Child of God

The Devolution of Man: Animalistic Sexual Desire in Tobacco Road and Child of God College

Both Caldwell’s Tobacco Road and McCarthy’s Child of God concern themselves with quintessential poor white people. Tobacco Road follows the Lester family, a poor family on the outskirts of town, struggling for food and money during the Great Depression, whereas Child of God follows Lester Ballard, a man who lost his land and subsequently loses his mind. In both of these novels, the theme of devolution is explored. These authors reduce their characters to their most primitive, animalistic state, reflecting what loss can do to the individual. One of these animalistic characteristics is craving sex. When comparing both of these novels and their characters’ subsequent attitudes concerning sex, it becomes apparent that this animalistic, sexual desire is especially prevalent in the devolution of poor white communities.

Caldwell’s Tobacco Road opens with Lov Bensey on his way home, thinking about his new wife, Pearl, and her avoidance of having sex with him. On his way home, he stops by his father-in-law’s, Jeeter Lester, house to try to convince Lester to talk to Pearl. He argues, “I’ve got the need of Pearl for a wife as bad as any man ever had” (4). The reader can assume this “need of Pearl as a wife” alludes to her having sex with...

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