Date of Award

January 2014

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)



First Advisor

Christopher Nelson


This paper examines how the treatment of photographs in Cormac McCarthy's novel Suttree sheds light on its main character's narrative project, his motivation for writing and his approach to his subjects. It extends the work of critics who have identified the character of Suttree as a burgeoning writer in order to examine what this narrative subplot might indicate about the purpose of narrative in McCarthy's world. It also responds to previous readings of the novel's photo album scene, which have focused on photographs as reminders of death. I argue that Suttree's adverse reaction to photographs is more complicated than fear of death, but has more to do with his fear of the vulnerability of his body and identity after death. In order to show this, I focus on ways in which the photographs in the album are shown to be a poor "keeping place," and on Suttree's initial expectations of narrative by contrast. I demonstrate that the initial motivation behind his autobiographical project is to preserve his identity and the vanishing reality of McAnally Flats for posterity, but that the novel represents his approach to narrative as a dangerous effort to control his subjects in order to preserve his version of reality. By highlighting the adverse effects of Suttree's narrative manipulations on his subjects, the novel emphasizes storytelling as an ethical encounter between individuals. Also, by showing Suttree's effort to memorialize himself to be a false conception of the purpose of narrative, the novel advocates an understanding of narrative as something that changes and decays like any other artifact, and underscores its value as process rather than product.