“Where’s The All-Amerıcan Cowboy?”: The Demythologızatıon of Amerıcan Masculınıty in Cormac Mccarthy’s Western Novels
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This dissertation analyzes Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian or The Evening Redness in the West (1985), All the Pretty Horses (1992), The Crossing (1994), and Cities of the Plain (1998), and scrutinizes his portraits of cowboy masculinity. In these Westerns, McCarthy engages with the implicit realities of the American West, a legacy that is still exalted and eulogized by American men. He exposes the deep crisis at the heart of frontier myths, and uses the failing cowboy figure as a critique of mainstream American culture that still positions white men in relation to cowboy masculinity. His cowboys are threatened by industrialization and exploitive schemes that cut them off from freedom and the individualism they need to survive. However, above all, they are paralyzed by the conflict between the masculine space of the frontier and the feminine responsibilities of civilization. McCarthy’s western novels address this ordeal, unraveling the struggles of a certain class of American men—mostly white, middleclass, Christian and heterosexual—to exemplify the trappings of increasingly anachronistic masculine signifiers, and to explore the degree to which their perception of manhood has legitimized and, at the same time, confined them, while dehumanizing and objectifying others. By drawing on insights from Masculinity Studies, this dissertation examines how McCarthy’s western novels explore male subjectivity, and destabilize and demythologize American masculinity. McCarthy stresses that American men, who are already caught between their own values and their homosocial performances, have to abandon their toxic, misogynistic, homophobic, racist, antienvironmentalist, and violent ideas of cowboy masculinity, and embrace a more inclusive one. The key to survival in this vexed post-West world turns out not to be adherence to the old regional myths and conventions—no matter how attractive that might seem—but instead, a turn towards healthier masculinities.