Date of Award
Master of Arts (MA)
Manganelli , Kimberly
Woodell , Harold
Though best known for his Western works that have been read widely in the literary community and adapted to film, Cormac McCarthy is rarely discussed in terms of his contribution to Southern literature. However, his first four novels--The Orchard Keeper, Outer Dark, Child of God, and Suttree--are set in the mountainous area around Knoxville, Tennessee. In this setting, McCarthy traces the change of the South and humanity from its agrarian, showing the violent and gothic nature of a modernizing society.
In considering the struggle between the old and new South as presented in the characters of The Orchard Keeper, the psychological and religious turmoil of the characters in Outer Dark and Child of God, and the rapidly approaching urbanization of the South in Suttree, McCarthy forces his readers to recognize the changing society and its effects on humanity both in the South and throughout the world. McCarthy continually focuses on the nature of mankind in its questioning of God and the purpose of existence as the South turns away from ideals like closeness to community and nature. His physical and literary movement to the American West brings a change of scenery, yet the content of his novels are consistently gothic, pointing to the darkness that exists within all people, both in the South and elsewhere.
McCarthy seems to return to the South with his most recent novel, The Road, in which he finally brings a struggling society into a post-apocalyptic world where men and women reproduce strictly for the purpose of cannibalism, a world where no man can be trusted as any sense of community has been lost and where all hope of God or some greater being seems lost. Yet, McCarthy places within the darkness a little boy whose goodness is both unexpected and inexplicable, and in this boy, McCarthy gives some hope for the world.
Through his depictions of darkness in his early Southern texts, McCarthy develops the depraved nature of man, yet he masterfully depicts this ugliness of man through beautiful language. Finally, in The Road, McCarthy reveals that there may be some unforeseen light among the darkness; one must simply search for it.
Davis, Melissa, "'Barren, Silent, Godless': The Southern Novels of Cormac McCarthy" (2008). All Theses. 333.