All the pretty horses, the border, and ethnic encounter

Nicholas Monk

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Near the conclusion of Cities of the Plain, the final volume in the Border Trilogy, John Grady Cole, the hero of All the Pretty Horses, encounters the pimp Eduardo in a knife fight that will end in their deaths. Eduardo has killed the prostitute whom John Grady loves and has tried to protect. As they fight, Eduardo expresses himself in the eloquent and portentous manner characteristic of McCarthy’s villains. He claims that, beneath Mexico’s “world of adornment,” there lies something “very plain indeed”. Eduardo ascribes to America, by contrast, the character of a world that “totters upon a labyrinth of questions,” a society that cannot tolerate the status quo. Eduardo ends this verbal exchange by claiming: “We will devour you, my friend. You and all your pale empire”. In the face of Eduardo’s double onslaught, John Grady says little. In opposition to Eduardo’s suave and amoral villainy in which elegance overlays a simple, brutal, will, John Grady’s silence, stoicism, and courage seem overdetermined by a nexus of values derived – consciously and unconsciously – from a United States that, as Eduardo implies, is young, complex, possessed of a conflicted imperial history, and is perhaps less self-confident than it might at first appear. To read the exchange, therefore, as a simple juxtaposition of values in which the heroism of John Grady, representing the United States, is matched with the villainy of Eduardo for Mexico, would be to underestimate the sophistication of McCarthy’s insight into the nature of the relationship between the two countries.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Cambridge Companion to Cormac McCarthy
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages12
ISBN (Electronic)9781139087438
ISBN (Print)9781107018150
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2010
Externally publishedYes

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