The Characters

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Cornelius Suttree is at all times the focus of this novel, but Cormac McCarthy gives the reader only a sketchy sense of how and why he has broken with his family, left his wife and child. Suttree is a lapsed Catholic born with a sense of guilt. His twin brother died in birth, and Suttree questions why he was chosen to live. “Mirror image. Gauche carbon. He lies in Woodlawn, whatever be left of the child with whom you shared your mother’s belly. He neither spoke nor saw nor does he now. . . . He in the limbo of the Christless righteous, I in a terrestrial hell.”

Although Suttree’s parents are alive, he refuses to have anything to do with them. While at the University of Tennessee, he met and married a mountain girl by whom he had a son, but he has returned her and the child to her family. Near the beginning of the book, he learns that the child has died, but when he attempts to go to the funeral, he is attacked by his wife’s mother, mad with grief, and then run out of town by the sheriff. His life is a series of self-imposed failures. He dooms himself, invites his own destruction as a kind of just punishment. He also gives of himself, however, and in doing so acknowledges his humanity.

The character that stands in opposition to Suttree is Gene Harrogate, the country boy who is put in prison for sexually molesting watermelons. Harrogate is a perverse and comic character, thoroughly dishonest and without common sense, a fool whose...

(The entire section is 559 words.)

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Cornelius Suttree

Cornelius Suttree, called Buddy by his family, Sut by his friends, and Youngblood by Abednego Jones. He is an intelligent and well-educated man of approximately thirty who, for reasons never explicitly divulged, has left his wife and child and gone to live in a houseboat moored to the banks of the Tennessee River. Born with a dead identical twin, Suttree suffers from a sort of double vision: He lives half in this world and half in the next, and he views each from the perspective of the other. He makes a meager living by fishing and spends the rest of his time either taking care of or getting drunk with an assortment of mostly homeless and alcoholic outcasts who are his friends. In the course of his disjointed but thematically coherent adventures, Suttree undergoes a series of encounters with the dead and with death, from the floating corpse that opens the novel to the corpse in his bed that closes it. Not only do many of Suttree’s friends die (through violence, neglect, or disaster), but Suttree himself is hospitalized three times in the novel as well, twice as a result of barroom brawls and once for an advanced and untreated case of tuberculosis. Suttree makes three excursions from Knoxville. The first is to attend the funeral of his son; the second is into the Smoky Mountains, where he wanders without food or shelter for more than a month in an effort to lay his demons to rest; and the third is to the French Broads of the Tennessee River, with Reese, in an ill-fated attempt to make money by gathering mussel shells and freshwater pearls. At the end of the novel, most of his friends are dead or gone, and his already tenuous ties to the material world are loosened still further by his lengthy and near-fatal illness. He leaves McAnally Flats one step ahead of the death that hounds him.

Gene Harrogate

Gene Harrogate, also called the City Mouse, who meets Suttree in the workhouse, to which he has been sent for the unusual crime of melon-mounting. Harrogate is a...

(The entire section is 827 words.)


(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

The cast of characters in Suttree is impressively large. It includes some of Suttree's family members, but mostly they are his...

(The entire section is 456 words.)