All the Pretty Horses

Wildness and Civilization in All the Pretty Horses

The post-World War II boom that informs today's world has no place in Cormac McCarthy's All the Pretty Horses. The post-war optimism and suburban complacency common to other American works of this period does not figure into McCarthy's novel, peopled as it is by characters like Blevins whose "daddy never come back from the war" (64) and John Grady's father who looked "over the country with those sunken eyes as if the world out there had been altered or made suspect by what he'd seen of it elsewhere" (23), presumably in the war. Instead of the modern urban environment, these characters seek comfort in a less complicated world that is informed by an older cowboy ethos. This ethos relies upon wildness instead of artifice and the natural landscape instead of civilization. McCarthy's relentless contrast between the call of wildness and the dangers of civilization merits a closer look at wildness and its associated values.

The novel opens immediately after the death of John Grady's grandfather. Grady's grandfather's authenticity and authority stemmed from his management of the wild world of the ranch. The reader's initial impression of the original 1866 ranch was that the...

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