The Characters

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Cormac McCarthy is known for instilling wildness in his characters. They are often depicted as outcasts, homeless or living in hovels, usually just scraping by, whether in an adobe hut or sleeping on the ground in a desert. In The Border Trilogy, the characters do not change or grow over the course of the story. Rather, they are intricately blended into the rough landscape.

John Grady Cole commands the reader’s attention from the beginning of All the Pretty Horses with his quiet countenance, firm values, common sense, and maturity beyond his years. Not one to take the easy way out, Cole must endure the consequences of his noble approach to life, from surviving a Mexican prison after helping Jimmy Blevins retrieve his horse from thieves, to losing his life in an effort to save a prostitute from her nefarious pimp. He never loses sight of his dreams, but he never sees them fulfilled either.

Jimmy Blevins captures the reader’s sympathy as the pathetic, hapless, atypical hero who would risk death to get back what is his. Blevins is a multidimensional character who surprises others at every turn. Lacey Rawlins says of Blevins: “The little son of a bitch wouldn’t stand still for nobody high-jackin his horse.”

Although Billy Parham is more of a realist than Cole, he is a cowboy to the core as he chases a disappearing culture. In The Crossing, he endures the mournful loss of everything he cares about, starting with the lone she-wolf and including his parents, his brother, and even his dog. He finds kinship in Cities of the Plain when he meets Cole and the other ranch hands, who have all suffered losses, individually (daughters, siblings, wives) and collectively (a shared lifestyle and Old West philosophy). He is an outlaw at heart, never afraid to walk on the wrong side if it is for a good cause.

McCarthy typically uses old men to convey wisdom and guidance to his younger characters, and he does so in each volume of The Border Trilogy. He also introduces a number of lesser characters, including a band of gypsies, vaqueros, and a blind musician to add to the regional flavor.