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In both novels, All The Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy and Light in August by William Faulkner, a central theme of heroism and the expectations placed on the two main characters and other’s surrounding them is presented as a pivotal point for the advancement of the plot and embellishment of the meaning of the book. While this theme is reflected unseemlier ways while comparing the two works, it is not presented in the same fashion in regards to the author’s choices and characterizations of the figures that populate their fictional worlds. While McCarthy’s work reflects a more optimistic view toward heroic acts and attempts made at greatness than Faulkner, the latter’s novel is a darker rendition of this concept with heroic acts and charity being repaid with corruption and pain. Both novels address this central concept with plot lines that follow the characters through elaborate journeys and focus on set ups for heroism and, at times, failure in achieving it.
The most powerful and understandable medium through which this idea can be translated in the two novels are the characters. Both main characters are used as examples of heroism through means of non-heroic acts or failure at heroism itself through the eyes of the audience or other characters in the novel. In McCarthy’s novel, the main character presented is John Grady who has a set goal of attaining the rustic lifestyle of a cowboy, a naturally heroic role simply by its associative meaning in the eyes of the sixteen year old boy. As both a parallel and contrast the this, Faulkner’s Joe Christmas is a character who is relentlessly set on failure in his opportunities for any kind of redeeming action and yet ascends to the place of a Christ like figure by the end of the novel simply through the payment he is made to make in the closing of the book. These are the two characters received as heroes in their own respective worlds if not by the other characters that inhabit them. The attainment of this perceived greatness is drastically different for each character, how ever, and this difference calls into question the very basis which the audience uses to classify a hero. john Grady’s continuous struggles through the various trials of his journey, such as the fight with the cuchillero in prison, are what give him the respect of the audience whereas Christmas’ heroism is present only because of a certain sympathy felt for him due to the hand he is dealt being an unfair one both in life through his mixed heritage and the discrimination he receives for it and in his death through its circumstances and the hatred which he must suffer. The holistic comparison of these two characters and their failures in their heroic attempts or lack thereof reveal a similar result from two very different approaches, effectively establishing a blurred line for an audience as the the validity and meaning of a heroic figure.
In an extension of the exemplification of character driven heroism, the supporting characters in each of the novels provides more insight into the view the two authors hold of the attainment of greatness. In All The Pretty Horses, McCarthy presents two other key figures that, in addition to John Grady, create a group whose flaws are characterized in each of its members. As the two’s presumed leader, John Grady’s most revered quality by the audience is hope. This trait, how ever, is a downfall for him as he can be overly ambitious. Rawlings is a representation of cowardice, a trait that removes his chance at a heroic status and eventually confines him to the option of retreat back to Texas. Finally, Blevins is the character who represents youth, the main shortcoming of the group as a whole. This combination is the set back that gives John Grady his heroic feature after he overcomes its confinement. This forthcoming of extreme effort from John Grady contrasts Christmas’ lack of persistence in any charitable endeavor. This is where the characters of Lena Grove and Byron Bunch become key in understanding why we view Christmas the way we do at the end of the novel despite his less than honorable actions.Christmas is the ultimate concentration of sin in the novel but is not its sole ambassador. He is simply a result and manifestation of the sins of others. Lena is a testament to his impurity for which he suffers. Her lack of virginity is a parallel to the lack of belonging Christmas feels because of his racial background. Byron is more a figure of corruption as he is distracted from his routine activities and even God by the sinfulness of lust. This reflects the corruption suffered by Christmas through the abuse of others and the festering of sores created through minor acts of untreated sins eventually snowballing into murder. Between the two works, it can been seen an interesting contrast in that one character become dedicates to a goal of heroic notion and achieves the same effect as someone who simply happened to be the product of misfortune and poor circumstances.
While the realization of heroic stature is something attained by both characters, the means to achieving this goal and the effectiveness of their supposed heroism can be debated. It can be argued that John Grady’s actions such as killing a man or hiding sexual relationship with his employer’s daughter are a testament enough to remove his title of the hero of the novel while Joe Christmas’ entire life is enough to revoke his. The reason that these two are able to be presented as heroes is because they are the best that each novel has to offer. Both works present characters who are searching for a world that cannot exist for either of them whether it be one of acceptance or of an era that has already passed. It is the pursuance of a dream that is the most heroism quality the audience sees in these characters and their failures in such an endeavor only create a sense of sympathy in the reader. The novels exemplify the realism of heroic imperfection and present an idea that disproves the warped notions of certain characters while also correcting the mislead assumptions of the reader.
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