As elsewhere in McMurtry’s fiction, the strongest and most powerful characters in The Last Picture Show are to be found among the women. Ruth Popper, although less assertive than some of McMurtry’s other featured female characters, is perhaps the best delineated and most memorable of the lot, notable for her generally repressed complexities of thought and feeling. It is she who in fact, however hesitantly, initiates the liaison with Sonny, although she allows him to take the lead whenever he shows the inclination. Also revealing of Ruth’s character are the scenes with her husband, Herman, a “man’s man” who may well be a repressed homosexual and who is utterly critical of Ruth’s attempts to be other than totally passive in their own conjugal life.
Significantly, Sonny and Ruth first meet when Coach Popper asks the young athlete to take his “hypochondriac” wife to the doctor. Soon thereafter, Ruth undergoes successful breast surgery, yet Popper never seems to care about the outcome. In the novel’s final scene, Ruth quite credibly vents her pent-up wrath and frustration at Sonny before agreeing to go on.
Compared to Ruth, the other female characters of The Last Picture Show are somewhat closer to stereotype, yet in a number of cases McMurtry’s particular skill at portraying strong, assertive women is very much in evidence. Genevieve, the principal waitress at the café, serves as Sonny’s confidante during...
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Sonny Crawford, a teenager who, having no supportive parents or other relatives, lives in a rooming house in Thalia, Texas, and earns a living delivering bottled gas to rural customers. He is reasonably intelligent, though vulnerable and unsophisticated. During his senior year in high school, he terminates a relationship with Charlene Duggs, who has allowed him limited liberties with her body; covets Jacy Farrow, the beautiful, rich girlfriend of Duane; and is seduced by Ruth Popper, the withdrawn, sensitive wife of the high school football coach. After months of seeing Ruth Popper almost daily, Sonny is easily drawn into a summer romance with Jacy, who has dropped Duane and needs a temporary diversion. Finally, with the closing of the cinema and with Sam’s and Billy’s deaths, the destruction of Sonny’s world is complete. Feeling lost and alone, he returns to Ruth Popper.
Duane Moore, Sonny’s best friend, who is also on his own, financially and otherwise. Duane has more appeal for girls than Sonny because of his athletic prowess: His position on the high school football team is in the backfield, whereas Sonny plays in the line. Duane’s dreams are bigger than Sonny’s. Madly in love with Jacy Farrow, he assumes that they will be married one day, despite the objections of Jacy’s parents. Devastated and confused when Jacy drops him after their senior trip, Duane leaves Thalia temporarily to work in the oil fields of West Texas. He hopes that Jacy will miss him and relent. On a return visit, he injures Sonny in a fight, sees the futility of a reconciliation with Jacy, and eventually enlists in the Army. Duane will not, it seems, be content to live out his life in the North Central Texas village of Thalia.
Sam the Lion
Sam the Lion, a man in his sixties who takes an interest in Sonny and Duane. Sam owns the local film theater (picture show), café, and pool hall. Most of his time is spent in the pool hall, where he is most in touch with the boys. Sam...
(The entire section is 843 words.)