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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