Autobiographical Echoes in The Road

This topic contains 30 replies, has 7 voices, and was last updated by  BobbyKnoxville 5 years, 7 months ago.

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  • 04 Jun 2012 at 12:15 pm #1478


    Bobby, my name is Brenden. Last name is above, or to the left. I’ll second Laurie’s comments above re: your graciousness in this thread.

    Laurie, interesting point about Suttree. It would take a bit more digging to parse that “I.” I seem to recall Suttree in fact seeing a man and hellhounds (or hellish hounds) in a dream somewhere in the book. Suttree’s thoughts are occasionally rendered in the first person throughout. But here…?

    McCarthy does seem to like these sorts of endings wherein the point of view shifts. He does it in Outer Dark too. Something about how you ought to warn a blind man before setting him off down a road with crocodiles and lord knows what else waiting on him.

    04 Jun 2012 at 2:38 pm #1482


    The hounds and the waterboy in the penultimate paragraph of Suttree are foreshadowed in a scene at the old mansion house: “Outside darkness has begun and the hounds’ voices are chimes in the distance that toll seven and cease. They wait for the waterbearer to come but he does not come, and does not come” (p. 136). Then at the end of the novel: “When he looked back the waterboy was gone. An enormous lank hound had come out of the meadow by the river like a hound from the depths and was sniffing at the spot where Suttree had stood” (p. 471). It does not seem to me that Suttree is the narrator in either instance. And it is even more evident in the next and last paragraph of the novel as Laurie has pointed out. But is the “I” intended to be the anonymous narrator of the book or McCarthy the author?

    04 Jun 2012 at 2:42 pm #1483

    Brendan and Laurie:

    My aim in revising is to give your views of that last passage and mine all pretty much equal weight. Unlike my earlier assertive views on that part, I now plan on mainly asking questions about it to close the essay. Thanks again for your insights.

    Bob G.

    05 Jun 2012 at 1:24 pm #1500


    Wes, Suttree is most certainly not the narrator of either passage. I didn’t mean to suggest I thought so. But there are times in the book when the point of view shifts from third to first, and the point of view, now in first, is still clearly Suttree’s. For instance, when he’s looking at the photoalbum on 129-30 (starts with a “we” on 129). This technique has its forebears in two novels which seem to have influenced McCarthy and Suttree in particular: Ulysses, and Katherine Anne Porter’s Pale Horse, Pale Rider.

    That’s indeed the passage on 136. Thanks for finding that. But I’d argue that here we are indeed in Suttree’s point of view. (Although you simply said he wasn’t the narrator, on which agree, so perhaps we agree here too.) Suttree is standing in the dining room “in silent recognition of the somewhat illustrious dead. Large companies seated. A fat marcassin to adorn the board…” That seems to me like we’re in Sut’s POV and witnessing his fantasy over the paragraph that follows. So the hounds and the waterbearer are things he is thinking of, unless somewhere between the large companies/marcassin and the hounds/waterbearer the narrator (or author) has silently and without indication taken over the fantasy.

    Then Sut leaves and we get this description of him: “Reprobate scion of doomed Saxon clans, out of a rainy daydream surmised.” Isn’t that his rainy daydream, the one we just witnessed? It’s a rainy day, he has just had a daydream, this is how he emerges. Seems to be his point of view.

    The POV is less clear in that penultimate paragraph. As the car moves and the landscape descriptions seem to follow suit, we could be in Sut’s POV. We weren’t at the start of the scene, but we were, for the most part at least, in the paragraph after the boy emerges. But after he gets into the car, we have this oddity: “Behind him the city lay smoking…When he looked back the waterboy was gone.” For this to be Sut’s POV, he either has to see the city behind, which he can’t if he’s not looking back, or he simply has to know it’s there smoking, which seems possible. My point is that the POV here is tricky. Given the context, the POV in the last paragraph could be Suttree’s, which mean the “I” is he, but given the content…I dunno.

    Two other references to hounds and hunters are important here. The first comes in the italicized prologue, page 5:

    “…but lo the thing’s inside and can you guess his shape?…a hunter with hounds or do bone horses pull his deathcart…”

    I’ve never particularly thought that was Suttree’s POV or narration either. Always seemed to me that the author or narrator were taking us up on the bridge at about the time of night when the suicide-jumper took his leap. If it indeed isn’t Sut’s POV, then we’ve got (death’s?) hounds both in and out of old Sut’s purview.

    Then there are the possum-hunters and their hounds, page 358:

    “They’d heard hounds coursing on the ridge behind them and the hunters hallooed from the dark before they came up. Two figures shambling in from the night like bad news, bearing a lighted lantern by its long bail…They squatted on their haunches side by side like buzzards and smiled around.”

    In addition to creeping Sut out in a campfire scene that’s the countrified cousin of a few in Blood Meridian, these guys effectively foreshadow death’s arrival in camp a few pages later. (Also known as the time Sut couldn’t bring himself to abandon a young innocent piece so the author did him a solid and dropped a wall of slate on her.)

    At any rate, I don’t know what this all tells else about that “I” in the last paragraph, though it certainly informs the hounds and the huntsman. The dream referenced there, with them thus “slaverous and wild,” hasn’t been shown us before.

    As for Pale Horse, Pale Rider, maybe this has been covered here before, but here’s a passage it sure seems McCarthy must have read. Miranda is in the hospital with influenza, and she’s in the midst of the fever hallucinations that make up much of the novel’s backend (page 249 of the Modern Library version):

    “The fog parted and two executioners, white clad, moved towards her pushing between them with marvelously deft and practiced hands the misshapen figure of an old man in filthy rags whose scanty beard waggled under his opened mouth as he bowed his back and braced his feet to resist and delay the fate they had prepared for him. In a high weeping voice he was trying to explain to them that the crime of which he was accused did not merit the punishment he was about to receive; and except for this whining cry there was silence as they advanced. The soiled cracked bowls of the old man’s hands were held before him beseechingly as a beggar’s as he said, ‘Before God I am not guilty,’ but they held his arms and drew him onward, passed, and were gone.”

    • This reply was modified 5 years, 7 months ago by  willey.
    09 Jun 2012 at 8:31 pm #1544

    As promised, I’ve included information from Laurie Steward, Wes Morgan, Peter Weber, and Brenden Willey in my revised essay “Autobiographical Echoes in THE ROAD, If you see any typos, let me know. Thanks again for your insights.

    10 Jun 2012 at 9:47 pm #1545


    It’s an honor to be included in your article. Thank you, Bob. I hope people will continue to engage with you and your essay here. Been thinking of the last paragraph and the many ideas in your piece and the comments in this thread. Other examples of the questions “Where is this?” and “When is this?” in McCarthy have gotten my attention. Don’t really have anything new to add, just that these complexities of space and time in CM are of continuing fascination and obviously so well done that it’s amazing how he can pull it off so often. Thanks again, Bob.

    12 Jun 2012 at 2:56 pm #1550

    Thanks for your kind words, Peter. As I implied at the start of my piece, I hope in time we’ll get more biographical info on McCarthy relative to his work. Of course, the really definitive biography can’t come until well after he passes and even then it will be difficult to do.

    I’ve wondered what kind of health our author is in now. He looked really good for the Oprah program, but that was 5 years ago, and pictures of him since then show that age is working fairly hard on him. I hope not seriously.

    13 Jun 2012 at 12:43 pm #1554


    Likewise, Bob. I look forward to the next one…

    23 Jun 2012 at 8:37 pm #1629


    Bob, I’m looking forward to reading your essay, which I’m about to head over to. Sorry I never was able to get around to that essay on TR that you asked me to. I ended up with a book project, coming out via Salem Press in September, one that includes pieces by a number of Society folk. . . . You also might be interested to know that about a year ago (near the end of Spring Semester 2011), out of the blue I was emailed by biographer Charles Shields regarding my thoughts about a McCarthy bio (I assume he likely emailed others in the Society, too, and assume he has been or is at the least a Forum browser). He’s the guy who wrote the recent bio on Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. I have no idea if he is proceeding to “tempt the attempt” as Milton’s Satan puts it, but found the whole possibility interesting. . . . Sorry to hear about your health issue, but hope all’s well now. Had one of my own, a surgery, in May, and am doing splendidly.


    23 Jun 2012 at 8:50 pm #1630


    One more thing I just discovered when accessing your article: Julie L. Moore is an ex-colleague of mine from roughly 20-22 years ago (“’twas in another lifetime”). We’re still occasionally in touch, and I’ve read some of her poetry, including, I believe, the one your website gave an award to.

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