“The Salitter drying from the earth”: Apocalypse in the novels of Cormac McCarthy
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameMaster of Arts
In this thesis, I analyse four novels by Cormac McCarthy through the lens of Apocalypse theory. Looking at his later, south-western, novels Blood Meridian, All the Pretty Horses, No Country for Old Men and The Road, I examine to what extent they respond to biblical and secular apocalyptic ideologies and narrative tropes. Particular attention is paid to the distinction between biblical apocalypse and secular, or nihilistic, apocalypse. The former draws its framework from the Book of Revelation, and entails a war between Heaven and Hell, the rule of the Anti-Christ and God’s final judgement. Although cataclysmic, a biblical apocalypse also promises worldly renewal through the descent of New Jerusalem. Thus, the end of the world was a desirable, rather than dreaded, event. However, as the world moved into the twentieth century, and we saw modernity give birth to weapons of global destruction, apocalyptic attitudes became pessimistic. The belief that God would save the world from corruption quickly gave way to an entropic end, in which human civilisation will simply collapse into nothingness. I consider McCarthy’s south-west fiction within these opposing apocalyptic ideas, and demonstrate how the four novels build a line of history that begins with Blood Meridian’s Manifest Destiny and ends with The Road’s nuclear bomb. I argue that McCarthy explores both biblical and nihilistic apocalyptic modes before combining them in The Road, which I argue offers a new apocalyptic mode: renewal and salvation without God. Within this context, I argue against common interpretations of McCarthy as a completely nihilistic writer with no vested anthropological concerns. Through these four novels, I instead suggest he negotiates between biblical and nihilistic apocalyptic modes before coming to the conclusion, in The Road, that hope exists.