Cormac McCarthy and the ethics of reading
Horton, Matthew Rush
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To demonstrate his interest in the ethical dimension of fiction and reading, this study examines the narrative strategies of Cormac McCarthy in three of his novels: Outer Dark, Child of God, and Blood Meridian. Each novel dramatizes a dilemma related to the act of reading; accordingly, “the ethics of reading” is treated as an element of his fiction, not as a theoretical category. Instead of prescribing an approach to reading, this study focuses on how these novels raise ethical questions about the act of reading. As ethical criticism, it addresses the central concern of all ethical inquiry (“what is the good?”) by exploring how his narrative form and storytelling methods complement the theme of accountability. Although the reader of these novels might grow as a reader, he is under no moral obligation to reflect on how he should read them. Scholars have shown an interest in the ethical and formalist dimensions of McCarthy’s work for some time, but few have considered how he addresses ethical questions through his formal technique. Comprising a stylistic and thematic trilogy, Outer Dark, Child of God, and Blood Meridian demonstrate how story and narration intersect and interact in his fiction. Implications for scholarship and teaching are discussed in the final chapter.