Christina Xan

Date of Award

Spring 2019

Document Type

Open Access Thesis


English Language and Literatures

First Advisor

Robert Brinkmeyer


Cormac McCarthy’s works have presented a question since he first published The Orchard Keeper in 1965 – what are his characters’ motivations? McCarthy’s novels are known for showing little to no interiority of his characters. This choice to depict action and not thought makes it nearly impossible to discern the reasoning behind the actions of the characters. Not being able to definitively know the motivations of the characters in his novels makes it hard to argue that his characters are simply “good” or “bad,” and morality becomes hard to discern. Although actions such as murder appear immoral without having an interiority, knowing that the characters who commit these acts operate by their own moral codes, complicates the way we view morality in general. In two of his works, Child of God and No Country for Old Men, McCarthy presents his audience with characters that seem easy to see as simply evil. In Child of God, we are presented with Lester Ballard, a murdering necrophile who kills women and steals their bodies away for his own pleasure. In No Country for Old Men, we are given Anton Chigurh, a serial killer who taunts victims with coin tosses, creates his own murder weapons out of bolt guns, and fails to so much as blink at the pull of a trigger. Interestingly, though, both of these killers make decisions that appear to be motivated by either the community around them or by a force greater than themselves, and both of these links are specifically religious. By trying to work through the murky motivations of these complex characters and their relationship to god, or lack of one, we can learn more about McCarthy’s thoughts on violence, humanity, and morality.


© 2019, Christina Xan