Friday, July 31, 2009

I have an axe to grind...

Did anyone notice how the scene where Ballard takes the axe to the blacksmith (70-74) reads more pornographically than any of the scenes where sex is actually presented between the human characters? The inanimate axehead is assigned the female gender identity throughout the passage, for example “we take another heat on her only not so high this time”, “watch her well”, and “the proper thing is to fetch her out the minute she shows the color of grace” (72). The smith gives Ballard a tutorial on how to sharpen the blade, which reads like a primer on how to engage in a sexual act from beginning, “you want to take your first heat at a good yeller and work down” (72) to the celebratory smoke at the end “the smith took a splayed cigarstub from his apron pocket and lit it with a coal from the forge” (73).
I thought it was odd that McCarthy would write an entire scene about sharpening an axe blade, especially since the scene was one of the more lengthy passages in the novel and we never witness Lester using it. It could serve to foreshadow the first time we witness Lester in a sexual encounter with a girl (86-89).

Serial Killer Movies and The Child of God

What I found most interesting looking back over the Child of God book was how I would often have movie scenes from different serial killer movies flash into my mind. One of the first was that of the Summer of Sam directed by Spike Lee. The similarities could be seen by looking at how both Ballard and Berkowitz stalked and went after women and couples while in parked cars. If you look at Berkowitz’s early life you also see similarities to Ballard. They were both loners, bullies and introverted. They both shot their victims and didn’t torture or mutilate while alive.
The next movie was The Silence of The Lambs directed by Demme. This came to mind on page 193. This is when Lester was placed in a cage next door to man who had eaten the brains of folks with a spoon. This made me think of Dr. Hannibal Lecter and not only how he had eaten human brains but how he was kept in a cage when imprisoned.
The last two movies that I was able to see in this book were Psycho and Frailty. From reading how Lester dressed up in woman’s clothing (page 140) made me think of the movie Psycho directed by Hitchcock. Looking at the description of the barn on page (4) and the axe on page (70) made me connect the book to the movie Frailty directed by Bill Paxon. However, most of my connection to this movie was through the setting.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

High Noon and Killers

All right--two things.
One is that we didn't get to talk about the similarities/dissimilarities between Child of God and other serial killer stories you might be familiar with. I'd be interested to hear about that. I have some ideas, but I don't want to poison the well prematurely.

Two, we're going to start watching High Noon today--we likely won't finish until Monday, as we have some O'Connor to talk about. I'm interested in the conventions of the genre--westerns have clearly influenced the McCarthy we're about to get into, so having an understanding of the conventions he's working with and against seems like a useful project. High Noon is a canonical western, so we should be able to compile a pretty comprehensive list of the conventions. Keep track of what you notice here.

Human Animals

Something that stuck out to me when reading Child of God was the comparison of people to animals. There are so many references where people are referred to as being animals.There was the section we talked about yesterday where the baby was called a slobbering primate. Lester was also referred to as sounding like an ape on page 159. There are many other examples of this as well.

What was odd to me is that while the characters in the novel are being pointed to for their animal-like, subhuman behavior, any references to actual animals paint them in a much better light than their human counterparts. They especially seem to be more intelligent and compassionate - intelligence and compassion being qualities in short supply with the human characters in this novel. I didn't see anyone, except perhaps the Sheriff, as being any brighter than Lester. Most were more cunning and not outcasts from society, but they did equally stupid things and showed as much malevolent cruelty as Lester did, although their cruelty was socially acceptable.

My two favorite references that show animals as better than humans are on page 36 and pages 58-60.
pg. 36 - "That reminds me of that Trantham boy had them oldtimey oxes over at the fair here a year or two back. They sulled up on him and wouldn't go till finally he took and built a fire in underneath of em. The old oxes looked down and seen it and took about five steps and quit again. Trantham boy looked and there set the fire directly in under his wagon. He hollered and crawled up under the wagon and commenced a beatin at the fire with his hat and about that time them old oxes took off again. Drug the wagon over him and like to broke both his legs. You never seen more contrary beasts than them was."
pg. 58-60 - "They was a feller up there had this ape or gorilla, ever what it was, stodd about so high. It was nigh tall as Jimmy yonder. They had it to where you could put on boxin gloves and get in this ring with it and if you could stay in there with him three minutes they'd give you fifty dollars. . .
Anyways I got to studyin this here ape and I thought: Well hell. He ain't big as me. They had him up there on a chain. I remember he was setting on a stool eatin a head of red cabbage. . .
Well they got us back there and got the gloves on me and all, and this feller that owned the ape, he told me, said: Now don't him him too hard out there cause if you do you'll make him mad and you'll be in some real trouble. I thought to myself: Well he's tryin to save his ape a whippin is what he's tryin to do. Tryin to protect his investment. . .
I stepped out and circled the old ape. . . He didn't look like he was goin to do nothin much so I reached out and busted him one. He just kindly looked at me. . .

I think that all through this book, the author's comparisons between animals and humans show humans in a bad light. And the author's scorn for humanity is not reserved for Lester, it spills out to everyone as it is made clear that Lester could be any one of us. Pg. 4 - "A child of God much like yourself perhaps." Pg. 156 - "You could say that he's sustained by his fellow men, like you." Everyone has the ability to be Lester, and for the people who are on the fringe and are unaccepted by society, it is even more likely.

Friday, July 24, 2009


This blog has been established for the participants in English 275, "Cormac McCarthy and the West," Summer Quarter, 2009 at the Ohio State University at Marion. On it, we will post contributions to the intellectual life of the class in a relatively informal way. Each of you will required to post, at minimum, once a week, but I would encourage you to post more often than that. You are also required to reply to one post written by a classmate each week, but again, I would encourage you to do better than that. As with all online forums, it will be what you make of it. I'll post relatively frequently, but as there are eighteen of you and there is only one of me, the majority of the discussion will be between you.

While the forum is informal and you may post anything you like here, I'd like for us to observe two simple rules. The first is that we are respectful of one another as human beings and holders of opinions. If you don't have something nice to say about someone, do it in person. Second, I want to see some actual thought put into the things you write here--postings written in a distracted state or solely to get credit for the bare minimum, once-per-week requirement will be recognized as such and will likely not get credit. Writing "I don't understand Blood Meridian" does not contribute to the intellectual life of the class; trying to understand or pointing out specific incomprehesible points would be much more productive. Writing "Pretty Horses is boring" doesn't contribute to the intellectual life of the class, but explaining what sorts of reference points one might use to show that the novel is boring or that boredom is a textual effect being created by specific techniques in the novel would be interesting to discuss. This is a place for you to press yourself to say interesting things about things you find interesting. You may suggest readings of scenes or characters, interpret symbols or figurative language, work out ideas for your response,critical or influence papers, raise questions, try to answer them, pursue ideas we leave short in class, raise new ideas or avenues of discussion--whatever you like. So long as there's thought behind what you write, pretty much everything is permitted--even allusions to Raskolnikov. Have a good time.