- No More Heroes: Narrative Perspective and Morality in Cormac McCarthy by Lydia R. Cooper
In No More Heroes: Narrative Perspective and Morality in Cormac McCarthy, Lydia R. Cooper finds that the ethical principal can be illustrated through a systematic examination of shifts in the novels’ narrative perspective, from the omniscient third-person narrator to the perspective of a single individual. This shift reveals that there are still heroes in McCarthy’s dark and decaying literary world. She organizes her book around this idea, building her theory of ethical compassion through examples of interiority that reveal compassion, empathy, and doubt even in characters who are not acting in a noticeably ethical or compassionate manner. The book is a well-written and well-organized trek through McCarthy’s works so far, especially since such a large and diverse body of work begs for a systematic approach.
Cooper finds hopeful moments within these seemingly dark and damned narrative worlds, finding that McCarthy invites compassion even for his necrophiles and incestuous lovers and showing their attempts to be ethical even when their ability to be so is very limited. Her argument proceeds through a thematic organization of the novels, linking them through shared imagery and ethical difficulties, which argues for a new form of continuity in McCarthy’s work. Cooper’s focus on interiority leads her to value a verbalized (even if only internally) form of choice that is not visible in the actions and behavior of the characters that McCarthy reveals to the reader. Her introductory example of Marion Sylder’s interior assertion that he lied about there being “no more heroes” focuses on John Wesley’s disillusionment with Sylder’s description of his criminal activity as a way to make money. Sylder is a hero for speaking against his own lifestyle in order to save John Wesley from a life of violence and revenge.
In each chapter, Cooper deals with an aspect of narrative morality. She uses quotations from the novels to title the chapters and describe the moral dilemmas in the narratives. Chapter 1 is titled “Word and Flesh” and deals with narrative point of view in the Appalachian novels. As with Sylder in the introduction to the book, her interest is in the interior reservations that keep characters from making empathetic connections. The chapter examines failures or limits of language in McCarthy’s work. In Chapter 2, “A Dream of Shriving,” Cooper argues that articulate, reflective Cornelius Suttree is capable of penitence, while the inarticulate kid of Blood Meridian is incapable of it or of empathy. She focuses on narrative markers of interiority, making an argument about specifically Christian and Catholic forms of guilt and confession. She finds that Suttree’s mind and words allow him an ability to imagine guilt that the kid lacks and that the kid therefore cannot conceive of the need for repentance and empathy toward another. Chapter 3, “Pledged in Blood,” sees the relationship between Billy Parham and John Grady Cole in the Border Trilogy as one of witness and redemptive death. John Grady Cole is seen as a Christ-like figure who must give his own life to atone for acts of violence, and Billy Parham must live on to testify to the moral nature of Cole’s death. Chapter 4, “He’s a Psychopathic Killer But So What?” examines No Country for Old Men as a folktale. Cooper finds it to be a tale of moral healing and images of hope. Chapter 5, “There is No God and We are His Prophets,” examines the link between heroism and prophetic narrative in Cormac McCarthy’s final novel The Road. The difference between the external hopefulness and heroic storytelling of the father and his internal despair make him, for Cooper, a postapocalyptic hero and the head of a new type of religion that he hopes will be carried forward by his son. [End Page 305]
Cooper finds that McCarthy’s worlds, as dark as they might be, contain some element of heroism and hope, if...