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Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Border wars and Armageddon: Contemporary American literary naturalism in Cormac McCarthy's western novels
by Cameron, James M., M.A., Georgetown University, 2011, 91; 1491309
Abstract (Summary)

American literary naturalism is a genre often confined by critics to the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. However, Eric Carl Link, Paul Civello, and Donald Pizer extend the genre historically to encompass not only new time periods but also to include elements of other genres and literary modes such as romanticism and transcendentalism. Cormac McCarthy, the most prominent naturalist writing today, repurposes American literary naturalism by implementing a form of naturalism that is, to varying degrees, influenced by romanticism and metaphysics in his contemporary Western novels. McCarthy's naturalism underscores his strongly humanistic vision, which can only be seen in relation to grimly naturalistic settings. McCarthy's placement of pastoral and supernatural romanticism alongside naturalism emphasizes his deep humanism, which is represented in his texts by resistance to violence, protection of the environment, placement of value in pastoral ranching and farming, and maintenance of morality in the face of unfathomable naturalistic horrors. This project is the first to consider McCarthy's key Western novels as part of a naturalistic continuum within his oeuvre. Further, it is the first to tie in McCarthy's status as a contemporary naturalist with his nascent romanticism as they relate to his profound humanism.

The first chapter examines how McCarthy uses naturalism to address the terror of never-ending violence and to question the mythologizing of manifest destiny. The second chapter explores how McCarthy's Border Trilogy—consisting of All the Pretty Horses, The Crossing, and Cities of the Plain—utilizes naturalism to lament the slow death of the pastoral ranching lifestyle and of the unfettered wilderness as results of industrialization and human destruction of the natural world. Finally, I dissect McCarthy's post-apocalyptic novel The Road. In this novel, McCarty implements naturalism in a manner that speaks to the novel as a way of questioning human exceptionalism and anthropocentrism, as well as using naturalism as a means of making a cautionary statement about humanity's disregard for the natural world. Examination of McCarthy's significant contemporary novels makes it clear that naturalism is a highly fluid genre that continues to be utilized by contemporary novelists such as McCarthy.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Shinn, Christopher A.
School: Georgetown University
Department: English
School Location: United States -- District of Columbia
Source: MAI 49/05M, Masters Abstracts International
Subjects: Modern literature, Literature, American literature
Keywords: All the pretty horses, Blood meridian, Cormac mccarthy, Naturalism, The crossing, The road
Publication Number: 1491309
ISBN: 978-1-124-59756-0
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