Question 2 – The Crossing
As one encounters dramatic experiences, the impacts those create may significantly alter that way in which that person views his surroundings. In Cormac McCarthy’s passage from his novel The Crossing, the main character is challenged with major obstacles that come to change his opinion of nature and its doubtful peacefulness. By employing techniques such as selection of detail, religious symbolism and sublime imagery, McCarthy paints the tragedy which has impacted the protagonist by infusing his journey with the presence of biblical elements as well as incorporating his longing for repentance and mourning. With the aid of such techniques, McCarthy identifies the protagonist’s underlying gratitude and respect for powerful, majestic creatures unlike himself while revealing his realization that nature’s serenity has the ability to destruct.
Beginning the passage, the main character is presented with the obstacle of carrying the lifeless body of a wolf up the Pilares Mountain. McCarthy utilizes selection of detail as he unveils the main character’s tenderness towards the female wolf. In line 5, the narrator watches as he “[cradles] the wolf in his arms and [lowers] her to the ground.” This careful treatment of the wolf by the protagonist is somewhat unexpected as animals are frequently viewed as being beneath humans – they are beaten, starved, neglected, even killed by humans yet this character displays respect and compassion for the animal. The detail of how the “coyotes were yapping along the hills” (line 10) is an example of the mournful aspect behind the wolf’s death. Like the coyotes, the main character seems to be mourning her death by the way he respects her still body and the fact that he is journeying a mountain in order to ultimately find a peaceful resting place for her. Also, the detail of the wolf’s fur being “bristly with the blood dried upon it” (line 7) highlights the religious aspect behind her death. This image of what was distress and suffering the wolf endured depicts the distress and suffering endured similarly by Jesus Christ in which he sacrificed his life for the sins of the Christians. This allusion continues with McCarthy’s choice of including the details of a sheet in line 16 the main character wraps the wolf in. This alludes to Mary wrapping her son, Jesus, in a sheet after he is let down from his crucifix. The man then proceeds to “[wash] the blood out of it” (line 17), which parallels the idea that Christ’s death purified the sins of his followers. In addition to this detail, McCarthy proceeds with the selection of the line stating “where celebrants of some sacred passion had been carried off by some rival sects…” (line 22). Here, the allusion to Christ continues with the element of the sacred passion. Christ’s passion led him to sacrifice himself, which is viewed as a sacred act. The man’s respect for the wolf is exemplified in line 43 when he “sat by her and put his hand upon her bloodied forehead and closed his own eyes that he could see her running in the mountains, running in the starlight….” By doing so, the man not only expresses respect but also a sense of admiration for the wolf. He realizes that she will have an afterlife of peace and joy, as a human would ideally have. McCarthy also comments on the idea that any entity, even one as serene as nature, has the ability to ensue tragedy and destruction. He highlights this notion with the statement: “…and of a great beauty, like flowers that feed on flesh. What blood and bone are made of but themselves not make any altar nor by any wound of war” (line 57). With McCarthy’s selection of specific detail, the wolf portrays the figure of Jesus Christ and nature’s cruel power is brought to light, illustrating the main character’s journey through the mountain has created an impact of mourning and tragedy.
While the main character journeys with the body of the wolf, symbolism is utilized by McCarthy in order to depict the impact created from the experience. In line 27, the protagonist is seen by the narrator “shivering in the cold and waiting for dawn that he could find the place where he would bury the wolf.” This further exemplifies his respect for the wolf as he sacrifices warmth in order to find the wolf an appropriate resting place, symbolizing Jesus’ sacrificial act as well as the protagonist’s need for mourning. By burying the wolf he is able to mourn her death and find peace. Also, the narrator watches as he “[falls] asleep with his hand palm up before him like some dozing penitent” (line 30), symbolizing the Christian act of asking for forgiveness. As the man’s journey continues, the wolf is portrayed yet again as a symbol for Jesus Christ. In line 41, “he touched [her] cold and perfect teeth.” Here, the idea that no person except Christ is deemed perfect – perfection is unattainable. The main character’s respect and admiration for his lifeless companion is revealed again in the quote: “all nations of the possible world ordained by God of which she was one among and not separate from” (line 51). The main character believes the wolf, although being an animal, is equal to him as well as all of God’s creations. Along with his high opinion that the wolf is equal to himself, he also expresses the idea that she is a symbol for the divine power within God since she herself is an animal of strength and courage. Furthermore, as the main character imagines the wolf’s life in heaven he sees “where she ran the cries of the coyotes clapped shut as if a door had closed upon them and all was fear and marvel” (line 52). This compliments the idea that the wolf is a symbol for Christ as well as God’s power because of the way in which the coyotes, depicting entities beneath the Father and the Son, are seen to diminish in the presence of the wolf, symbolizing the holy entities. Thus, McCarthy’s symbolism of Christ through the wolf aid in conveying the protagonist’s mournful impact following his challenging experience.
In addition, McCarthy’s passage is interlaced with imagery which assists in demonstrating the main character’s impact after his strenuous experience.