in order to move forward.

  • And not knowing drives fans rabid with speculation!
    – Ryan
    Commented May 20, 2011 at 19:20
  • 1
    Thanks for the cleaning up, Gilles. You make it look like I speek English Gud.
    – Jeff
    Commented May 20, 2011 at 20:23
  • It's like asking, what was The Thing???
    – user14111
    Commented Aug 4, 2015 at 2:52

I infer that inside the box is the ability to accept death, even welcome it. We are surrounded by a culture that mourns loss and prevents death even whent he quality of our lives will decrease significantly. The children are not scared of what was in the box and seem content with what will come if they continue to starve themselves. The father was not as close to his children and still feels the insatiable hunger of missing his loved ones which makes him empty and continually moving closer to following the same path his wife and children did.


Nothing was in the box and then the boy realized life is nothing really and he had no hope anymore, Like he says, "it doesn't matter, what's the point" and when the doctor tells him if he doesn't eat he will die, he says "so?".

  • This seems like unguided guesswork. Can you offer any evidence to support your theory?
    – Valorum
    Commented Feb 27, 2017 at 23:44

It's like what I thought about the ending of The Sopranos (which of course frustrated the hell out off me tho, thinking about it for a couple days, I thought it was brilliant): the ending is that...there is no ending. Or rather, what is in the box will be in your mind, if you can come to a conclusion about it. In other words, the father is frustrated as hell & never learns what's in the box--just as the reader is at the end of the story. My opinion: what's in the box is something that shows you that, in the end, life is not worth living, so you may as well just "lie down" and wait for death to come sooner than later...

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