The stereotypical Western film features a white American hero who is normally a cowboy with a Stetson hat who rides along the frontier from one dusty town to another on a steed who is depicted as faithful and loyal. Normally this cowboy is engaged in conflict at some particular point with Red Indians, who are vanquished by his superior skill and also his possession of rifles and guns. The hero is an itinerant wanderer who may be a bounty hunter or a gunslinger and who ends the film riding off into the horizon on his horse on to his next adventure, having vanquished the tribe of local Red Indians and seen them off, running away.
McCarthy's novel seems to have much that is similar to this stock plot. His central characters, John Grady and Lacey Rawlins go south into Mexico where what inspires and excites them is the tremendous sense of adventure that they have when faced with the blank nothingness of Mexico and the sense of possibility that they have. They journey around in an itinerant manner, similar to the cowboys in Western films. What is different, however, is that this novel is a meditation on the idea of other places and foreign lands. Note what the vaqueros that Grady and his friend meet think about the existence of the United States:
Some had friends or relatives who had been there but to most the country to the north was little more than a rumor. A thing for which there seemed no accounting.
Another difference is that Grady and his companion are not in conflict with the indigenous population, and actually come to work in a Mexican hacienda, rounding up horses and breaking them. At the heart of the novel is a relationship between Grady and Alejandra, the daughter of the hacienda owner. The focus of this text more than anything else is the coming-of-age of John Grady as he goes off into the unknown, and there, finds himself and develops from a boy into a man who is sure of his own abilities and strengths.