Author ORCID Identifier

Degree Year


Document Type

Thesis - Oberlin Community Only

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts




T.S. McMillin

Committee Member(s)

Jeffrey Pence
Harrod Suarez


American literature, Cormac McCarthy, Blood Meridian, American history, Frontier, Mythology, Western


This project focuses on a literary analysis of Cormac McCarthy’s magnum opus, Blood Meridian, or; the Evening of Redness in the West, using it as a case study in examining the ways in which literature can respond to cultural mythologies, in particular the myth of the American Frontier. Using Roland Barthes typology of myth as depoliticized speech, I argue that the frontier myth primarily functions to justify the genocidal violence which paved the way for westward expansion. By reinforcing dominant cultural narratives and reducing history to archetypes and essences, this ideological project comes to appear as natural and apolitical. From this basis, I then point to Blood Meridian as a novel that works to subvert this mythology (and its literary manifestations via western genre conventions) through two distinct and seemingly opposing discursive voices which I’ve termed the “modes of mythic discourse.” The devisionary mode aligns with McCarthy’s documentarian descriptions and historical accuracy, establishing a nuanced view of the historical moment which contrasts and highlights the problematic essentialism of myth. The revisionary mode in turn operates through his use of highly referential baroque language and surreal or symbolic imagery, constructing an opposing mythic worldview that challenges the optimism and moral security of the frontier myth with a particularly bleak vision of the West. My research not only displays that the confluence and interaction of these two disparate modes make Blood Meridian a uniquely powerful novel in the trend of revisionist westerns, but also works to more deeply examine the discursive methodologies available to literature in challenging institutional mythologies.