Thursday, July 30, 2009

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.


  1. I agree about the fact that intelligence and compassion are qualities in short supply with the human characters in this novel. In regards to the sheriff; I feel that he was also unintelligent and uncompassionate. On pages 55 & 56, the sheriff walks up to Ballard and asks him about his future plans and the madness he has laid out. The sheriff goes on to list Ballard's previous crimes. With the sheriff's comments with his demeanor that was described in the text, it seems to me that the sheriff knew that Ballard would continue his criminal activity. He even said, "I guess murder is next on the list". I feel that if the sheriff was even a little intelligent and cared at all about the people living in his town that he would have taken Ballard to be mentally evaluated before just telling him to get home.

  2. I agree with Tina on how the sheriff was portrayed in the story. McCarthy seemed to make it very obvious that the sheriff was very dumb, or very lazy, or both. On pages 145 to 148 when the sheriff and the deputy are investigating the car that was found in the ravine the sheriff keeps asking what the deputy thinks then agrees with him. Since you never actually know what the characters are thinking is hard to tell if the sheriff was thinking the same thing or just agreeing with whatever the deputy said. Since the sheriff does it multiple times I believe that he really didn't know how to solve this crime. At the end of 147 when the sheriff sees shoetracks in the mud the deputy says "What do you reckon sheriff?" The sheriff just responds with "Why nothin. It could just be where somebody got out to piss." The next page starts out with "Ballard's new shoes sucked in the mud as he approached the pick up truck." This passage shows that the sheriff really doesn't care because when he saw the shoetracks in the mud, he just told the deputy it was nothing and they left even though it was obvious evidence.

  3. Perhaps the sheriff's ineffectual nature might be shown as a lack of faith in institutions within the novel--the church scene would be connected to this, as it does nothing to alter Lester's course. I think the dumpkeeper's family (family, after all, is a central institution) might indicate there's something wrong there, too.
    A fine post, Rebecca--smart and detailed.

  4. I think this theme of bohemianism is very important in how McCarthy portrays the decay of Lester. There is never a positive notion made towards him, he gets his farm sold from him, he is described as a person who no one likes simply because of his past. I enjoy writing and reading poetry very much and I thought this tied into what I am talking about.

    - Sentimental Value -

    Endlessly drags the dreary day, into what becomes the classic way.
    This Nostalgic point of view and ploy, becomes whats here to stay.
    The passed time has made me coy, as the past becomes astray.
    Looking for this undaunted prey, receiving punishment is what you pay.
    Tomorrow is close and almost here, as today directs the way you steer.
    Ending up where men seek least, eradicating cheer and changing gears.
    Open wide to become deceased, by simply exiting our beloved floating sphere.
    Elected by God to exist through the years, remains, your eternal decision to adhere.