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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(Great Characters in Literature)

Bartlett, Andrew. “From Voyeurism to Archaeology: Cormac McCarthy’s Child of God.” Southern Literary Journal 24 (Fall, 1991): 3-15. Argues that the real focus of Child of God is not its sociopathic protagonist but the question of how he should be perceived. An incisive study of technique and theme.

Bell, Vereen M. The Achievement of Cormac McCarthy. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1988. The first book-length study of McCarthy. Devotes one chapter to Child of God; the introduction is also helpful.

Grammer, John. “A Thing Against Which Time Will Not Prevail: Pastoral and History in Cormac McCarthy’s South.” The Southern Quarterly 30 (Summer, 1992): 19-30. An important essay, showing how one of the major themes in Southern literature is basic to McCarthy’s thought. Lester Ballard meets his doom because he is an anachronism.

Winchell, Mark Royden. “Inner Dark: or, The Place of Cormac McCarthy.” Southern Review 26 (Spring, 1990): 293-309. An excellent introduction. Argues that although in some ways McCarthy surpasses even Faulkner, only Child of God is likely to endure.