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).


  1. On second thought, erotic is probably a better word than pornographic. In all the other scenes in the book where two actual people are having sex, there is a non-erotic quality (pg 27-28 is a good example). The personification of the axehead stands in contrast to the girls in the novel who seem to be objectified by Lester.

  2. I also found it interesting that this was the one passage in the entire novel where there was passion about anything. Although I originally did not read the scene as erotic, once Sarah and I had talked about it, I could definitely see that implication. It is strange that the only emotion is tied to an inanimate object. I think that this also points to Lester's disconnect with the rest of society and his inability to interact with anything that is not inanimate - hence his apparent enjoyment of the occasional corpse or two.
    When Lester was asked if he now understood what needed to be done to form the shape of the axe (and it is implied I think to have sex with a woman) he says, understand what? Lester is so far removed from everyday life that he cannot connect with it.

  3. This scene is the original place where I started to question Lester's personality and his intellect. I agree that it is also the only scene where we see real emotion 9passion?) about anything. The blacksmith seems to be really into what he is doing and you can get into the scene. As a reader you can see that the man loves his craft and despite the fact that Ballard has little money, is willing to do the job anyway. He shows Ballard how to do this for himself and Ballard shows no interest in the process. So when he shows this complete disinterest (disconnect?) I am asking myself, is he really this smart guy playing stupid, or is he exceptionally cunning and just playing dumb?

    I never made the connection that Sarah did about the axe being feminine and this appearing as some erotic sense in the book. Many people refer to inantimate objects as females. Boats and cars for example are often referred to as "she". But after reading her interpretation and going back to the passage, I can buy this. It would be interesting to read the novel over again and in doing so, look at things from a new perspective. I'm willing to bet I could wlk away with a whole different reading then i did the first time.