Study Guide

Child of God

by Cormac McCarthy

Child of God Summary

Summary (Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Under the supervision of Fate Turner, the high sheriff of Sevier County, a farm is being auctioned off for nonpayment of taxes. When the owner, Lester Ballard, threatens the auctioneer with a rifle, one of the men assembled at the auction hits Lester in the head with an ax and takes him away. From that time on, Lester has difficulty holding up his head. The blow might have affected his mind. Because of Lester’s behavior, many local people are afraid to bid on the land, and it goes to John Greer, an outsider. Lester is determined to kill Greer.

Lester has no home and no way to support himself, without even enough money to buy whiskey; but he is not defeated. Deep in the woods he finds a deserted house, cleans it up, brings his few possessions to it, and moves in. He survives by stealing food and shooting game. He has no way, however, to fulfill his sexual needs. One night he relieves himself while watching a couple having intercourse in a car, but when they see him, they flee. Sometimes Lester visits Reubel, in hopes that one of his nine promiscuous daughters will help him, but they only laugh at him.

Lester has always been mean, but after he loses his farm, he seems to go crazy. It is inevitable that he will get in trouble. One fall morning, while he is hunting, Lester finds a woman lying on the ground, where she evidently passed out drunk. They fight; then Lester rips off the nightgown she is wearing and carries it away with him, leaving her naked. Later, the woman charges Lester with rape, and he is put in jail, where he spends nine rather pleasant days, eating his fill and enjoying the company of another inmate. After Lester is released, Fate warns him to stay out of Sevierville and out of trouble, predicting that if he does not change his attitude, Lester will end up murdering someone. Defiantly, Lester says that he does not care about the people of the town, or, he suggests, anyone else.

Lester still needs a woman. At a county fair, he shoots a rifle so well that he wins three stuffed animals and is chased away by the pitchman. Despite his skill and his trophies, the pretty girls in the crowd turn away from him. Lester goes home alone, carrying two toy bears and a tiger.

Hoping to win the favor of one of the girls in the area, Lester captures a live robin and, despite her mother’s objections, gives it as a toy to the girl’s retarded child. When the child chews off the bird’s legs, the two women are annoyed and disgusted, and Lester leaves their house.

One December morning, Lester finds the solution to...

(The entire section is 1051 words.)