Science Versus Nature in Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian
Few modern writers have generated the attention of Cormac McCarthy. His straightforward, southern writing imitates William Faulkner and Flannery O’Connor, whom he is often compared to (“Cormac McCarthy” par. 1). Cormac McCarthy was born in Rhode Island, but moved to Knoxville, Tennessee at the age of four (“Cormac McCarthy” par. 1) and the language and culture of the Appalachian people figure prominently in all of his writing. He attended high school in Knoxville, and for a few years he attended the University of Tennessee. His education was interrupted by four years of military service in the Air Force, but then he returned to the University in 1957 (“Cormac McCarthy” par. 1). His talent for creative writing became apparent to his professors, who encouraged him to “develop his ability” (“Cormac McCarthy” par. 1). In 1960, he left the University to pursue a career as a novelist, even though he hadn’t finished his degree. Diane Cox, a professor at the University of South Carolina writes, “it seems true that McCarthy had not long planned to be a novelist, but rather had embraced his career gradually as his talent became evident to him and to his teachers during his college years” (“Cormac McCarthy” par. 1).
On a ship to Europe, McCarthy met his future wife, an English singer by the name of Anne De Lisle (“Cormac McCarthy” par. 1). They have lived in several locations, including Tennessee; Asheville, North Carolina; Chicago, Illinois; and Texas (“Cormac McCarthy” par. 1). During the years of 1965 to 1999, McCarthy published eight novels. He has won numerous grants and awards for his writing, including a fellowship from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, a Guggenheim, and the prestigious National Book Critics Circle Award.
Like William Faulkner and Flannery O’Connor, McCarthy’s novels “have in common...a rustic and sometimes dark humor, intense characters, and violent plots; McCarthy shares as well their development of universal themes within a highly particularized fictional world, their seriousness of vision, and their vigorous exploitation of the English language” (“Cormac McCarthy” par. 1). McCarthy writes in a straightforward manner about the violent and difficult lives of southerners. Guy Davenport, in his New York Times book review, wrote, “nor does McCarthy waste a single word on his character’s thoughts. With total objectivity he describes what they do and records their speech. Such discipline comes not only from mastery over words but from an understanding wise enough and compassionate enough to dare tell so abysmally dark a story” (qtd. in Arnold and Luce 3). Davenport is correct in noting that McCarthy’s stories are usually dark. In Outer Dark, McCarthy chronicles the story of a brother and sister who have had a child together. The main character, Culla, immediately buries the baby. This is the prelude to a dark journey through Appalachia at the beginning of the twentieth century. In Child of God, McCarthy portrays a “dispassionate examination of a man driven by isolation and loneliness to murder and necrophilia” (qtd. in Arnold and Luce 3). One critic wrote, “The carefully cold, sour diction of this book – whose hostility toward the reader surpasses that even of the world of Lester Ballad – does not often let us see beyond its nasty ‘writing’ into moments we can see for themselves, rendered. And such moments, authentic though they feel, do not much help a novel so lacking in human momentum or point” (qtd. in Arnold and Luce 3). Many readers feel the same when encountering a McCarthy novel; it is usually a painful and somewhat shocking experience. But many others have praised his work as a “postmodern achievement that has achieved universality” (qtd. in Arnold and Luce 3). In 1992, McCormack began his “Border Trilogy” with the publication of All the Pretty Horses,...