In "The Crossing", does Cormac McCarthy believe that we can control our destiny or is it fate that leads us along our journey of life?

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durbanville eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In The Crossing, Cormac McCarthy has the ability to challenge the reader's concept of free will and how much a person's attitude can change what and the way things occur. The reader sees Boyd, Billy's brother who Billy tries to protect but who will die needlessly and who represents something that Billy cannot hold on to. Billy, who seems to represent an ideal rather than a real person, changes through all his poor decision-making. The fact that Billy does not make concrete decisions but seems to drift from one intention to the other is what makes The Crossing seem like perhaps Billy is not in control and that he is almost manipulated by the situation he finds himself in each time. Billy's inability to set concrete goals for himself hampers his ability to succeed, real achievement being always out of his reach. As the blind man says:

..."like every man who comes to the end of something there was nothing to be done but to begin again."

The futility resonates with the reader as we wonder, "If people knew the story of their lives how many would then elect to live them?" (Quijada) To suggest that even God may be surprised by the outcomes, not being instrumental in people's lives although his presence is never doubted or disputed, would support an existential viewpoint, where man is responsible for the life he builds. This then is the problem with Billy. He tries to do what he thinks is right but is constantly thwarted by his own actions and decisions; he has no real drive, no future and even if he arrived at a crucial point in his life "he would not know it when he got there." Ironically, Billy's success comes when he is able to bring his brother's remains home. It is up to the reader to interpret McCarthy's views but it would seem (in my opinion) that, in The Crossing, he supports the existential viewpoint and man must make the best of his own situation. 

kaspereagan54 | Student

The Crossing is the second novel of the Cormac McCarthy’s Border trilogy.  It tells us the story of the Parham family, who lives in New Mexico at the time of World War II. The protagonist Billy, the elder son of the family, is 16 years old at the beginning of the narrative. The boy is struggling to fulfill some of the personal missions and keep failing at every turn. He crosses the Mexican border three times, and with every journey, regardless of his efforts, he loses more than he can ever regain. Over the novel, his adventures make him broken and utterly desperate. The key question of the novel concerns the problem of the determinism: how deeply our life is predetermined and where are the limits of our freedom. 

Billy’s pure intentions and constant unfounded failures make a heartbreaking combination that provokes us to think about our life's endeavor and its pointlessness. It naturally makes us think that no matter how hard we try, we cannot really resist the circumstances. It becomes easy to imagine that there is something like fate that totally controls and leads our life. Nevertheless, I allow myself to assume that it is not the idea McCarthy want to share with us.

Not the fate pushed Billy to undertake for his brother or the wolf at the beginning of the story but his own choice. It resonates with the philosophy of existentialism and Jean-Paul Sartre’s words, claiming that we are condemned to be free. So is Billy, regardless of what he would prefer for himself. He is only responsible for his decisions and that is what makes his troubles so unbearable. In other words, he is exhausted by being free.

I believe that McCarthy’s novel is an attempt to examine the issues of destiny, with both its thrilling and frightening sides.