Cormac McCarthy's heroes : narrative perspective and morality in the novels of Cormac McCarthy.
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Cooper, Lydia R.
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Critics writing on Cormac McCarthy often note the striking paucity of revelations of interior thought in his novels. James Bowers, for instance, claims that few modern writers reject “the Joycean tradition of interiority” as comprehensively as does McCarthy, while Jay Ellis notes “the absence of regular psychologizing” (Bowers 14, Ellis 5). These critics associate the moral bleakness and prevailing mood of despair in the novels with a stylistic absence of revelations of characters’ thoughts, a style consistent with many American naturalist writers. Although McCarthy limits revelations of interior thought, however, he does not eliminate them entirely. The distant, omniscient third-person narrative style typical of McCarthy’s works at times shifts into the limited third person voice, revealing the perspective of a particular character. At times, third-person narration even moves into first-person narration. This striking shift into the close third or first-person point of view most often reveals the thoughts of characters who exhibit moral awareness and ethical behavior. When the narrative shifts to the perspective of immoral characters, that shift draws attention to that immoral character’s humanity, simulating an empathetic response that encourages readers to recognize their shared humanity with even the most despicable representatives of the human race. Shifts in point of view are thus consistently associated with morality, revealing characters’ yearning for community, valuation of life, or commitment to justice and compassion. To date, no one has systematically explored narrative perspective and its connection to morality in McCarthy’s novels. The worldview of McCarthy’s novels is notoriously difficult to identify, since his novels and plays, when placed in conversation with each other, dialogically pit arguments for the self-destructive nature of humankind against arguments for a rather mystical divine providence. This dissertation will explore McCarthy’s range of narrative techniques, focusing on the early Appalachian novels, The Border Trilogy, and The Road, whose styles are representative of the whole corpus, in order to demonstrate how McCarthy privileges ethical behavior and moral attitudes. Revelations of the internal ethical struggles of moral men like John Grady Cole in The Border Trilogy or the father in The Road illuminate their imperfect heroism.