After a lengthy editorial process, the article I wrote entitled "Dreams as a Structural Framework in Cormac McCarthy's All the Pretty Horses," has been published in The Explicator vol. 66, no. 3 (Spring 2008), 166-170.
All the Pretty Horses is the first installment of the Border Trilogy, a set of three novels that follow the lives of two young American cowboys on the TX/MX border in the early Twentieth Century. McCarthy writes what have been termed "literary westerns." They are at heart western novels (similar to some of the formula and dime novels of previous generations), but they also have the literary qualities of good literature.
I was introduced to McCarthy in a course on the Literature of the American West during my undergraduate work at SFA. As I was reading All the Pretty Horses, I was intrigued by the dreams that the main character John Grady Cole has throughout his journey into Mexico. I wrote a short descriptive paper on these dreams as one of my assignments.
When I was considering the piece for publication a few years ago, I began to realize just how important these dream sequequences were. In addition to supplying "continuity between the novel’s major plot elements" dreams also "provide a more profound narrative element." McCarthy seems "to fashion his entire narrative in a dreamlike structure." Accordingly, "the 'there and back' feel of the story is no accident. Viewed holistically, all of Cole’s experiences coalesce into the semblance of a most intense dream sequence."
So, the article has two major movements. The first describes the role that dreams play in the life of the book's protaganist (John Grady Cole), and the second argues that dreams also provide a narrative framework for McCarthy's larger story.
Here is the first paragraph,
In All the Pretty Horses, Cormac McCarthy weaves his novel about John Grady Cole’s journey into Mexico and within himself together through a distinct structural framework. The entire narrative functions chiastically in a “there and back” structure. In this construct, dreams provide the textual seams that bind McCarthy’s narrative. Cole’s journey begins with a somber ending. After his grandfather’s funeral, Cole senses he has “come to the end of something” (5). An experienced reader of American literature will recognize that coming to the “end of something” often symbolizes coming simultaneously to the “beginning” of a profoundly new experience. In some of the short stories of Hemingway and Katherine Anne Porter, the end of something subtly signals transition and not simply termination. Accordingly, Cole has come to the end of his way of life in America, as well as the end of his family line. As he watches the warriors “ride on in that darkness they’d become . . . south across the plains to Mexico” (6), his soul longs for freedom, renewal and escape. He recognizes that he has reached the conclusion of something and that he is “already gone” (27). This ending is where Cole’s dreams begin.
If you would like, you can read the rest, (pdf).