Them boys just ain’t right: Masculinity, myth, and social systemic communication in Cormac McCarthy’s novels
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This dissertation examines how Cormac McCarthy’s novels can be observed as stories about societal expectations for masculinity and how those expectations are communicated to men through the use of story and myth. I use Niklas Luhmann’s Social Systems Theory as a lens to read these novels, Luhmann defines communication as a threefold process of selections: for utterance, information, and (mis)understanding. Because a communicative offering has to be accepted as an utterance, evaluated as information, and finally interpreted for understanding (or misunderstanding), the process becomes highly complex. The theory explains why, although the masculine myth is often seen as a ‘monomyth’ with one story and one expected outcome, the results can be diverse. McCarthy’s novels offer an ideal source of observation as they are very diverse in their time and place settings, they are all about men, and they refer to stories and contain characters who act as storytellers. They offer a narrative mimesis of the world that allows the reader to observe the process of communicative selection and how each selection affects outcomes. In the end, the novels break down to stories about the contingency of good vs. evil, stories about the inability of some men to fulfill masculine expectations and, finally, how development of a social system depends up contingency. If the myth were truly a monomyth, with no possibility of other outcomes, there would be no social system, because the limits of choice would limit any possibility of change.