Themes and Meanings

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Throughout The Border Trilogy, there runs the notion that the dreams of youth are often more enduring than the realities of adulthood. Friendships fade, passions die, and a way of life becomes threatened. With a blend of historical fact and fictional characterization, McCarthy gives the reader a panoramic view of a society teeming with unrest and violence. The Southwest is changing quickly, and with industrialization comes the decline of the cowboy’s existence and the deterioration of the free range. The events of the trilogy transpire during a time when America is at war and boys everywhere are yearning to join up, while Mexico, still volatile and raw, is cleaning up following its own revolution. It is a straightforward story with complex issues. In one sense, it is a classic coming-of-age tale. In All the Pretty Horses, John Grady Cole leaves home at sixteen without direction, and he spends his adolescence discovering a society seething in depravity and corruption, where a man is judged only by his readiness to defend himself to the death. In The Crossing, certain symbolic elements underscore the theme, from the crossing of languages, to the crossing of a border, to the crossing of a stage of life. Thus the meaning of the title becomes more than geographical. The focus on the two young men’s initiation into manhood serves as the vehicle to carry McCarthy’s story through its course. With All the Pretty Horses, the reader is lured into a false sense of well-being when both of the central characters emerge alive, although somewhat disillusioned by their adventures. In comparison, Cities of the Plain is the end of the trail for John Grady Cole, as morbid reality manifests itself when death appears suddenly in the form of Magdalena’s mutilated body.