Year of Award


Document Type


Degree Type

Master of Arts (MA)

Degree Name

English (Literature)

Department or School/College

Department of English

Committee Chair

Brady Harrison

Commitee Members

Lynne Koester, Nancy Cook


all the pretty horses, bildungsroman, cities of the plain, despair, mccarthy, storytelling, the crossing, violence, cormac, subjectivity


University of Montana


While the majority of McCarthy’s work graphically depicts brutal violence, it often avoids portrayals of subjective pain. Although his first four novels incorporate descriptions of subjective pain at crucial points in the narrative, in the Border Trilogy, McCarthy overtly elucidates the myriad ways we make meaning from pain. An analysis of the depictions of subjective pain in the Border Trilogy, this paper suggests, can aid in a more complete understanding of McCarthy’s entire oeuvre. This study approaches the problem of pain in McCarthy’s work from a perspective that joins medical science and the humanities to show how this nearly universal phenomenon forms the foundation of McCarthy’s model of identity. In his western trilogy, McCarthy shows the psychological effects of pain and suffering on individual psychological development. At each stage of life pain takes on a new ability for meaning. In youth, pain seems temporary and physical, and to avoid it one must not get “hurt.” But a person of experience in the Border Trilogy knows that growing old means knowing pain. The crossing from youth to maturity, as McCarthy presents it, constitutes gradual awakening to the responsibilities of adulthood, informed by the meaning individuals make from their experiences of pain. In the Border Trilogy, McCarthy shows the ways that pain informs cultural notions of maturity, authority, and empathy, as well as individual notions of justice, love, and purpose. While McCarthy’s fiction does not ignore the ways in which pain makes life miserable, it negates the notions that pain is meaningless,inconsequential, or merely useful as a warning against death. Instead, as this paper shows, the Border Trilogy confirms our ability to change the meaning of pain so that it affirms rather than demeans life. In the trilogy, and throughout his collected works, McCarthy shows that the pain of loss and the agony of grief serve to reaffirm the emotional ties between individuals.



© Copyright 2010 Glenn Alton Jackson (III)