McCarthy, tennessee, and the Southern Gothic

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Cormac McCarthy’s fourth Appalachian novel, Suttree (1979), opens with a vivid description of Knoxville’s slums, the McAnally Flats, as a gothic “darker town,” a shadow-Knoxville filled with “carnival … shapes” that move dreamlike in the dark with “spectral eyes”. By the end of the novel, these slums face imminent destruction, but when Cornelius Suttree’s friend, J-Bone, tells him that construction crews are already tearing through the flats, Suttree thinks that there is still “another McAnally, good to last a thousand years”. This “other” McAnally is a dream-vision that transforms the slum’s poverty-ridden members into Promethean heroes who storm the gates of heaven to carry off “the Logos itself from the tabernacle and bear it through the streets”. Suttree’s “gothic” vision at the end of the novel thus answers the first scene by setting free the hideous physical and spiritual aspects of Knoxville to roam among the “higher world of form”. These bookend scenes of Knoxville’s slums, in all their mystical squalor, represent how the southern gothic elements in all of McCarthy’s Appalachian novels function: the aesthetic emphasis on the visual draws attention to the spiritual significance lying beyond the physical realm. Like other fiction in the American southern gothic genre, these novels combine a horror-drenched and heavily allegorical aesthetic style with historically rooted commentary on social ills, such as issues of race, class, urbanization, and industrialization, to bring into focus repressed social anxieties.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationThe Cambridge Companion to Cormac McCarthy
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages13
ISBN (Electronic)9781139087438
ISBN (Print)9781107018150
StatePublished - Jan 1 2010

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Arts and Humanities(all)


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