Elements of Naturalism and Neonaturalism in Cormac McCarthy's "The Road"

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2018

19 Pages, Grade: 1,7



Table of Contents

1 Introduction

2 Cormac McCarthy
2.1 Biography
2.2 Writing Style
2.3 Summaries of McCarthy’s Writings and Awards
2.3.1 Writings
2.3.2 Awards

3 Literary Epochs of Realism, Naturalism and Neonaturalism
3.1 Realism
3.2 Naturalism and Neonaturalism

4 The Road
4.1 The Post-Apocalyptic World
4.2 Characters
4.2.1 The Father
4.2.2 The Boy
4.2.3 The Cannibals
4.3 Reflection


1 Introduction

The American frontier describes the geographical, historical and cultural life during the wave of American expansion. This wave started with the colonization of the American continent in the beginning of the 17th century and ended in 1912 when the last mainland territories joined the United States.

European settlers came from a variety of social and religious groups, including adventurers, explorers, soldiers, farmers, tradesmen, priests and some from the aristocracy. They were attracted by the idea of recreating their lives in the New World and planted colonies where they hoped to find freedom and lucrative business opportunities. As the Native Americans had no infrastructure that was recognizable by European standards, the settlers often just took the land away from them and kept on pushing the Native American settlements further west.

The term “frontier” describes a region that exists at the edge of a line of European-American settlement. There are multiple frontiers in American history, but folklore often focuses on certain regions, especially on those wide lands west of the Mississippi river where Native Americans lived. Nowadays this is the South- and Midwest, the Great Plaines, the Rocky Mountains and the West Coast. These places and this time period were romanticized throughout the years which formed a myth around the frontier concept of exploring and conquering the land at the edge of civilization. The frontier myth or Myth of the West was born and became popular in literature and art in the 19th and 20th century.

The American Frontier Myth is one of the most popular and influential myths in American folklore. It was also key theme of the “The Frontier in US Fiction and Film” seminar led by Dr. Klaus Schmidt at the translation, linguistics and cultural science faculty of the University of Mainz in Germersheim during summer term 2018. As a part of the seminar clips from movies with the frontier as key motif were shown and authors and their novels were discussed, with special emphasis on the depiction of masculinity, violence and the representation of ethnicity and national identity. The author of this paper had always been interested in the horror and post-apocalyptic genre, therefore choosing to take a closer look at the American author, Cormac McCarthy, and his post-apocalyptic novel “The Road” that was published in 2006, and its film adaptation which was released in 2009.

In the following chapters, Cormac McCarthy’s biography and his writing style will be highlighted, including summaries of his writings and awards in a tabular form to express the amount of achievements McCarthy accomplished, and the impact on literature he has, especially in the genres of Western, Southern-Gothic and Post-Apocalyptic literature. After that, the literary epochs of realism, naturalism and neonaturalism will be outlined for the later analysis of the plot, characters and motifs of McCarthy’s novel “The Road” focusing on the realistic, naturalistic and neonaturalistic elements of the story. The descriptive method will be used based on primary and secondary literature and the author's observations.

2 Cormac McCarthy

2.1 Biography

Cormac McCarthy is an American novelist, screenwriter and dramatist. Up to this point he wrote ten books in the genres of Western, Southern-Gothic and the Post-Apocalyptic genre.

He was born on July 20 in 1933 in Providence, Rhode Island, as Charles McCarthy, but later changed his name to the traditional Irish name Cormac after a legendary high king of Ireland. Together with his parents, Gladys Christina (born McGrail) and Charles Joseph McCarthy, and his five siblings, he lived in Knoxville, Tennessee where he went to St. Mary's Parochial School and Knoxville Catholic High School. The way of being raised as a Catholic in the southern United States defined McCarthy’s later writings. In 2007 he told David Kushner during an interview about his dark and rather drastic writing style: “You grow up in the South, you’re going to see violence. And violence is pretty ugly” (McCarthy 2007). After graduating from school, McCarthy attended the University of Tennessee, but quit college after one year. He joined the United States Air Force in 1953 and served a four-year stint stationed in Alaska where he hosted a radio show for a few years. Being bored of the daily routine he tried to escape the boredom by reading as many books as he could. After the end of his four-year stint, McCarthy returned to the University of Tennessee in 1957, but never received a university degree. That was the time when he decided to start a serious carrier in writing. He did some editing work for a professor of the University of Tennessee and published two stories in the college literary magazine, titled “Wake for Susan” and “A Drowning Incident”. McCarthy received two Ingram-Merrill awards in 1959 and 1960 for his creative writing style.

A year later, in 1961, McCarthy dropped out of college once and for all, moved to Chicago and started writing his first novel, while working at an auto parts warehouse. He married his college sweetheart, Lee Holleman, and had a son they named Cullen. The couple moved back to Tennessee, but their marriage broke up and McCarthy left Tennessee living a hand-to-mouth existence in Ashville, North Carolina, and afterwards in New Orleans where he continued writing his first novel, “The Orchard Keeper” which he wrote in the Southern Gothic traditional style. It was edited by Albert Eskine who also edited works of William Faulkner. It was published by the Random House book publishing company1 in 1965. McCarthy received the William Faulkner Foundation Award for “The Orchard Keeper” as the best novel by an American writer in 1966. During this time McCarthy also received a Traveling Fellowship from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. The money the award includes allowed McCarthy to take some time to research his family history in Ireland for inspiration for a possible future book. He was travelling by ocean liner and met Anne DeLisle, a singer and dancer who was working on the ship. The two fell in love and headed off to Britain where they got married. McCarthy received a grant from the Rockefeller Foundation which made it possible for the newly-married couple to travel around Europe and to settle in Ibiza for some time. During this time McCarthy wrote his second novel “Outer Dark” which was published in 1968. This book shows the dark, drastic and also uncomfortable nuances of his writing style other authors may be avoiding.

McCarthy and his second wife decided to leave Ibiza in 1967 and settled in Tennessee. He received a Guggenheim Fellowship for creative writing and wrote his third novel “Child of God” in 1973 which was based on a true story, more precisely on a news report from Sevier County, Tennessee. One year later, in 1974, McCarthy wrote a screenplay for a television drama called “The Gardener’s Son” which represents another dark and grotesque story with a plot about murder and two feuding families.

The second marriage of McCarthy broke up in 1976 and he moved to El Paso in Texas where he changed his writing style – away from Southern Gothic towards historical Western motifs. Before this change, his fourth novel “Suttree” was published in 1979. “Suttree” is considered of being autobiographical to some point which is very rare amongst the books of McCarthy. In general, he guards his privacy very well.

McCarthy moved to Mexico, more precisely to the Mexican-American borderlands. A very notable step as McCarthy not only reached out to new frontiers within his stories, but also in his personal life decisions. He learned to speak Spanish fluently and also made several scouted trips into Mexico. A McArthur fellowship he received in 1981 improved his financial situation by the amount of about 200.000 US dollars. Despite enjoying such a high status and great respect amongst novelists, McCarthy remained humble. He did not participate in any TV shows and gave only a few interviews. He also never participated in literary circles as he rather surrounds himself with scientists than with authors. During a rare interview he explained why. “The artsy crowd was all dressed and drugged and ready to party. I just started hanging out with scientists because they were more interesting” (McCarthy 2007).

In 1985 McCarthy fifth novel titled “Blood Meridian or the Evening Redness in the West” was released – a violent and bloody story about scull hunters who caused massacres at the edge of Mexican-American borderlands. The main character and antagonist of “Blood Meridian […]“ is a depiction of exaggerated and violent masculinity. The story is characterized by brutal killing scenarios, pronounced pessimism and apocalyptic imagination, but also by philosophical and religious influences. (McCarthy 2010; Hage 2010)

The sixth novel by McCarthy was published in 1992 and named “All the Pretty Horses” [Border Trilogy 1]. He gave one of his very rare interviews to Richard Westwood from the New York Times for promotion purposes of his new novel. It was the first part of McCarthy’s Border Trilogy which was continued by the novels “The Crossing” [Border Trilogy 2] in 1994 and “Cities of Plain” [Border Trilogy 3] in 1998.

“No Country for Old Men” was McCarthy’s ninth novel and released in 2005. The story takes place in the Mexican-American borderlands and deals with the dark sides of making a living there by focusing on drug trafficking and excessive violence. The movie adaptation which was released in 2007 became a huge blockbuster and won four Academy Awards and the Screen Actors Guild Award in 2008.

In 2006 McCarthy’s tenth novel “The Road” followed. A post-apocalyptic novel which is very dark and grim, but also with a glimpse of hope at the very end. It promptly became national bestseller and McCarthy received the Pulitzer Prize for it in 2007. Oprah Winfrey chose “The Road” for her book club and McCarthy agreed to meet her for an interview that took place in the library of Santa Fee University. During this interview he revealed how the idea he got to “The Road” was born. The idea was born when he was staying at a hotel with his younger son, John. A train drove past the hotel and the sound it made was so loud and unpleasant that McCarthy imagined an unpleasant environment a father and son need to escape to reach a better place.

In 2009 McCarthy received the PENN/Saul award for achievements in American Fiction, but he did not participate in the award ceremony. Ajai Singh Mehta from McCarthy’s book publishing company accepted the prize in place of McCarthy and thanked the organization for the recognition towards McCarthy’s work.

Since 2009 McCarthy works on a new novel which has the working title “The Passenger”. The archive of the script of the forthcoming novel and McCarthy’s other famous novels was purchased by the Southwestern Writers Collection for two million dollars, including handwritten notes, paintings and correspondence for his novels. The unfinished script of “The Passenger” has restricted access until publication. (Hage 2010)

2.2 Writing Style

During an interview with Oprah Winfrey in 2008 McCarthy said: ”James Joyce is a good model for punctuation. He keeps it to an absolute minimum. There’s no reason to blot the page up with weird little marks. I mean, if you write properly you shouldn’t have to punctuate.” (McCarthy 2008)

He made it clear that he is not a fan of punctuation and “weird little marks” (McCarthy 2008) at all. He uses very little punctuation in his novels and prefers the replacement of commas and periods with an “and” which is called polysyndetic coordination. (Bryant; Burton) The following quote is an example of McCarthy avoiding punctuation taken from his post-apocalyptic novel “The Road”.

Out on the road the pilgrims sank down and fell over and died and the bleak and shrouded earth went trundling past the sun and returned again as trackless and as unremarked as the path of any nameless sisterworld in the ancient dark beyond. (McCarthy 2006)

Like William Faulkner in many of his works, McCarthy uses simple declarative sentences with an “and” as a conjunction within the syntax. He never uses quotation marks in his novels, but the reader still always knows who is speaking and never loses track of what is going on during the conversations. McCarthy uses this method since he did some editing work for a professor at the University of Tennessee who really liked his direct and straightforward style of writing and editing. (Hage 2010)

The motifs of his novels and other works are characterized by realistic, naturalistic and neonaturalistic elements.

McCarthy is not afraid to point out the uncomfortable und ugly parts of human nature, such es fear, suffering and violence. He is famous for his usage of realistic and especially naturalistic and neonaturalistic elements in his books without mincing matters. Not only that he describes his imaginary scenarios as realistic as they are, without romanticizing them or including supernatural elements, he also points out the naturalistic elements about them, describing them in detail without protecting the reader from the depressing atmosphere this writing style can create.

2.3 Summaries of McCarthy’s Writings and Awards

2.3.1 Writings

The following table shows McCarthy’s works organized by text type and title beginning with novels and short fiction followed by essays, screenplays and plays. In addition, every work of McCarthy is labeled with its release date.

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten


1 American book publishing company founded in 1927 and largest general-interest publisher worldwide. Randomhouse.biz 2011.

Excerpt out of 19 pages


Elements of Naturalism and Neonaturalism in Cormac McCarthy's "The Road"
Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz  (Fachbereich Translations-, Sprach- und Kulturwissenschaft)
The Frontier in U.S. Fiction and Film: From Charles Brockden Brown's Edgar Huntly (1799) to Cormac McCarthy's The Road (2006)
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
The Road, Philip Roth, naturalism, neo naturalim, post-apocalyptic, drama, father and son
Quote paper
Anonymous, 2018, Elements of Naturalism and Neonaturalism in Cormac McCarthy's "The Road", Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/899797


  • No comments yet.
Read the ebook
Title: Elements of Naturalism and Neonaturalism in Cormac McCarthy's "The Road"

Upload papers

Your term paper / thesis:

- Publication as eBook and book
- High royalties for the sales
- Completely free - with ISBN
- It only takes five minutes
- Every paper finds readers

Publish now - it's free