No More Heroes
Narrative Perspective and Morality in Cormac McCarthy
Publication Year: 2011
Published by: Louisiana State University Press
Series: Southern Literary Studies
In The Orchard Keeper (1965), jailed bootlegger Marion Sylder criticizes the idealistic fervor of young John Wesley Rattner. “[Y]ou want to be some kind of goddamned hero,” he tells the boy. “Well, I’ll tell ye, they ain’t no more heroes” (214). In general, Cormac McCarthy’s bleak literary worlds, scarred by grotesque images of human squalor and depravity, lend credence to the bootlegger’s claim. But despite the “nihilistic...
01 "Word and Flesh" Narrative and Morality in the Early Appalachian Novels
At the end of Outer Dark (1968), Culla Holme meets a blind prophet figure who tells him, “It’s all plain enough. Word and flesh” (240). The blind man’s enigmatic assertion reflects the tension that runs through McCarthy’s fiction, a tension between competing views on the meaningfulness of life expressed through their rejection of language as a means of effecting empathetic connection. In...
02 "A Dream of Shriving" Empathy and the Aesthetics of Convession in Suttree and Blood Meridian
Near the beginning of Cormac McCarthy’s semiautobiographical novel Suttree (1979), the eponymous Cornelius Suttree, a failed father and an absconded scion of a Knoxville lawyer, gets drunk at a bar and, after proclaiming to a nearby wall, “I’m an asshole,” collapses to the floor, where “[a] dream of shriving c[omes] to him” (77, 78). In other words, following a rather tepid confession of sin—that...
03 "Pledged in Blood" Linguistic Interiority and Redemption in the Border Trilogy
In one of the opening scenes of All the Pretty Horses (1992), John Grady Cole walks out into the night and remembers “a dream of the past” in which a band of American Indian warriors rode down from the north, “all of them pledged in blood and redeemable in blood only” (5). By the end of the novel, John Grady has killed and seen killing and is himself “pledged in blood.” Like Blood Meridian (1985), McCarthy’s earlier western...
04 "He's a Psychopathic Killer But So What?" Moral Storytelling in No Country for Old Men
No Country for Old Men (2005) tells the story of a sheriff struggling along in the bloody wake of a psychopathic murderer. This novel is narrated primarily in the omniscient third-person style that typifies McCarthy’s darkest novels, such as Blood Meridian (1985); but unlike Blood Meridian’s narrator, the third-person narrative voice in No Country for Old Men is stripped of McCarthy’s characteristic convoluted...
05 "There Is No God and We Are His Prophets" Heroism and Prophetic Narrative in The Road
In The Road (2006), two nameless characters, a father and a son, travel through a postapocalyptic world from the ruins of the father’s ancestral home in eastern Tennessee down to what is likely an abandoned, darkly futuristic Galveston, Texas. The Road symbolically bridges the geographical divide between McCarthy’s earlier Appalachian novels (The Orchard Keeper, Outer Dark, Child of God, and Suttree) and his Texan novels...
In the account of his 1992 interview with McCarthy, Richard B. Woodward describes Blood Meridian (1985) as “the bloodiest book since The Iliad.” He points out, though, that in contrast to The Iliad, “[t]here are no heroes in this vision of the American frontier” (7). There are no traditional heroes anywhere in McCarthy’s corpus. Even “all-american cowboys” such as John Grady Cole betray cousins, defile virgins, and kill...