Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)

*Eastern Tennessee

*Eastern Tennessee. Remote and harsh hill country area dominated by woods, rivers, and fields. Evicted from his home as the result of a false charge of rape, Lester Ballard embarks on a dark journey of survival through a countryside filled with images of nature in its rawest form. It is a setting in which Ballard steadily sheds his last remaining ties to civilized conduct. Instead, he resorts to basic animal instincts as he sets out on an orgy of grotesque behaviors, including incest, infanticide, and necrophilia. With each step back from civilization, Ballard eventually emerges as a creature of the landscape, scavenging the woods for “trophies” to satisfy his strange lusts. So effective is McCarthy in blending Ballard into the harsh landscape that in the end the reader is inclined to draw little distinction between him and the area’s other forms of wildlife. From a distance McCarthy’s landscape appears as a thing of beauty in its raw natural state. Even Ballard, when viewed from a distance, appears as a sympathetic figure in his lone struggle for survival under harsh conditions. The author is careful, however, not to let the reader slip into a sympathetic state. Depravities are never far away, as McCarthy regularly jars the reader back to reality with close-up views that underscore the obscenities carried out on the natural beauty of his terrain.


Caves. Series of caves located in the limestone country of eastern Tennessee. As they do in McCarthy’s novel Suttree (1979), caves play a major...

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