Themes from American Literature: People Die

I would like to begin the post by saying that there is no one quote or passage to support this theme. It is something that the reader must gather on their own by the language and attitude of the author. Now, that being said, it is not hard to figure out what McCarthy is saying. In fact, it is fairly obvious. Throughout this novel, the reader sees all kinds of atrocities committed by the scalp hunters. They kill innocent citizens without a second thought. They even kill their own over minor disputes. Now the interesting thing is, there is no emotion in the plot EVER. It does not matter who or what is killed, even if it is in the most brutal manner possible. Not once do we see a shred of guilt, regret, or remorse from any one of the scalp hunters. Even when Glanton, one of the main characters int he story, the leader of the scalp hunters, has his head split in two by an Indian, no one seems to care. They just acknowledge that he is dead and move on with their lives. Now granted when Glanton was killed it was during an Indian raid and mourning him then would be stupid, they dont even speak of it when they are safe. None of the scalp hunters seem to have any feelings about death at all.

This brings us to the point McCarthy is trying to make. He is saying that death is not the worst thing ever. It is a common occurrence and it will eventually happen to everyone. This becomes evident early on in the novel when we see McCarthy’s attitude toward a character dying. Whenever it does happen, McCarthy uses no emotional adjective whatsoever. He is completely matter of fact with his descriptions and his characters reactions. one of many examples would be, “McGill turned to look at Glanton and as he did so Glanton leveled his pistol and shot him through the head. p. 157″ That is all that McCarthy says on the subject. Afterwards he continues on with his description of the scene. Now McGill was one of them, a scalp hunter, and Glanton shot him through the head without a second thought. Now what does this all mean? Well I believe that McCarthy is trying to say that we make too big os a deal out of death. He purposely fills the novel with death, and then plays it off as if it is nothing. People die. That is a fact of life and there is nothing we can do to change that. By under playing death in his novel so much, he is speaking volumes about it.


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