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No More Heroes

Narrative Perspective and Morality in Cormac McCarthy

Lydia R. Cooper

Publication Year: 2011

Critics often trace the prevailing mood of despair and purported nihilism in the works of Cormac McCarthy to the striking absence of interior thought in his seemingly amoral characters. In No More Heroes, however, Lydia Cooper reveals that though McCarthy limits inner revelations, he never eliminates them entirely. In certain crucial cases, he endows his characters with ethical decisions and attitudes, revealing a strain of heroism exists in his otherwise violent and apocalyptic world. Cooper evaluates all of McCarthy’s work to date, carefully exploring the range of his narrative techniques. The writer’s overwhelmingly distant, omniscient third-person narrative rarely shifts to a more limited voice. When it does deviate, however, revelations of his characters’ consciousness unmistakably exhibit moral awareness and ethical behavior. The quiet, internal struggles of moral men such as John Grady Cole in the Border Trilogy and the father in The Road demonstrate an imperfect but very human heroism. Even when the writing moves into the minds of immoral characters, McCarthy draws attention to the characters’ humanity, forcing the perceptive reader to identify with even the most despicable representatives of the human race. Cooper shows that this rare yet powerful recognition of commonality and the internal yearnings for community and a commitment to justice or compassion undeniably exist in McCarthy’s work. No More Heroes directly addresses the essential question about McCarthy’s brutal and morally ambiguous universe and reveals poignant new answers.

Published by: Louisiana State University Press

Cover

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pp. c-vi

Contents

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pp. vii-viii

Acknowledgments

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pp. ix-x

Abbreviations

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pp. xi-xiv

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Introduction

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pp. 1-23

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...

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01 "Word and Flesh" Narrative and Morality in the Early Appalachian Novels

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pp. 24-51

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...

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02 "A Dream of Shriving" Empathy and the Aesthetics of Convession in Suttree and Blood Meridian

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pp. 52-75

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...

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03 "Pledged in Blood" Linguistic Interiority and Redemption in the Border Trilogy

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pp. 76-109

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...

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04 "He's a Psychopathic Killer But So What?" Moral Storytelling in No Country for Old Men

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pp. 110-131

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...

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05 "There Is No God and We Are His Prophets" Heroism and Prophetic Narrative in The Road

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pp. 132-160

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...

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Conclusion

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pp. 161-178

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...

Works Cited

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pp. 179-182

Index

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pp. 183-186


E-ISBN-13: 9780807139783
Print-ISBN-13: 9780807137215

Page Count: 200
Publication Year: 2011

Series Title: Southern Literary Studies