Mark Danner

Murderers, Madmen and Dissolutes: Cormac McCarthy and His Progeny

Murderers, Madmen and Dissolutes: Cormac McCarthy and His Progeny

Fall 2022
English 90
Tues/Thurs, 12:30-2:00 pm
Wheeler 305

The heroes of Cormac McCarthy’s novels occupy the borderlands of the American imagination and court its darkest urges. He is a writer fascinated by violence and the sacred, by loneliness and worship, by the American jeremiad and the scream in the forest. The haunting rhythms of his prose echo Melville and Faulkner and the King James Version but the anguish of his protagonists in their battered landscapes evoke Dostoevsky and Kafka and Beckett. This fall the 88-year-old master will publish not one but two new novels. In this seminar we will read those new works and endeavor to set them against his large body of writing — novels as well as films — in an attempt to come to grips with McCarthy’s six-decade foray into the furthest reaches of the American Gothic.

English 90: The course catalogue describes the English 90 course as “a small, faculty-led seminar on the practice and discipline of literary analysis. It is meant for all students who seek an introductory literature course and would like to improve their ability to read and write critically, including those who may wish to major in English. Focusing on the close study of a few works, rather than a survey of many, the seminar will help students improve their skills at interpreting literature, while gaining awareness of different strategies and approaches for making sense of literary language, genres, forms, and contexts. The seminar also will develop students’ ability to write about literature and to communicate meaningfully the stakes of their analysis to an audience.”

Course Assistant: Elizabeth Terry is our undergraduate course assistant. She will be taking attendance, recording classes, keeping notes. Please contact her for class notes and recordings, etc., and to schedule your presentation or to book office hours. Elizabeth will also be updating the syllabus on bCourses. She can be reached at

Class Requirements: This class will be a mixture of lectures and discussion, backed up by a solid amount of reading and viewing, and some writing. The most important requirements are that students

*Attend all class sessions
*Keep up with reading and writing assignments
*Participate in discussions
*Offer a class presentation, in collaboration with one or two colleagues
*Complete one four-page midterm paper and one eight-page final paper

A student’s record of attendance and participation in class discussion, together with the quality of his or her writing, will determine the success of our class and contribute the better part of the grade. Students who miss multiple class sessions will not do well in this course.

Schedule: Note that classes will meet Tuesdays and Thursdays at 12:30 pm in Wheeler 305. Class concludes at 2 pm.

Reading: Our primary reading will draw on a series of novels by Cormac McCarthy. They are listed below under Required Texts. I strongly urge you to obtain these books in your own copies and in the edition specified either from local bookstores or from online suppliers, so that you will be able to highlight and annotate them and so that during discussions we will all be “on the same page.”

I have also listed a number of secondary volumes about McCarthy and will likely suggest other books and articles as the class progresses. These are not required but are suggested for students wanting to supplement their primary reading.

Films: We will assign some films made from McCarthy’s work. I urge students to watch these films together, on as large a screen as you can find and in at least one full viewing without interruption.

Favorite Passages: Always come to class with a favorite passage – anything from several sentences to a paragraph — drawn from that session’s assigned reading. Be prepared to read the passage out loud and say a few words about why you chose it.

Writing: Three papers are required in this class. Papers should be double-spaced, titled and paginated and handed in through bCourses by midnight of the date due. Prompts for the papers will be discussed in class but keep in mind that the three papers – like the presentation – are your chance to say something about McCarthy’s writing that seems important to you. A three-page paper is due September 27 . A four-page paper is due October 25. A five-page paper is due December 6.

To bolster the clarity and vigor of your prose, I strongly suggest reading or re-reading George Orwell’s essay, “Politics and the English Language.” Strunk and White’s little manual, The Elements of Style is also very useful.

Class Presentation: Every student is required to put on a class presentation either alone or in collaboration with one other student. The presentations should last ten to fifteen minutes and take up some subject having to do with McCarthy but ancillary to the class. Examples might include McCarthy’s life, his era, his films, writers he’s influenced or been influenced by, performance of his plays, even his musings on science. There are many other possibilities but above all make it interesting – for you and the class. Use of images, recordings and video is strongly encouraged.

Office Hours: I will want to meet individually with each of you at least once during the semester. I will be holding office hours Friday mornings, between nine and eleven or ten and twelve. Course assistant Elizabeth Terry will begin to schedule these a few weeks into the semester. You are welcome to come talk to me about the class, the reading, your career — or anything else of interest. Which is to say: You don’t need a specific reason to come to office hours. The Zoom meeting ID is 950 2931 1493. Some office hours will be in person, depending on conditions, and I will announce this and the location in class.

My writing and speaking and syllabi for past courses can be found on my website,

Grading: Students will be graded on their preparedness for and their participation in class, the strength of their presentations and the quality of their written work, roughly as follows:

Attendance             25 percent
Participation          25 percent
Writing                    25 percent
Presentation           25 percent


Required Texts

Cormac McCarthy, The Orchard Keeper (Vintage, 1993 [1965])

Cormac McCarthy, Outer Dark (Vintage, 1993 [1968])

Cormac McCarthy, Child of God (Grove, 1993 [1973])

Cormac McCarthy, Blood Meridian: Or the Evening Redness in the West (Vintage, 1992 [1985])

Cormac McCarthy, All the Pretty Horses (Vintage, 1993 [1992])

Cormac McCarthy, No Country for Old Men (Vintage, 2006 [2005])

Cormac McCarthy, The Road (Vintage, 2007 [2006])

Cormac McCarthy, The Passenger (Knopf, 2022)*

Cormac McCarthy, Stella Maris (Knopf, 2022)**


*Will be published on October 25, 2022

**Will be published on December 6, 2022


Some Useful Secondary Texts

Edwin T. Arnold (editor), Perspectives on Cormac McCarthy (Mississippi, 1999)

Michael Lynn Crews, Books Are Made Out of Books: A Guide to Cormac McCarthy’s Literary Influences (Texas, 2017)

Steven Frye, Understanding Cormac McCarthy (South Carolina, 2009)

Steven Frye (editor), The Cambridge Companion to Cormac McCarthy (Cambridge, 2013)

Stephanie Reents, I Meant to Kill Ye: Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian (Fiction Advocate, 2018)

Joseph Sepich, Notes on Blood Meridian (Texas, 2008)

Rick Wallach (editor), Myth, Legend, Dust: Critical Responses to Cormac McCarthy (Manchester, 2000)

Films Based on McCarthy’s Writing

Billy Bob Thornton, All the Pretty Horses (2000)

Joel and Ethan Coen, No Country for Old Men (2000)

Stephen Imwalle, Outer Dark (2009)

John Hillcoat, The Road (2009)

James Franco, Child of God (2013)

Ridley Scott, The Counselor (2013)


Tentative Syllabus

 August 25, 2022 – Introduction to Course. Cormac McCarthy. Good and Evil. Apocalypse. McCarthy’s words. Where He Came From. Modernism and Postmodernism. Influences. Genre. Reading McCarthy’s Novels. The shrinking vision. Watching and Listening to McCarthy. What We’re Reading. On the plan of the course. Primary and secondary sources. How to read. Writing assignments. Presentations. How to Succeed in this Course.


  • McCarthy’s grand subject is violence and the themes of good & evil
  • He connects people to violence when in modern day it feels often disconnected—”out of sight and out of mind”
  • Is it self preservation to disconnect? Different capacities for those who connect with distanced violence in attempt to help

Good and Evil

  • How do we exist in a world where war (such as the Ukraine war) and all these terrible things happen?
  • Cormac believes that life is bloodshed and violence cannot be avoided. Trying to end violence and war is futile.
  • His novels are minimally edited


Reminders when reading:

–  Don’t read secondary texts before you read the book! It will mess with your individual encounter/experience!

– When reading, recognize your responses and try to understand why you are reacting that way

– Have the book finished by the time we are on the second session of discussion the book (exception being Blood Meridian and possibly The Passenger)

No final for this class!


About McCarthy

  • Born in Rhode Island
  • Roman Catholic
  • Couple of sons, married and divorced 3x
  • First three novels are Appalachian novels that are a bit shorter
  • Orchard Keeper is his first novel, hardly sold


Theodicy— The problem with God and good & evil

  • If god is good then why is there so much evil in the world
  • How could there be an all knowing God that lets so much evil happen in the world?
  • An attempt to justify God in the face of evil
  • McCarthy is obsessed with this problem— tempting people in the face of their belief
  • His characters never deny God

Nietzsche’s argument that God is dead, where does McCarthy fit in this secular time period?


August 30 – Read: Cormac McCarthy, No Country for Old Men (Vintage, 2006 [2005]), pp.

McCarthy’s Apocalyptic Writing

  • No Country for Old Men is a quote from William Yeats’s poem “Sailing to Byzantium”

No Country for Old Men came after the border trilogy

  • Described as ‘apocalyptic’- as in dystopian
  • Apocalypse, revelations according to John, the last book of the Bible, revealing God’s judgment on everyone and what has done with their lives
  • Finding the true reality
  • Through apocalyptic writing those qualities (good vs evil) are envailed
  • Occupied with how good and evil have changed
  • 1980’s- focused on drugs, lots of carnage from these conflicts
  • Described this novel as ‘pulpy’


Characters occupied with good and evil:

Sheriff Bell– believes that evil is not always out in the universe

Chiguhr– nihilistic, interested in fate, determinism, knows his role in the universe and is proud of it

An embodiment of evil


The novel is written in

  1. Interior monologue, the different narratives in Bell’s voice
  2. Main Narrative- Chiguhr, Moss, Bell, Carla Jean (3rd person limited)

– Slippage between characters

-Was written as a movie first

-Flows, fast written, images roughly drawn, dialogue oriented


Prose- paranoid/ reparative

Diction- loves Saxon words (not Latinate) and uses it in archaic ways, elaborate & strange

Words in Spanish sprinkled in

Often compared to Faulkner in the use of diction

Syntax- how sentences are shaped

Genre- Western/crime thriller


  • Significant references to Vietnam
  • Crime is the motor of the plot
  • Maguffin- the thing that makes the movie go
  • Hero in the person of Bell and the evil around him is encroaching, this world of evil that he can’t quite figure out
  • Noir
  • Faulkner likes to subordinate clauses but McCarthy doesn’t


Discussion of the first two pages of the novel:

Is the first passage a part of the chronology? End or beginning?

Forces of evil are not counteracted (seen by how law enforcement doesn’t mean ultimate saving)


September 1 – Read: Cormac McCarthy, No Country for Old Men (Vintage, 2006 [2005])

Watch: Oprah Interviews Cormac McCarthy


Reminder! Make sure to read a little bit of McCarthy everyday– make a routine of reading

For annotating: ’E’ for Evil, ‘L’ for language, etc. Have a chart in the back of the book

Specify different levels of importance for different passages (lines, asterisk, etc.)

About McCarthy

  • Rhode Island to the South, goes to university and joins the air force, sent to Alaska. In Alaska, lots of down time and decides to read a ton and decides to be a writer.
  • Echoes of Melville
  • Determined not to work without writing
  • Becomes a cult writer- a small group of determined people read his work but not too many people know him
  • Refused to read his books aloud and talk about it to the public


Oprah interview is inane

  • questions were surface level
  • Oprah couldn’t comprehend how he didn’t care about popularity of his novels

What questions would you ask McCarthy about “No Country for Old Men”?


No Country for Old Men

  • Sheriff & Chiguhr are the two philosophers of the book and we explore it with the character in the middle (Moss)
  • Grabbing the jug of water (act of kindness) was the reason for Moss’s demise, 2nd thing that ensured his death was letting Chiguhr live
  • Too nice for this world, can’t last in a world run by soulless people.
  • His acts of kindness shows that he cannot stay


Watch: the movie “No Country for Old Men”


September 6 – Read: Cormac McCarthy, No Country for Old Men (Vintage, 2006 [2005])



This is a genre novel! Conforms to the expectations of a western/detective novel

Notion of darkness and anarchy and trying to keep away from it


Discussing Moss’s death- page 237

  • Missing the climax because in both movie and book, we don’t actually see the fight. Feels like it ‘deflates’
    • Rising action, climax, resolution
    • In Greek its: Dalox?, Agon, Deno

– Catharsis- it is a purging of nervousness/suspense

– Shows how insignificant that these deaths are to Chigurh

– No catharsis because the hero is killed and we don’t even get to see it!

-Mexicans know that Moss is at the hotel because Moss told Carla Jean to meet him at the hotel to give her the money. Again, an act of kindness is the reason for his death.

The point of rejecting this climax was: reaffirming that this country is not a good place

  • Even though everyone is saying that Moss is going to die, we as readers think he is going to live. It is supposed to be a slap in the face to us as readers and make the novel more realistic in a sense
  • McCarthy expects the reader to work things out (when it seems ambiguous)
  • Chigurh plays God or works as a tool of God?


Read: “How the N-word became Unsayable” by John McWhorter. The New York Times.

“The Idea That Whites Can’t Refer to the N-Word” by John McWhorter. The Atlantic.


September 8 – Read: Cormac McCarthy, The Orchard Keeper (Vintage, 1993 [1965])


Reminder: Sign up for a presentation!



Takes place in south central Appalachia

McCarthy moved to Knoxville after living in Rhode Island

Father worked for Tennessee body authority

Built water works, dams, anything to give people a job during the Depression

Remains predominantly white

Set in Appalachia where he grew up


Professor got his hands on a ‘galley’ The Passenger early copy and Stella Maris


Sailing to Byzantium- how ‘No Country for Old Men’ got its name

  • Looking at the present and not understanding it
  • The first and second stanzas show a dichotomy- division of things into two- present vs past
  • present day incomprehensible values
  • ‘Monument of unaging intellect’- art (like the book) and values
  • Looks at the Present as something that changes with us


How the land is changing- virgin land being transformed by settlement and industrialization

Politics of being nostalgic for the past- a sense of morality degrading the present


The Movie:

Scene of Bell talking to another sheriff

“Signs and wonders” reference to biblical revelation & the apocalypse

Might be doing a commentary on the rest of the books to coming-including themes in the orchard keeper

Ending monologue

  • First dream- one sentence and dismissed

Second dream- Father son

  • Why is the father carrying the fire? Passing down the flame. The uncertainty of the world and this fate.
  • Father = feeling the safety and security
  • (Freudians) Determinants- jokes/slips of the tongue still have several meanings
  • Is the father the “monuments of unaging intellect”?
  • Fire- tool of purification
  • Carrying purity on through the path of life
  • Feeling of grief because he did not get the fire. He never did what he said that he should in the opening monologue. He couldn’t go out and shoot a lot of people and protect people from people like Chigurh
  • Maybe Bell has redemption because he quit. He withdraws and saves himself from giving up his soul
  • Goes back and forth to Odessa in order to contact Carla Jean (part of the community)
  • Bell gets personal salvation while also giving up on his community by quitting and condemning someone else


Cephas’s Presentation!



September 13 – Read: Cormac McCarthy, The Orchard Keeper (Vintage, 1993 [1965])




  • Predominantly white- Scotch/Irish
  • Appalachian mountains named after a tribe
  • Parts are famously ‘ingrown’ -taking wives within families because not many other people around. Poor communities.
  • Families are very close to each other

McCarthy’s life

  • Father was wealthy, eminent attorney
  • Moved to Knoxville when he was 4, grew up there
  • Started Cormac’s book in ‘medias res?’- in the middle of things
  • The Orchard Keeper was found in the ‘slush pile’


The Orchard Keeper

  • Point of views jump around a lot and it’s often not clear who is who
  • Frontier romance- either move west or see what you grew up with being destroyed in industrialization
  • Similar nostalgia seen in No Country for Old Men seen here in conjunction with the natural world


  • Presence of nature in the book is overwhelming, dominating
  • Is nature a grounding presence in the book or a contrast?
  • Nature- untamed and unruly like the characters
  • Personified, connection the spaces in which they inhabit
  • Way of representing time
  • Not simply decoration, more expansive role

The preface

  • Gives theme of what we are about to look at in the rest of the book
  • Destruction of nature
  • Men cutting down a tree- confrontation- man vs nature
  • The metal fused into the tree
  • Human centric point of view- says the metal grew through the tree when obviously it grew around it
  • Wrought iron signifies about how there were humans here thousands of years back
  • Pastoral

The Passionate Shepherd to His Love- Christopher Marlowe


Explication of the text for paper due 9/27


Angela’s Presentation



Richard B. Woodward, “Cormac McCarthy’s Venomous Fiction” (1992)


Orville Prescott, “Still Another Disciple of William Faulkner” (1965)


September 15 – Read: Cormac McCarthy, The Orchard Keeper (Vintage, 1993 [1965])


Talked with Larry Bensky!- the editor that found “The Orchard Keeper” in the slush pile

Had to make sure that the book is accessible, for the book sales people

Go out to the book sellers to get the book purchased

Before the editor, the ending had the reveal of how Sylder killed Wesley’s father.

Pastoral- a longing for nature

Hesiod- practical discussion of living in harmony with and from the land, no nostalgia

Uncle Eller – Garden of Eden

How is the law portrayed in the Orchard Keeper?

Do not exist in nature

Cities- the future

Pg 173- moving point of view of the rain

-syntax overflowing, saturated

polysyndeton– too many ‘“and”s

– personification of nature, violence and sexuality in the writing, the earth is in pain

-writing in a very active voice, fun verbs– original and specific, inventive

Pg 90- 7 trees cut down- 7 years. Reference to the book of Genesis

Body creates narrative tension

Sylder- doesn’t know he’s the father of Wesley


Zoe’s Presentation




September 20 – Read: Cormac McCarthy, Outer Dark (Vintage, 1993 [1968])



John Kenneth Galbriath: Able to influence through his cable network

Our assignment due next week should be entertaining!

Try to pick out a passage for your essay by tonight

7 – reference to the Bible, luck

When Wesley visits the old man, a whole passage on 7s- pg 225

  • The orchard keeper isn’t tending to the farm, but to the dead body
  • It comes to an end after seven years
  • Often shows what these people do and not what people think very often

Role of the Old Man

  • Putting the branch on him every year, a ritual
  • Traditional aspect of Christmas time, a marker of time passing
  • In a sense, paying tribute to the body
  • Authorities- sign of modernity that encroaches on the land
  • Cycles— of the year, the body turning into nature
  • Themes that the land is being invaded
  • Tank is the symbol of encroaching on nature
  • The orchard keeper is one with nature, spirit of the forest
  • He shoots an ‘X’ into the tank to get it out of there
  • Why does he tend the body in this worshipful way?
  • Syncretic- Religion intersecting other religions (Christmas trees)

Outer Dark

  • Second wife and child has left him
  • Published in 1968
  • Comes from the New Testament- Matthew- those that do not follow Christ “shall be cast into the outer dark, there shall be weeping and mashing of teeth”
  • Another Biblical reference is to a wedding feast where there’s a guy not wearing his wedding clothes. Casted him into the outer darkness for not wearing the correct clothes
  • “Many are called but few are chosen”
  • Place of heartache, grief, eternal suffering, unbearable anguish
  • Narratively complicated
  • The italicized passages are
  • Being described in supernatural terms “its own implacability”
  • Can you do something bad enough to be inhuman?



September 22 – Read: Cormac McCarthy, Outer Dark (Vintage, 1993 [1968])



Comparison with the other books:

  • Orchard Keeper dense with description, Outer Dark more stark and open, takes part in mythic time
  • this is a ‘quest’ novel, on a hero’s journey

Outer Dark

  • they are chasing different roads — Rinthy trying to find the baby, Culla trying to find Rinthy
  • guilt is driving Culla to find Rinthy, incest & trying to kill the baby (infanticide)
  • The trio is following behind Culla, chasing him? Bad things seem to follow Culla
  • Culla is being chased by sin
  • old testament vs new testament God, capable of being wrathful and vengeful
  • blind man, conversation about ‘what’s a Jew,’ hogs
  • pg 225
  • “Combines the mythic and the actual”
  • Does not pay attention to his character’s thoughts, but only their actions. Reader must extrapolate. Total objectivity.
  • Feeling pity for Rinthy and Culla is being treated as a sinner
  • Feeling of nature (pre sin) and humanity (post sin) and Rinthy’s maternal instincts reflect that of pre sin nature. Constant lactation shows that she is a part of the natural world
  • The name Rinthy may be a biblical reference to Corinthians



September 27 – Read: Cormac McCarthy, Outer Dark (Vintage, 1993 [1968])

     Due: Paper of Three Double-Spaced Pages



Less notes today — we had Olaf and Nathan’s presentation, and also Matthew’s!

  • Is God alive in the novel?
  • Good/evil- is this a fallen world being portrayed
  • What does it mean when they said “we are still Christians here”- implying that evil is taking over
  • Discussed imagery in the killing of the child on page 236 being sacrificial



September 29 – Read: Cormac McCarthy, Child of God (Grove, 1993 [1973])


Will try to get papers done by the end of the weekend

Please write the title of the novel in italics, a title of a short story or poem is in quotation marks

For block quotes, if you indent it you do not need quotation marks

The actual quote should be 1 ½ space with an indent

Continuation of talking about Outer Dark

  • Extreme experiences have a larger influence over human life than the less extreme—> see this extremity through fiction. Or should bounds of morality not be penetrated/over stepped?
  • Theme: loneliness- when people are outside the human community, outsider
  • Human being isolated from society, and outcasted for their wrongdoings
  • Mark of Cane upon Culla
  • Pay attention to the main characters attitude toward nature in Child of God
  • Culla refuses to claim the child— alluding to Peter’s three denials of Christ before the cock crows
  • Black mystery meat before the slaughter of the child or ‘black mass’ – implication this is human flesh
  • Pg 238 discussion- time warped. Rinthy’s quest has ended and is letting her go
    • A metamorphosis of the tinker’s body
    • Living beings have been made into an object, tinker into a birdcage
  • Pig scene taken from New Testament- Matthew
    • Demonstration of Jesus’s power

Pg 65- Innocence disturbing and out of touch of what happens around her

  • Out of touch with the abuse that she endures
  • Lack objectivity in the things that they do, no descriptions of what they think
  • Vignettes in italics
  • Vast array of omniscient point of view following so many of the characters but never into any of their thoughts
  • Did the abuse she suffered desensitize her from the world around her?
  • World tends to take care of her. World is viewed very differently than Culla

Child of God pushes boundaries. What is it crossing boundaries in service of. Seeing a procession in his books. Cormac’s books are a bit of a shapeshifter—different plots, prose,

  • MLK assassinated and JFK assassinated during this time. Very tumultuous political climate. ‘73 Vietnam was still being fought. General feeling of collapse and lack of control. Important background to Outer Dark and Child of God
  • A set of events inspired him to write this book, even more the case in Blood Meridian

Is the responsibility on society for its outcasts?


Avantika’s presentation on Hypermasculinity



October 4 – Read: Cormac McCarthy, Child of God (Grove, 1993 [1973])


Angela’s paper- reading, critique, discussion on Outer Dark

Outer Dark

  • Some readers read the black mass scene and see a bit of hope because he says don’t kill the baby
  • Why did Culla try to kill the baby? Why couldn’t Rinthy and Culla raise it?
    • Society’s backlash
    • Shame
    • Purely because it was an abomination
    • Act of self preservation
    • The baby was a reminder of the sin
  • Sin becomes more of a problem the more integrated into society they become

Child of God


Ryan’s presentation on Appalachian folklore



October 6 – Read: Cormac McCarthy, Child of God (Grove, 1993 [1973])




  • Next paper is due 10/25th
    • Book review, four pages
  • Angela’s essay


  • Page 4, first description of Lester
    • Human but unhuman description
    • Dark and light motif throughout (light having to do with transcendence or the almighty)
    • Shown with a ladder of light- alternating light and dark
    • Stuck as the child who found his father dead—the rope is still there
    • By the end of this scene he will be even more misshapen
    • These things coming from the “mute pastoral morning”
      • Drawing attention to the barrenness of it
    • Texture has to do with the density of prose, Orchard Keeper vs Child of God
    • First image of Lester is being struck down and being thrown out into the wilderness
    • Don’t get his name at first, presenting him as more of an animalistic creature
    • Calling him a “child of God” is an assertion of humanity
    • Themes of loneliness and isolation
    • This scene casts him out to be even more into isolation

Gabriella’s presentation




October 11 – Read: Cormac McCarthy, Blood Meridian: Or the Evening Redness in the West (Vintage, 1992 [1985])



  • Maxine’s paper
  • Who’s voice are we hearing? 3 different types
    • One is a town’s person (choral history)
    • Lester Ballard’s relationship to the community– town outcast
    • Climax- Agon
    • Falling action- denoument
    • Pg 9, Lester got hit in the head off scene
    • No empathy or respect for Lester when his land is being sold at auction even though he has a gun
    • Cormac wants to create a character that does incomprehensible things and understand him
    • Lester becomes a creature of the earth, reborn at the end after he was captured
    • Comparison to Frankenstein- it wasn’t Frankenstein that was the monster, but the people along the way that made him a monster.
    • Necrophilia because no woman would accept Lester
    • Lester is the ultimate incel!
      • Loneliness and need for control

Willie’s presentation



October 13 – Read: Cormac McCarthy, Blood Meridian: Or the Evening Redness in the West (Vintage, 1992 [1985])


Child of God

  • Why does Lester tell the dead body “everything that he ever dreamed of telling to a woman”?
    • A moment of connection
  • Pg 195-7, the earth gave Lester a rebirth from this subterranean world he had constructed
    • Construction of a society underground
    • Bodies are becoming part of the earth, from being a part of human society to going back to be part of the earth
    • A story of metamorphosis and transformation
  • Blood Meridian
    • Engagement with myth of the West in a more direct way
    • Manifest destiny- movement west of the white man was determined somehow by God. Part of American exceptionalism.
    • This is an exceptional nation, so one has to spread across to the Pacific
    • Revisionist Western
    • Glanton Gang, forces of civilization. Although seems contradictory because they seem like savages, they are still being paid by the government
    • Taste for murder and wealth overtakes them
    • Working in the frame of frontier romance



October 18 – Read: Cormac McCarthy, Blood Meridian: Or the Evening Redness in the West (Vintage, 1992 [1985])


Reviews of McCarthy’s work

  • reviews were somewhat positive for Blood Meridian
  • Talked about as more gruesome and disgusting as Child of God

The writing of the novel

  • Lived in El Paso, Texas while writing this traveling library to library studying archaic words and the period of about 1848-1850
  • My Confessions by Samuel Chamberlain, three copies, name Holden comes from there
  • The Glanton Gang
  • Nacogdoches, Texas


  • Western grotesque
  • Historical adventure memoir
  • Bildungsroman- (German word) a novel of growing up, education, etc
  • Picaresque-
  • Western is a subcategory of frontier romance
  • Heading out to the territory and becoming a man

What’s different

  • Headnotes before the chapter
  • Higher level of vocabulary
  • Super dense
  • Chapters are shorter
  • Dates when things happen
  • Third person omniscient
  • Tone is apocalyptic- the pulling aside of the veil in Greek, to see all of reality
  • Feels like there is something larger, afraid to get into the gruesome details

Blood Meridian

  • page 51, manifest destiny, a legion of horribles
    • Addict or biblical?
    • So outlandish that this passage is nearly unbelievable
    • References to fable and bible positions the event among the other means of story telling to be very vast. Insanity of it is very potent
  • Lines between good and evil being blurred
  • “The ugly fact is books are made of books”


  • Paradise Lost allusions in Glanton Gang, Satan
  • Faulkner- perspective moving around
  • Holden wants to be the anti version of God
  • Moby Dick – the Mennonite pg 43
  • Wordsworth “The child is father of the Man” from My Heart Leaps Up
    • Rainbow allusion to Noah’s Ark
    • In Blood Meridian it shows the absence of Hope


         Elizabeth A. Harris, Early McCarthy Interviews Rediscovered, in the New York Times 2022



October 20 – Read: Cormac McCarthy, Blood Meridian: Or the Evening Redness in the West (Vintage, 1992 [1985])



Essay advice

  • Essay should be informed by your opinion and not dominated by your opinion–take the book on its own terms!
  • Essay should include at least one block quote
  • Recommends flushing out one crappy first draft, think about it and give yourself some time, then come back and edit it
  • Give yourself a slot of time to write (like from 10-11) instead of saying “I will finish it by the end of the day”

Blood Meridian

  • This is the corrective to the Manifest Destiny story that Americans have been subjected to
    • Chosen to go to the specific by its superior system, religion, etc. etc.
  • Complications to this novel are metaphysical & moral
  • Judge raises the issue of evil in human affairs
    • Constantly inquiring into the physical environment- most educated there
    • An embodiment of the enlightenment
    • What does the judge think of judging actions? Is he violating moral codes?
      • Quotes Nietzsche the book The Gay Science
      • The philosophy of power, those that are powerful use their power
      • Thrasymachus from The Republic has the same philosophy
      • What is right is what the powerful do. The strong undergo a creation of the weak to render impotent powerful.
    • Point of view character is purposely ambiguous– no name
      • Gives the name “the kid/the man” to give the point of view as an observer
      • Told in third person still
      • Characters are focalized
      • Is Chamberlain the kid?
    • Judge making gunpowder similar to Satan making gunpowder in Paradise Lost
    • “See the child” 2nd person imperative
    • The narrator omniscient– can see into the future and knows about everything
    • The narrator is not consistent
    • What is the narrator’s attitude towards violence?
      • Blunt and tells the whole picture. To the point.
      • The kid has a more ambivalent attitude towards violence– “already brudes a taste for mindless violence”
      • Process of universalization
      • Pushed to be a mythic kind of character- not quite a naturalistic character
    • In earlier drafts, the kid was much more filled out as a character
    • Moral dichotomy– the judge vs the kid, equally place the narrator vs the kid
    • Killing gets out of hand. Apaches, then peaceful Indians, then the Mexicans




October 25 – Read: Cormac McCarthy, Blood Meridian: Or the Evening Redness in the West (Vintage, 1992 [1985])


 Words on the essay:

  • Ok to have spoilers, not a completely literal book review that would be in the newspaper
  • reader should know whether you like the book or not
  • At the same time, this should still be rooted in the text
  • Should be interesting! Interesting argument. Don’t need to set out a thesis statement unless you need it. Use to the betterment of the piece.
  • Read Orwell!

Blood Meridian

  • Change in narrator vs the kid
  • The narrator relishes violence
  • The kid disappears from the book for large stretches. At the end, takes part in the climactic scene
  • Strange from the form of a classical novel, does not conform
  • The climax of the shootout between the judge and the kid in the boneyard
    • Almost as if all the dead throughout the novel in this boneyard
    • You don’t know if Toadvine, Brown, or the idiot is alive
    • Third person eloquent voice
    • Suddenly together in the shoutout after weaving in and out
    • Shootout is unusual because nobody dies–not even about mortality anymore its about more
    • The kid repeatedly has the chance to shoot the judge and refuses
    • Death is about survival– the book naturally leads the reader to not second guess why they are shooting at each other
  • Pg 333 Implication that something terrible happened- raped and killed the man?
    • Not just a body in there because people are used to bodies. Had to be something worse



October 27 – Read: Cormac McCarthy, Blood Meridian: Or the Evening Redness in the West (Vintage, 1992 [1985])


   Due: Paper of Four Double-Spaced Pages




  • By not including what had happened to the kid, it leaves up for the imagination and creates a horrific image. If the narrator would have described the violence done it would have made it less horrific as the reader has been desensitized to it through the progression of the book
  • The kid is the judge’s prize, while everyone is paying attention to the hide of the bear
  • Earlier in the novel a bear had carried off and ate when of their men, now the bear is being presented in the middle of civilization in a dress (crinoline) dancing for entertainment
  • In the final scene, a parallelism between the bear and the kid being killed in the scene
    • The judge’s problem with the kid– the judge believes that it was predestined
    • Bear in general is a creature of great power, murderousness. It kills without hesitation, but ending bear has been de-fanged
    • The judge has similar powerful
    • The judge regards the kid the same way as the bar. His nature defangs the dancing joy in violence and dominance that is natural to humans
  • Comedies often have weddings or some sort of celebration at the ending
    • Carnivalesque, Bakhtin
    • Use of the carnivalesque in literature- crossing the boundary
    • Carnivalesque first war against the Comanches and then returning to at the end
    • Original word carnival means to remove meat and/or farewell to meat
      • Religious connection, lent
    • Dancing—ritualistic, two blood sacrifices
    • Pg 331 being accused of having a moral conscience
    • Ecstatic feeling in the last few lines
    • Moral law, the judge loved the Old Testament because of the wrathful, violent side of God
    • Nietzche’s The Birth of Tragedy
    • Is the judge Nietzche’s Übermensch?
      • Mankind becoming more and more powerful


We will talk about the epilogue next Tuesday. Try to read up to page 103 of The Passenger, 17.5 points bonus points for anyone who finishes!



November 1 – Read: Cormac McCarthy, The Passenger (Knopf, 2022)


Blood Meridian Epilogue

  • Archaeological digs finding scalped skulls
  • Apocalyptic era
  • Digger is striking rock
  • Collection of bone is needed for fertilizer
  • Fire- biblical
    • Burning bush
    • Moses finds the burning bush and it speaks to him
    • Story of Prometheus– comes down and brings fire to mankind. Zeus was mad about this so every day he gets his liver eaten by an eagle and it grows back
    • Cycle of human invention separating man from animals
  • Fire in McCarthy’s hands– carrying the fire
    • The Road and No Country For Old Men
    • Sheriff Bell’s father after being overpowered by the violence
    • Carrying the fire in a horn like they used to do
    • Fire moves civilization along
    • Fire being purification–to pass through is survival and humanity prevailing

– Going back to “the awful truth is that books are made out of books”

– human capacity to make art, one hole is necessary to make the next one


The Passenger

  • Cormac began this during his writing of Blood Meridian
  • Critics were expecting him to come out with The Passenger when instead he had come out with The Road
  • Sante Fe Institute- a collection of geniuses in one place. He is the only humanist there, everyone is a mathematician, physics, etc
  • J Robert Oppenheimer directed the Manhattan Project, 2nd World War developing the atomic bomb
  • McCarthy sold his manual typewriter (for about $250k) and donated it all to the Sante Fe Institute
  • McCarthy had first son, The Road is dedicated to him. A second son.
  • He works on several books at once
  • First mentioned 16 years ago
  • More modern and technical. Lacks aestheticism found in his other works



November 3 – Read: Cormac McCarthy, The Passenger (Knopf, 2022) and The Cormac McCarthy I Know by David Krakauer, 2022 (

Read and edited Karissa’s paper!


The Passenger:

  • Contemporary in a shocking way
  • Simultaneously closer and further emotionally distanced characters
  • Much more Hemingway than Faulkner influence in this
  • More concise in its description
  • Less action
  • Similar to The Sun Also Rises by Hemingway
  • A suspense novel
  • Novel unfolds from a guy stumbling upon a bunch of bodies
  • Always playing with different genre but never adhering to it completely



November 8 – Read: Cormac McCarthy, The Passenger (Knopf, 2022)



  • Fakes its way into being a suspense novel
  • Italics to signal more subjective line of thought– enhanced subjectivity
  • A novel about grief

Grief→ suicide→ trauma→ INCEST

“Tower of ivory, house of gold” – House of the Virgin Mary

First page

  • Wearing white, ring around the neck. Unspoken marriage between Bobby and Alicia

Imagery of the end of the world

  • Hallucinations (kid) → Alicia
  • The Passenger→ The Deep State

How is this country your problem?

  • Imagery in the proem is red white and blue
  • Passage about JFK assassination





November 10 – Read: Cormac McCarthy, The Passenger (Knopf, 2022)



  • Fakes its way into a suspense novel
  • Italics to signal more subjective line of thought– enhanced subjectivity
  • A novel about grief

Grief→ suicide→ trauma→ INCEST

“Tower of ivory, house of gold” – House of the Virgin Mary

First page

  • Wearing white, ring around the neck. Unspoken marriage between Bobby and Alicia

Imagery of the end of the world

  • Hallucinations (kid) → Alicia
  • The Passenger→ The Deep State

How is this country your problem?

  • Imagery in the proem is red white and blue
  • Passage about JFK assassination




November 15 – Read: Cormac McCarthy, The Passenger (Knopf, 2022) and Cormac McCarthy, All the Pretty Horses


Elizabeth’s presentation

The apocalypse of extreme subjectivity

  • Not planned out, very chaotic plot line
  • Finding the thematic links that pull it all together
  • “The very stones of the Earth have been wronged”
    • The idea and the realization
    • “The unconscious works 24 hours a day and it never sleeps”
  • Life is destroyed because he is in love with his sister
    • His sister as Media—a feared magician whose husband betrayed her so she murdered their children
    • Her obsession having a child with her brother leads to her murdering the hopes of having children
  • Exploring what “female” is
  • Reminiscent of The Sun Also Rises
  • The universal feminine
    • Many references to Mary

Who is the missing passenger?

  • The Kid? Alicia? Maybe there is no missing passenger?

Isela & Alexandrea’s presentation



November 17 – Read: Cormac McCarthy, All the Pretty Horses



Tues 29th is course evaluations. Please bring your laptop.

Tuesday 12:30 during dead week we will be playing The Counselor. Bring food and baked goods!


All The Pretty Horses was his break out novel— he sold over 100,000 copies in the beginning

  • Won the national book award and the Pullitzer prize
  • Much more conventional plot, shapely
  • Framed by two funerals

How is John different from the Kid?

  • The Kid is much more ambiguous, with John we are able so see more thoughts and the structure of where he fits in society
  • Direction by his own will ( not in entirety)  versus going with the flow


  • Western
  • American classic coming of Age story, related to HuckleBerry Finn
  • BildungsRoman- novel of development/formation
  • Quest
  • Heading to the South
  • Novella by Thomas Mann– classic journey south to a different culture– northern europe to Venice– Death in Venice
  • Baptism scene when they cross the Rio Grande

Similarities to other work

  • Journey through landscape
  • Nostalgic imagery

Landscape represents the dream of the past

Modernity are represented as much more ephemeral

  • Theme of the choices that we make and how they are inescapable for the rest of their lines
  • Rawlins says something along the lines of how all the trouble that has come about are not about the actual trouble but the choices we have made

What does he do to expedite the guilt for the death of Blevins? He rescues his horse

  • High moral character, sense of nobility
  • Shown on Pg 74
  • Moral foil to John Grady Cole— the great Aunt preventing the marriage
  • The aunt’s objection to the marriage is based off of her own story, wants a more stable life for her

The Romantic Agony if you are interested in looking more into the grotesque!


November 22 – Read: Cormac McCarthy, All the Pretty Horses


A novel of going to the south

Coming of age novel

More shapely and more planned than McCarthy’s other works

More conventional even though the writing & description can come from no one but him

2 funerals frame the book

expulsion from the ranch

Preliminary exile and then the final exile with the death of abuelo

Almost a hundred years after Blood Meridian

John Grady would be the same age as McCarthy when this was written


Vanishing frontier and encroachment by modernity

Next to New Mexico—where the atomic bomb was tested

Hiroshima and Auschwitz

Metal birds—oil pumps

The aunt denies her niece the ability to marry John Grady Cole, something he lost

Why was his proposal rejected?

  • Page 240- he has nothing to offer to her, he will ruin her. He is not in control in his life
  • What got him in trouble was offering kindness to Blevins

What is her answer to the question “What am I responsible for?”

  • Everything !
  • The only eternal truths of the world are greed and blood lust

The slugs scene

  • He is printing into metal and making coins
  • There is no chance being responsible for everything
  • Wanting to preserve childhood, avoiding violation of innocence

Kierkegaard- understanding our actions


  • About her own romance, Mexico’s history, war, governmental affairs
  • At what point do people have responsibility for our actions? At what point do we have control?
  • Aunt’s life has been shaped by revolution and how to shape a just society

The harm that idealism and right action causes



November 24 – Thanksgiving. No Class.



November 29 – Read: Cormac McCarthy, The Road (Vintage, 2007 [2006])


Course Evaluations!


All The Pretty Horses

  • Civilization = metal birds destroying the ranches
  • Moving south from idea of modernity into something more ancient
  • Page 30
  • “In that dark electric” like Whitman’s “I sing the body electric”
    Verbal exuberance and tune for rhythm
  • Page 25 – what we have lost
  • Evokes dostoevsky– fears revolution because change won’t last and will bring more harm than good
  • Page 239


Stella, Amaia, and Karissa’s presentation


December 1 – Read:  Cormac McCarthy, The Road (Vintage, 2007 [2006])




December 6 –

     Due: Paper of Five Double-Spaced Pages


The Road

  • Satiric science fiction novel
  • Very formulaic
  • Much more Hemingway style in its rhythm
  • Though still somewhat archaic language
  • Redemption & love— attempt to capture what makes people human
  • World that is devastated and infertile
  • Strong religious element to this book
  • Young boy depicted as angel/God/Christ figure
  • Kant distinguishes— humans being a means to an end
  • Trout being brought up twice, pg 41 & 286
    • Prehistoric evolution of man– life before and after man
    • “Pied Beauty” by Gerard Manley Hopkins


Cinthia & Mila’s presentation



**Because currently this novel is scheduled to be published only on December 6, the assignment for these weeks may well change, depending on availability.