Themes and Meanings
Suttree is McCarthy’s most complete study of the fugitive, the outcast suffering from a spiritual sickness that consumes his soul. McCarthy expresses this kind of isolation through a father-son motif that runs throughout his books. Suttree has broken contact with his father and has abandoned his own child. In McAnally Flats he has adopted others to fill these roles: the old ragpicker and, to an extent, Harrogate. Yet these relationships are poor substitutes at best. In a moment of rare candor after his son’s funeral, when the sheriff has come to escort him out of town, Suttree tells the man, “No one cares. It’s not important.” “That’s where you’re wrong my friend,” the sheriff answers. “Everything’s important. A man lives his life, he has to make that important. Whether he’s a small town county sheriff or the president. Or a busted out bum. You might even understand that some day. I don’t say you will. You might.”
By the end of the novel, Suttree has come to understand the importance of life and responsibility. The “water boy” who gives him a drink may well be his son in an act of forgiveness; the act of giving may be seen as a promise of grace. Indeed, there is a mystical quality to this final scene, as Suttree himself seems to disappear before the reader. The narrative voice shifts to first person, although it is not necessarily Suttree speaking. “Somewhere in the gray wood by the river is the huntsman and in the brooming corn and in the castellated press of cities,” the voice says. “His work lies all wheres and his hounds tire not. I have seen them in a dream, slaverous and wild and their eyes crazed with ravening for souls in this world. Fly them.”
Suttree does flee from the hound and the huntsman, but unlike Culla Holme in Outer Dark (1968) or Lester Ballad in Child of God (1974), there is hope for his eventual salvation. The corpse in his bed represents the death of one way of life. He has faced his past and seems ready to renew his existence in the world of the living.