Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Political Science

Document Type



This dissertation is a study in literature and politics and proceeds by tracing out the major political themes of McCarthy’s body of fiction and analyzing them toward their logical conclusions. The critical approach in this narrative-based anthropology looks at man first in profound isolation and then progresses through his novels in sequence, in an increasingly social context. McCarthy’s later fiction displays an increasingly affirmative view of the sacredness of human life and of the basic impulse toward community in even the most unreflective of characters; an essential characteristic of humans. To call any of McCarthy’s works a “political novel” would be absurd. Apocalyptic fiction has rarely, if ever, been overtly or consistently political in terms of its subject matter or intended audience. Rather, I find in McCarthy’s novels an artistic or poetic utterance that speaks to discomforting realities of experience while simultaneously sublimating the particularities of experience, however immediate, into a mythic plane. In this textual world, with its apocalyptic backdrop and mythical sublime, I construct an analytical framework for exploring the political ideas that appear and reappear throughout all of McCarthy’s work. Though interrelated, narrative, nature, history, witnessing, agency, and order are broad conceptual categories within which I discuss essential political questions. McCarthy’s political vision demonstrates the general failure of politics to do what politics is supposed to do. The political or sovereign power in McCarthy’s world may be said to attempt to provide for an ordered environment for human existence, even with nominal liberty. But it fails in any meaningful way to protect men from each other and from themselves or to advance any notion of the good life. Indeed, his reader is frequently left to ponder exactly what might even be said to constitute the good life in McCarthy’s fiction. Is this failure of the political the result of some deficiency in our laws or political institutions? No. The failure results from our gross misunderstanding of our place in the order of the world. It results from our inability to accept our fundamental loneliness in the world.



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Committee Chair

Eubanks, Cecil L.