The Last Picture Show, Larry McMurtry’s third novel, treats the struggle to come of age in a society that has lost traditional moorings. In the small fictional town of Thalia, Texas, Sonny Crawford, from whose point of view the story is told, has no real family. In his senior year in high school in 1954, Sonny lives in a rooming house with his friend Duane.
Their football coach, Herman Popper, is a poor coach, but he is even worse as a classroom teacher. Unfortunately, most of the other teachers are no better, and Sonny and Duane sleep through most of their classes. The only outlets for youth in the town besides athletics are Fundamentalist religious activities, sexual experimentation, and the movies at the town’s one “picture show.”
The title of the book suggests small-town monotony and emptiness: The best Thalia can offer is the escape of movies, a way out of facing drab realities. The “picture show,” however, is about to close. Television—a social change that does not seem to be an improvement—has made the movie house unprofitable.
Sonny and Duane and the others have no family to guide them, no school that offers positive challenges, no meaningful religious grounding. Their sexual experimentation brings no real intimacy, no lasting relationships. What once was an agricultural ranching economy is now dominated by oil. Newly rich men drive fast cars, exploit the land’s natural resources, and callously...
(The entire section is 420 words.)