"He spoke of the broad dryland barrial and the river and the road and the mountains beyond and the blue sky over them as entertainments to keep the world at bay, the true and ageless world."

At first the philosophy underpinning the soldier’s tale seems, like much of the philosophical ruminations on illusion and reality running through The Crossing, to owe a great deal to Plato’s parable of the cave. However, while Plato believed we could eventually come to a truer vision of the world through a strengthening of our intellectual faculties, McCarthy’s vision is less optimistic. In this regard, it owes less to Plato than it does to Hermann Melville, a writer (alongside Faulkner and Hemingway) McCarthy is often compared to.

Compare McCarthy's 'entertainments to keep the world at bay' to this passage from the famous 'Whiteness of the Whale' chapter in Moby Dick (incidently, McCarthy's favourite novel):

Illustration from an early edition of Moby-Dick, by A. Burnham Shute (1892)
Public DomainIllustration from an early edition of Moby Dick, by A. Burnham Shute (1892) - Credit: C. H. Simonds Co

all other earthly hues – every stately or lovely emblazoning – the sweet tinges of sunset skies and woods; yea, and the gilded velvets of butterflies, and the butterfly cheeks of young girls; all these are but subtile deceits, not actually inherent in substances, but only laid on without; so that all deified Nature absolutely paints like the harlot, whose allurements cover nothing but the charnel-house within...


Whiteness and darkness are the same side of the coin, both represent the abyss Nietzche warned us from staring into. Unlike Ahab and his nihilistic desire to pierce the pasteboard mask of things that assures his destruction, the blind soldier, already intimate with darkness, has come ‘to fear that darkness for he believed the world held more than it revealed’ [p.289].


The existence of some deeper world beyond our temporal and material grasp is a running theme throughout The Border Trilogy, and The Crossing especially.