Cormac McCarthy, the author of many “American styled” novels such as Blood Meridian, All the Pretty Horses, and The Crossing, writes very good stories that appeal to the senses and the soul. He doesnt have famous writing “heroes” that give him an inspiration to write, nor give him ideas of what to write. Because of this lack of models, McCarthy has some characteristics of other famous American authors, but for the most part he uses a unique style of writing that is shown in all of his novels, and ties together The Crossing and its predecessor All the Pretty Horses using expressive theme, obscure symbols, eerie motifs, and a unequaled prose.
When looking at McCarthys writing as a whole, one can see a style that is beyond the “norm.” Critics compare his work to life in our world, “his singular ability to convey the world not so much as a place of pigeon holes but rather of endless questions, none more clearly explained than another” (Young 100), and they compare his work to life beyond the realm of our world, “McCarthys metaphysical assumptions are existential. Human consciousness of the past exists within each person in memories and contacts, held in an ongoing meaning by individuals as fragments, subject to loss as memory dims and subject to arbitrary changes without order or meaning” (Richey 141).
These same critics compare McCarthys writing to past writers saying that McCarthy shares some aspects of his writing with Thomas Pynchon, Edmund Wilson, Saul Bellow, and James Joyce. “A sophisticated reader on first looking into Joyces Ulysses might well wonder about the meaning of what is going on. A reader on first looking into McCarthys fiction might well wonder, just what is going on” (Aldridge 90). Aldridge also goes on to say that McCarthy is “fantastically gifted.” Critics also state that: Aristotle and E.M. Forster would not have approved with McCarthys style (Aldridge 96). The classic authors may not have approved with McCarthys style because of his use of extreme violence. “Sociopaths, serial killers, necrophiliacs, and murders populate pages wherein mayhem, blood, and generally malevolence dominate his works” (Richey 140).
The most perfect example of McCarthys original style is visible through his latest two novels entitled All the Pretty Horses and The Crossing, the first two installments of the Border Trilogy. These books show a transformation of McCarthys style from an utter non-stop violent rampage (Blood Meridian), to a style that contains morals, theme and heart.
McCarthy possesses an extremely narrow vision condition of the human and almost no vision of the subtler complexities of human feeling and thought. These deficiencies began to be evident in the early fiction but were to a degree camouflaged by the high elegance of the prose and the idiosyncratic originality of the fictional forms. In the first two books of the Border trilogy they have become more clearly visible, because the prose is no longer elegant and the form is wide open and relentlessly picaresque (Aldridge 97).
Another bond between the two novels, is the sharing of character traits. The protagonists, John Grady Cole, and Billy Parham from All the Pretty Horses and The Crossing, respectively, share similar quests and themes. “The two Border Trilogy novels have shown characters who love and weep and seem to have much in common with that part of the human species not labeled as murderers and evildoers” (Richey 141). John and Billy both traveled to Mexico on multiple occasions, giving the novels the label “The Border Trilogy.” However even though they had alike characteristics, their purposes for traveling were different and they both went about achieving their goals in different manners. “While Billy focused on the need to mete out a personal justice, John rushed headlong into the swirling chaos which surrounds him” (Young 99). McCarthy, being the genius that he is, also tied the two books together with character, by ending both novels in the same fashion. “At the end of The Crossing Billy, like John Grady, is on the road again, drifting from one menial job to another, having nothing to show for his wandering and presumably destined to come to nothing” (Aldridge 96).
How does McCarthys use of character tie into his style? Its simple. McCarthy is able to use parallel themes between these novels which gives the sense of a sequel. “The Crossing is not a traditional sequel; it is not a continuation of a story in the normal sense, but an extension of themes, setting and character” (Young 99). Theme will be explored more deeply later in this essay, but to show the parallels which create the notion of a sequel, John Grady and Billy Parhams connection in terms of theme should be investigated. Two of these such themes are “Young men in search of their place in the world fate versus destiny” (Young 99), and “The mystery of the bond between siblings/ friends” (Ryan 1822). McCarthys style of putting men against the rest of the world is evident throughout all of his novels. The strong bond between men is really only explored in The Border Trilogy, but McCarthy does a beautiful job of it.
Cormac McCarthy utilizes many literary techniques in his writing. Original symbols, motifs, and themes appear throughout the pages of McCarthys writing. Not only are the techniques original, but McCarthy has a unique way of bringing these techniques forward. To show how McCarthy brings forth symbols, motifs, and themes, we must first explore his original use of these techniques within his writing. The Border Trilogy, contains all of these techniques so, all of the examples will be coming from either All the Pretty Horses or The Crossing.
Strong writing, needs strong bonds. The bonds that hold together McCarthys works are the themes of his novels. Not only does McCarthy have themes that are found in other authors novels, but he has themes of his own. Common themes are “Fate versus destiny and familial separation” (Young 95), whereas one of his original themes is “Adolescent boys riding into Mexico and finding themselves caring, losing and learning what dimensions of life mean” (Richey 140). Themes can be found sporadically or placed in certain orders throughout a novel. McCarthy utilizes both of these particular style, yet he also use motifs to show his original form.
A motif is “a recurrent thematic element in an artistic or literary work” (Microsoft). Motifs are not new by any means. However, McCarthys use of them is somewhat new and original in nature. He is able to not only create motifs throughout singular novels, but have multiple novels tied together with the same motif. “The major events in the remainder of The Crossing are apparently intended to serve as counterpoint to those of the first section, since they involve a reoccurrence of the opening motifs of violent death and the transport and burial of a corpse, this time human rather than animal” (Aldridge 96). In The Crossing, McCarthy tied together the wolfs gut-wrenching thematic death to Boyds violent climactic death. In All the Pretty Horses, McCarthy tied together John and Rawlins stupid choice to find work in Mexico to their heroic run from the law. McCarthys best examples of motifs arent just tied into the Border Trilogy. McCarthy has one motif that is shared in all of his novels. This not only makes him a unique author, but a literary genius. “For McCarthy, blood clearly symbolizes life as a mean end, and for him its connection is constantly threatened by the reality of evil portrayed in violence” (Richey 141).
Characters play important roles in expressing theme in McCarthys novels. In the Border Trilogy, McCarthy uses small characters to express morals and lessons to John Grady and Billy Parham. In All the Pretty Horses, John meets a grand panjandrum of a jail gang who teaches him to live life carefully and trust no one, not even himself. In The Crossing, Billy meets an old blind man who tells Billy about the changing times. McCarthys use of these types of characters is found throughout all of his novels and are unique to his style.
Literary techniques are not all of McCarthys unique aspects. He writes with a unique use (or lack of use) of punctuation and grammar. Commas, quotation marks and sentence endings are very hard to find. In fact, there are no quotation marks in his novels. The following passage shows one sentence that is obviously run-on, but it flows in such a way that it doesnt need periods to separate it.
He heard in the melee a staple pop and he suddenly saw as in an evil dream the specter of the horse at full gallop on the plain with the wolf behind at the end of the rope and the dogs in wild pursuit and he snatched the rope from about the saddlehorn just as the reins broke and the horse wheeled and went pounding and he turned with the rifle and the wolf to stand off the dogs suddenly all about him in a bedlam of howling and teeth and whited eyes (McCarthy 64).
The images produced by this passage are ones that are so compelling, that punctuation is not needed to break it apart.
The National Book Award winning author, Cormac McCarthy has his own unique style that is clearly evident when reading his work: His use of violence, blood, and human growing are themes and motifs that he uses to produce a message that appeals to all senses; His own style of prose and punctuation; The pictures drawn by his words; These things may not seem so significant apart, but when McCarthy puts them together, he creates a masterpiece of writing that only he could do.
Aldridge, John W. “Cormac McCarthys Bizarre Genius.” Atlantic Monthly 274 (1994): 89-98.
Iyer, Pico. “Leaning Toward Myth.” Partisan Review 62 (1995): 309-14.
McCarthy, Cormac. The Crossing. New York: Vintage Books, 1995.
Microsoft Interactive Dictionary, 1995.
Richey, Jean. “The Crossing– Like Horses, But Different.” World Literature Today November 1994: 140-41.
Ryan, William G. “The Crossing.” American Journal of Psychiatry 151 (1994): 1822.
Young, Glen D. “The Border Trilogy.” English Journal 84 (1995): 99-100.