Riding for a Fall: genre, myth, and ideology in Cormac McCarthy's western novels
Brannon, William Carl
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Along with the detective story, the Western may be classified as a singularly American genre of fiction. This dissertation focuses on the presence of recognizable narrative structures inherent to the Western genre and myths associated with the American West in Cormac McCarthy's Western novels, Blood Meridian, All the Pretty Horses, The Crossing, and Cities of the Plain. This dissertation begins by briefly defining what constitutes the Western genre, building upon the definitions of genre, myth, and ideology provided by Richard Slotkin in Gunfighter Nation (1992). In turn, each of McCarthy's four Western novels are considered by focusing on how each novel exhibits the narrative conventions of the Western genre and depicts the cultural myths and ideological concepts associated with the American West. The incessant violence in Blood Meridian serves as an indictment of Manifest Destiny suggesting that the process of westward expansion necessitates the subjugation of others and in turn creates brutal conditions conducive to the existence of Glanton's scalp hunters and similar parties. The primary myths associated with the American West in All the Pretty Horses involve its cowboy hero John Grady whose actions are motivated by a combination of his nostalgia for the past and his yearning for a romanticized agrarian way of life he associates with the past. The Crossing depicts the freedom of movement associated with the American West and questions the effects of human interaction with the natural world made most evident in the rescue of the wolf Cities of the Plain focuses on the familiar trope of the redemption of a fallen woman, represented by the epileptic teenage prostitute Magdalena. In each novel Cormac McCarthy appropriates recognizable narrative structures and cultural myths associated with the American West to explore the viability of the Western genre. In doing so, McCarthy affirms James Folsom's assertions in The American Western Novel (1966) that the purpose of the Western story does not consist solely of a realistic depiction of the history of the United States, but instead the Western story has become "a metaphorical parable of the inconsistencies and contradictions" (29) that informs the American Experience.