One promising approach to analyzing the fundamental issues of human nature and our propensity to violence would be to focus on the characters. While there are many violent elements in the novel’s plot, the main area where the reader may discern the author’s attitudes about human motivations is through characterization. Even the characters who are opposed to violence may demonstrate that it is sometimes necessary to commit violent acts.
When examining the character of Judge Holden, one is struck by the extent to which his overarching lust for power. One could pose the question of whether he truly believes that all people are beyond redemption and deserving of punishment. Is this really his belief, or is he using that idea to justify his desire to control and harm others?
The most obvious contrast to Holden’s cynicism is Tobin’s insistence on the importance of free will. However, Tobin influences another person to carry out his principles by eliminating the evil that Holden embodies. The author thus places the kid into a central position of standing for good. One should consider the effects on the kid’s character, not just on the plot’s resolution, of his inability to eliminate Holden. One could explore the kid’s character through two interpretations: that his inaction bolsters his position as a moral force, or that it turns him into Holden’s willing accomplice.
In addition to characters, one should take the setting into account. The author is writing about a particular part of the world at a specific time, so the characters’ actions are strongly influenced by that context. It would be useful to distinguish the author’s intention to analyze human nature for its universal characteristics in comparison with the points that McCarthy makes about the nineteenth-century US West.