Explorations in Ecocriticism: Reading the Select Novels of Cormac McCarthy in the Light of Anthropocentrism and Cartesian Thinking.
Keywords:: Anthropocentrism, Cartesian thinking, Nature, Animals, Ecocriticism, Humans, Environment
This study highlights the subtle and complex environmental ethic in Cormac McCarthy’s select novels. By delineating the relationships McCarthy’s characters have with non-human nature, an ecocritical analysis views their alienation as the result of their separation from nature. At the root of this alienation is an anthropocentric and mechanistic mode of thinking that is dominant in Western philosophy and that this study defines as Cartesian. While McCarthy’s environmentalist heroes are persecuted by Cartesian institutions and displaced from the land on which they have defined themselves and made meaning, his Cartesian anti-heroes represent extreme manifestations of Cartesian thinking. McCarthy’s environmentalism is as much a critique and indictment of Cartesian thinking as it is a portrayal of the value of a life lived in close contact with nonhuman nature.
McCarthy uses human treatment of non-human animals to evidence man's absolute desire to control the natural world and the beasts within the natural world. Animals often figure prominently in Cormac McCarthy’s fiction, taking on mystical significance or even mirroring human nature. At other times, McCarthy portrays astriking intimacy between animals and men. The animals in McCarthy’s novels also represent a link to an older, natural order and a vanishing (or vanished) way of life. The representations are clearly myriad and diverse, but the one thing that can be asserted for certain is that the overarching tendency is to elevate animals to positions of great significance; they inhabit a space that, while often overlapping with the human realm, is distinctive and important. In All the Pretty Horses John Grady Cole is virtually defined by his relationship to horses, and there are moments of striking intimacy between him and horses in the novel. Wolves assume a similar place of significance in The Crossing. The ranchers discus show the cattle, in their domestication and defenselessness, “puzzle” the wolves, who kill the cattle in a much more savage manner than they do wild quarry, “as if they were offended by some violation of an old order. Billy also experiences moments of intimacy with the pregnant she-wolf that echo John Grady Cole’s relationship to horses, and this happens at the same two levels: in both the dream world and the tangible world. In McCarthy’s borderlands novels there is always the looming awareness that civilizations will rise and civilizations will fall, but what is constant is war, brutality, and death. This is why his books, particularly his works concerning the Southwest and Mexico, are littered with apocalyptic themes and images-until, of course, he delivers the death of all civilizations in the post-apocalyptic rendering The Road (2006).
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McCarthy, Cormac Child of God. New York: Vintage, 1973. Print.
McCarthy, Cormac Cities of the Plain. New York: Vintage, 1998. Print.
McCarthy, Cormac The Crossing. New York: Vintage, 1994. Print.
McCarthy, Cormac Outer Dark. New York: Vintage, 1968. Print.
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