Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy
Literary and Cultural Studies
American masculinity is in crisis. Even a cursory glance at the headlines reveals as much, suggesting in particular that white, working class American men are experiencing the greatest cultural anxiety. The Western novels of Cormac McCarthy (indeed, all of his novels) are populated almost exclusively by this demographic: white men without college degrees, at or below the poverty line, suddenly struggling to find their place in a country they always assumed was theirs. McCarthy's writing career began with the publication of The Orchard Keeper in 1965 and for over half a century has mapped an increasingly unstable terrain for men in America. His Western novels in particular, beginning with the publication of Blood Meridian in 1985, show men wandering landscapes largely of their own making which now threaten them with slow extinction. All the Pretty Horses (1992), The Crossing (1994), Cities of the Plain (1998), and No Country for Old Men (2005) expand upon these men even as the country seems to contract around them. McCarthy's men are in search of themselves and in search of a country which, they dimly suspect, may never have actually existed.My dissertation accompanies these men upon their search and brings to bear a wide range of scholarship to aid them in articulating what they cannot. Cultural scholars such as Richard Slotkin, Leslie Fiedler, and Slavoj Zizek help contextualize this search within America's historical, mythic, and philosophical past. Feminist scholars such as Luce Irigaray, Judith Butler, and Nell Sullivan reveal how McCarthy's constructions of masculinity cannot be fully understood without grounding them in the work of second-wave feminism. Michael Kimmel, E. Anthony Rotundo, and R.W. Connell expand upon these insights within the growing field of Masculinity Studies and provide a more nuanced and contemporary vocabulary with which to understand the crisis of masculinity American men are experiencing and its refraction through McCarthy's Western novels. McCarthy's archives and the work of Daniel Robert King develop the discussison beyond the novels themselves by providing rare glimpses into their creation and the author himself.For over fifty years Cormac McCarthy has been fictionalizing the struggle of a certain class of men in America: to shed the trappings of increasingly anachronistic masculine signifiers; to understand the degree to which theirsense of masculinity has empowered and imprisoned them while often brutalizing others; and to discover, perhaps, a way forward to a conception of masculinity that no longer threatens to make them men without a country.
dissertation or thesis originally submitted to the local University of Memphis Electronic Theses & dissertation (ETD) Repository.
Brummer, James Leo, "Paltry Things: Cormac McCarthy's Westward Turn and the Search for American Masculinity" (2017). Electronic Theses and Dissertations. 1589.