Quote from Suttree
"But there are no absolutes in human misery and things can always get worse, only Suttree didn't say so" (372).
This quote embodied Cormac McCarthy's fourth novel and personified the main character, Cornelius Suttree, who traveled through the wasteland of the Tennessee River valley as a fisher of men.
D. S. Butterworth's Scholarly Essay on Suttree
In Pearls As Swine: Recentering the Marginal in Cormac McCarthy's Suttree D. S. Butterworth argued that McCarthy treated the condemned characters of the Knoxville outcasts as geological and archaeological finds. According to Butterworth, McCarthy's characters were spirits who by happenstance temporarily inhabit a body. Individuals were characterized by the futility of their actions each going about their daily tasks but never actually achieving anything. Consider the scene of the Reese family who spent countless hours on the Tennessee River farming for worthless Tennessee River pearls. Just as Butterworth pointed out in his essay, alcohol, money and lust drove this family to continue to labor in vain regardless of the inevitable fact that their efforts were doomed from the beginning.
Butterworth also highlighted McCarthy's manipulation of time in Suttree. McCarthy's use of time was especially unique in two ways. First, McCarthy did not focus much attention on developing the reader's clear understanding to Suttree's past. Instead, McCarthy was simply interested in the here and now. Butterworth noted this in his essay saying, "We are introduced to Suttree and his circumstances with very little attention to what precisely happened in the past, why he does what he does, what he hopes to achieve. There is no progress, no advancement." Second, time was independent in McCarthy's first novel. As Butterworth pointed out in his essay, McCarthy narrated the novel by tracing events rather than tracing time from one beginning point to one ending point. Therefore, time did not depend on a starting and stopping point. Butterworth noted that the three certainties in Suttree were the passing of time, the death of characters, and the occurrence of events.
Besides McCarthy's unique manipulation of time, Butterworth also highlighted the reoccurring use of containers and the contained, shell and pearl, or enclosure and the enclosed throughout Suttree as a metaphor for the lifestyle each character lead throughout the novel. Each character's soul was temporarily placed in his body--his container--until his time of death. Butterworth argued that each character was stuck in his container without a choice, living a life where the difference between life and death were hard to distinguish. Suttree observed after witnessing the body of the suicide victim, "he noticed with a feeling he could not name that the dead man's watch was still running." Although the suicide victim was dead, his watch was still alive and running. Although Suttree was still alive,...