Special Topics Syllabus

American Literature 410: Cormac McCarthy’s West

A Special Topics in Contemporary American Literature, Fall 2014

 Dr. Allen Berry




Blood Meridian

All the Pretty Horses

The Crossing

Cities of the Plains

 No Country For Old Men

Selected Articles provided via email

The required texts are available at the University Bookstore.


Stories of the Old West constitute a uniquely American Mythos. In truth, a great deal of our national identity and cultural references are derived from the stories of the Old West. The work of Cormac McCarthy’s Western Cycle explore the starker reality of the West as it was as well as the impact of the myth of the West on the American Psyche and Popular Culture.

Beginning with McCarthy’s Blood Meridian, this course will explore the true, unvarnished West, both as it was and as it is depicted in McCarthy’s first Western Novel.

Commonly known as “The Border Trilogy,” the novels All the Pretty Horses, The Crossing, and Cities of the Plains, explore the cultural impact of the Western Myth on America and its self-image. Read in the historical context of the novels’ creation and the socio-political circumstances surrounding their creation, the novels indict the myth of the American Cowboy and its cultural relevance with regard to America’s self-image in contrast to the world’s view of America and American imperialism.

Whereas the first four novels explore the West as it was, and as it was thought to be, the final text, No Country for Old Men, explores the Modern West and its stark contrast to the setting of both fact and legend. Whereas previous texts explored the controversial themes of American incursion into Mexico, and the time honored tropes of the rugged individualist cowboy hero, No Country For Old Men demonstrates a reversal of these conventions. Set in the 1980’s McCarthy’s No Country for Old Men is a post-modern treatment of the modern west.

Course Materials”:

includes ALL of the assignments for the semester, as well as links to the lecture videos, quizzes, discussion boards, and other important documents.  Students should check this daily, and ahead of schedule, for the broad plan for the week and pertinent reminders. Make sure to explore all available links and read all material provided, reading each and every page.

What’s new, What’s due”:

has an important “Announcements” section where we will post any news on technical updates or changes throughout the semester. Please note that this function is not available as of the beginning of the semester, therefore it is the student’s responsibility to monitor the weekly agenda page and “Course Materials” daily.


English 410 is a writing course designed to introduce students to the genre of the Western and to McCarthy’s take on the cherished myth. Students will produce three writing assignments, amounting to approximately 2,500 words total, demonstrating the following learning outcomes:

Written communication competence

Critical engagement with the literature

Reflection on the relationship between literature and culture

Demonstrated improvement in literary analysis skills


The list below includes only the primary readings for the course. For important details about these readings, as well as for all other requirements and recommendations, click on “Course Materials” on the homepage. Any changes or announcements will likely appear on “Announcements” section of “What’s new, What’s due.” Be sure to check regularly for updates, as this schedule is subject to change. Again, students are responsible to check the “Course Materials” and weekly agenda pages as well for announcements and updates.

Note: Unless otherwise noted, readings are found in Global Crossroads, revised edition.

Week 1:
Th.  :  Introduction to course, Overview of the Western and its place in

American culture.

Students will read selected articles from Cawelti’s The Six-Gun Mystique.

Selected articles regarding the history of the West.

Begin reading Blood Meridian.

Week 2:

T.   Discussion of the first half of Blood Meridian.

Articles on masculinity and the American Cowboy.

Th. Racial stereotypes in the American Western and their interplay in the


“What Kind of Indians Was Them?: Some Historical Sources in

Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian. By John Emil Sepich

(emailed article)

Essay 1 assignment posted

Fr. : Quiz 1 opens at noon and is worth 5 points. Quiz 1 covers the syllabus

Week 3:
T.   Image and Reality: The Dusty Streets of Tombstone vs. the Mud Caked addresses of  McCarthy’s West.

Th. Prescriptive Violence vs. The Unmitigated Violence of the Judge.

Fr.  : Quiz 2 opens at noon and is worth 5 points.

Week 4:
T.   All the Pretty Horses. The American adventurer and the quest of the

mythic West.

Th. The re-shaping of the West in the aftermath of Spindletop.

Week 5:
T.   Cross Border Romance: The Romantic Trope of the Cowboy and the

Senorita.  Cross cultural romances and cultural taboos.

“Boys will be boys and girls will be gone: The Circuit of Desire in

Cormac McCarthy’s Border Trilogy”  Nell Sullivan, (emailed article)

Th. The Orphaned Boy in search of a family.

American Imperialism vs. Established Mexican Society

Fr.: Quiz 3 opens at noon and is worth 5 points.
Week 6:
T. :  The Cowboy codes of manliness. Riding Partners, Loyalty, and Frontier

Justice. “Cowboy Codes in … ATPH” Phillip Snyder (Emailed article)

Th.:   Redemption, Wisdom, and The Battered American Image.

Week 7:
T.  : The Crossing. A Child in the Wilderness.

W.  : Last day to drop course without academic penalty

Th.: Innocence and Experience: the failed quest to reclaim nature.

The Wolf and the Boy as binaries for The Changing World.

Fr.  : Quiz 4 opens at noon and is worth 10 points. Quiz 4 is a mid-

term comprehensive exam that covers all of the literature we’ve covered so far this semester.

Week 8:
T. : “Then I reckon we’ll be outlaws.” Frontier Justice: The ideal and the


Th. : No Class: Fall Break

Week 9:
T.   : A Brother’s quest. What is lost and what is found.

Th.: “When the truth becomes the legend …”

Fr. : Quiz 5 opens at noon and is worth 5 points.
Week 10:
T.   : Cities of the Plains.  The Cowboy and the Hooker with a Heart of

Gold: A new version of two classic conventions

Essay 2 due at noon

Th. :  A Brother Regained: John Grady Cole and Billy Parham, an

examination of a neo-fraternal relationship.

Essay 3 assignment posted

Week 11:
T. : “Your Love has no Friends…” The Blind Maestro as kindly advisor and mystic.

Th. :  Of Pimps and Prostitutes: The dark world of the villain and Magdalena

as both biblical foil and Madonna/whore.

Fr. : Quiz 6 opens at noon and is worth 5 points.
Week 12:
T.   : Things fall apart… The inevitable cultural and physical collision of the

hero and villain.

Th. : The Sacrificial Lamb and the Scapegoat: John Grady and Billy

Parham’s departures.

Week 13:
T.   :  The Modern Cowboy/Anti-Hero: Llewellyn the opportunist.

Th.:   Nobody’s Gunslinger: Anton Chigurh as Post-Modern Villain.

Article from Cawelti’s The Six Gun Mystique.

Fr.  : Quiz 7 opens at noon and is worth 5 points.

Week 14:
T.   : Feeling Outgunned: Ed Tom as anachronism.

An Evil without malice: Chigurgh as Sociopath or elemental


Th. 11/24: No Class – Thanksgiving Break
Week 15:
T.   :  No sir, it’s quite unusual.” Cowboy wit, wisdom, laconic speech in

McCarthy’s Texas.

Essay 3 due by noon

Th. : “I Pre-visioned it!” foreshadowing and the supernatural in No Country

          For Old Men.
Week 16:
T.   : In all that cold, and all that dark”: the significance of Ed Tom Bell’s

Dreams in the final passages of No Country For Old Men.

Th. 12/08: Re-cap of the novel, the course, and screening of the film version of No Country for Old Men.

Fr.  12/09: Quiz 8 opens at noon and is worth 10 points. Quiz 8 covers all of the material covered since the mid-semester exam.

The dates listed above also appear in Blackboard’s “Course Materials,” accessible from the left-hand navigation pane.  Students are strongly advised to view Blackboard’s “Course Materials” daily, and ahead of schedule, to keep up with the deadlines for all assignments in the course.


The two major course requirements consist of essays and quizzes. The three essays, worth 50 points total, and eight quizzes, worth 50 points total, comprise the 100 total points for the class. Class participation, worth 10 points total, and one plagiarism tutorial, worth 1 point, are offered for a total of 11 points extra credit.  There are options for “class participation” both for students attending lectures in class, as well as students viewing lectures online. Details about the three major course requirements are listed below.


This course requires three essays, worth 10, 20, and 20 points respectively. The essays will increase in length as the semester progresses. Detailed information on each essay assignment will be provided online once the assignments are made. Essay assignments are posted under “Course Materials” in the appropriate weeks. Deadlines for all essays are specified in the course schedule provided above.


Final letter grades are awarded based on points earned, according to the following scale:

A  90 – 100

B  89 – 80

C  79 – 70

D  69 – 60

F  59 and below

Note: The grade scale for the course is fixed.  Do not ask your instructors to make special changes, add points to a final grade, “round up” to a new grade, or provide last-minute extra credit opportunities on an individual basis.  Any special requests would be grossly unfair to the other members of the course.


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