The Uncanny Necrophile in Cormac McCarthy's Child of God; or How I Learned to Understand Lester Ballard and Start Worrying

Michael Madsen


Karl Marx wrote this in 1844 as a comment on individual estrangement which, in his opinion, had become class alienation. Because of the rent system at the time, the term “home” was a temporary illusion (Vidler 5). Writing more than a century before Lester Ballard regresses to cave dwelling, Marx somewhat anticipates Cormac McCarthy’s novel Child of God (1973). The protagonist Lester Ballard appears as the savage regressing to cave dwelling after he has lost different homes and has been cast out by his community. But as a contradiction to the final part of Marx’s statement, Lester never truly feels at home in his cave, “as a fish in water.” He remains estranged and lonely. As the novel progresses, its message becoming ever clearer, the most troubling question the reader faces is whether Lester is in fact a savage or simply a child of God “much like yourself perhaps” (4), which, as Jay Ellis also points out, “says more, perhaps, about our own normalcy than about Ballard’s  deviance” (Ellis 18). 

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