"Diverging equity": the metaphysics of Cormac McCarthy's western novels

Petra Mundik

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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[Truncated] This thesis investigates the relationship between Gnosticism, a system of thought that argues that the cosmos is evil and that the human spirit must strive for liberation from manifest existence; and the Perennial Philosophy, a study of the highest common factor in all esoteric religions; and how these traditions have influenced the first four 'Western' novels of Cormac McCarthy, namely, Blood Meridian and the Border Trilogy. The thesis argues that throughout his work, McCarthy continually strives to evolve an explanatory theodicy and all of his novels are, to a lesser or greater extent, concerned with the meaning of human existence in relation to the presence of evil and the nature of the divine. If a divine entity exists, and is omnipotent, omniscient, and benevolent, then why does it permit the existence of both natural and man-made evil? Is God immanent or transcendent? Is the universe ruled by destiny, deterministic laws, or free will? What is humanity's place within the cosmos? Gnostic thought and the Perennial Philosophy, are essential to understanding McCarthy's work and therefore constitute the central focus of this thesis.

The first four chapters of this work are concerned with various aspects of McCarthy's first 'Western' novel, Blood Meridian (1985). The first chapter explores the hostile landscape within Blood Meridian, arguing that it portrays a fundamentally anticosmic and misotheistic approach to creation that is best understood through Gnostic cosmology. In the second chapter, the focus shifts to the character of Judge Holden, whose polysemic position within the novel is illuminated by various spiritual traditions, namely the Judeo-Christian, Buddhist, Hindu and Gnostic, and their respective personifications of evil. The third chapter examines Blood Meridian in light of Modernity, arguing that the novel represents a movement away from traditional spirituality and towards rationalism, materialism, reductionism and nihilism. The fourth chapter is concerned with the question of redemption, arguing that 'the kid' and the mysterious figure of the epilogue serve messianic roles within the novel.

Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Publication statusUnpublished - 2012


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