The Crossing Style Analysis
In this passage from Cormac McCarthy’s The Crossing, the main character is alone in the wilderness with the body of a wolf, searching for a place to bury her. He is overcome with emotion as he looks at the creature, in awe of her power and spirit. The author relies on imagery and figurative language to convey this mindset in the lonely night.
The imagery of this scene appeals to multiple senses. No sentence is wasted in this piece; all are filled with adjectives. The reader is drawn into the story, transported to the scene as an invisible observer, with the sounds of coyotes “yapping along the hills…their cries seeming to have no origin” (10-13). The coyotes are still calling just before dawn, suggesting that otherwise the night is silent and the person isolated. The narrator also describes the character’s jeans as “stiff” (5) and the wolf’s fur “bristly” (7) with blood. Finally, he uses contrasting images between dark and light. At first, the only light in the scene is from the fire, standing against the dark shape of the hills behind him. His state of mind is also dark, not knowing what to do with the wolf. He falls asleep, but upon awakening, the night has grown darker as the fire is reduced to embers. Though he rebuilds it, the light is ineffective, for it only reflects off the wolf’s staring eye. He pauses to reflect, and as his thoughts grow clearer, so does the sky lighten with the coming dawn.
In describing the character’s arrival at the campsite, one sentence runs ten lines long. The rush of words, deliberately strung together with “and,” is meant to be overwhelming. The character’s mind is spinning with many trains of thought, and the seemingly disorganized sentence portrays that. As he examines the wolf, the sentences become short, objective descriptions, symbolic of physical reality, then lengthen as he waxes philosophically about her spirit. However, there is no dialogue anywhere in the scene. The man in this story is communing with the wilderness, where words do not exist, and thus the author has included neither thoughts nor quotations.
Simile and metaphor both draw comparisons between this scene and religion. After washing the blood-soaked sheet, it hangs “steaming…like a burning scrim…where celebrants of some sacred passion have been carried off by rival sects…” (21-23). He compares this experience to a religious symbol because he is experiencing something ethereal that can only be equated with some immeasurable power. Then, instead of focusing on her stiff, lifeless form, he sees her “running in the starlight” (45-46). In other words, he sees her spirit running in heaven, a paradise where she is once more free to hunt her prey, “…all nations of the possible world ordained by God” (50-51). He attempts to explain the power that the wolf holds by defining her role in the world. Though she may only be an animal, he sees her as a symbol of freedom, of primitive instinct shared by all creatures, including man. His sorrow at the wolf’s death is evidenced when he lifts her head, as if to bring her back to life, only to realize that he is holding “which cannot be held” (62-63).
In this passage, the writer most effectively uses imagery, simile and metaphor to portray the impact of the wolf’s death on the main character. The solitude of his surroundings allows the character to experience the power and beauty of the natural world as he reflects on the wolf’s life and death. In isolation, he finally defines her role in both the physical and spiritual worlds as one of mysterious sovereignty.