Following All the Pretty Horses in Cormac McCarthy's Border Trilogy is a novel whose force of language is matched only by its breadth of experience and depth of thought. In the bootheel of New Mexico hard on the frontier, Billy and Boyd Parham are just boys in the years before the Second World War, but on the cusp of unimaginable events. First comes a trespassing Indian and the dream of wolves running wild amongst the cattle lately brought onto the plain by settlers -- this when all the wisdom of trappers has disappeared along with the trappers themselves. And so Billy sets forth at the age of sixteen on an unwitting journey into the souls of boys and animals and men. Having trapped a she-wolf he would restore to the mountains of Mexico, he is long gone and returns to find everything he left behind transformed utterly in his absence. Except his kid brother, Boyd, with whom he strikes out yet again to reclaim what is theirs thus crossing into "that antique gaze from whence there could be no way back forever." An essential novel by any measure, The Crossing is luminous and appalling, a book that touches, stops, and starts the heart and mind at once. From the Trade Paperback edition.
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As you come across words you may not know, be sure to use the "Define" tool in this Curriculet. To define any word, simply click on the word, and a pop-up box will appear with a "Define" option. Try this tool with the word "harrying" in the passage to the left.
Although the author, Cormac McCarthy, is well-known for his fascinating stories, he is just as praised for his style of storytelling. His focus on the setting, in particular, is a beautiful dimension of his work. Notice the imagery he uses to describe the setting in the highlighted passage. The following video explains imagery, and we will explore this aspect of his work throughout this Curriculet. (This annotation contains a video)
What inference can be drawn based on the Indian's demeanor towards Boyd and Billy?
McCarthy reveals his characters through descriptions and dialogue. In this scene, dialogue is the driving force that paints a picture of Billy, Boyd, and the Indian. What do you learn about the Indian's character based on his dialogue with the two boys?
Which event in the narrative is NOT meant to create tension?
This story takes place in New Mexico. This desert area of the United States has extreme weather conditions--very hot summers and very cold winters. It is a barren land, but full of beauty. In image below shows the rocky terrain of what characterizes most of New Mexico. (This annotation contains an image)
What impact does the combined imagery in this passage have on our understanding of where and when this story takes place?
As you encounter Spanish phrases and dialogue in this story, use the following reference to help translate. (This annotation contains a link)
Imagery not only helps you visualize the action and setting of a story, but it also helps create a mood in the story. In what ways does the imagery used in the highlighted passage create a morbid mood in this story?
The use of third-person limited narration makes it difficult to know how characters feel and what they think. The narrator, though, does often tell us more than just the action that occurs. Take this highlighted passage, for example. The philosophical description of Billy's action in this scene highlight an important theme in this story. Watch the following video on themes below. What theme do you think is being conveyed through this highlighted passage? (This annotation contains a video)
McCarthy's description of the she-wolf and her interaction with her surroundings BEST conveys which theme?
The wolf is obviously a conflict in this story. Billy and his family have to find a way to get rid of her. In the midst of this conflict, though, a larger one emerges--the coming-of-age experiences that Billy and his brother go through. In what ways are these boys passing from boyhood into manhood?
Which of the following BEST describes the mood that is created by the cumulative impact of the imagery used in the highlighted passage?
A coming-of-age tale is also referred to as a bildungsroman. The Crossing fits within this genre much like many other famous works of literature--The Jungle Book, Great Expectations, and even a more modern story, such as Harry Potter. In what ways is Billy going through rites of passage to become an adult? A man?
Billy's dream could be an omen. Take note of this dream, remember the symbols that are a part of it, and come back to it if you encounter more clues to its meaning and significance. Consider this McCarthy's way of keeping you intrigued as to whether or not he's foreshadowing or simply stating a detail about the main characters' heightened sense of fear.
What in particular is making it so difficult for Billy and his father to catch the wolf?
Take a moment and think about other literature you've read from coming-of-age tales and how they compare to this scene. Here you have a young boy who seeks assistance from a wise, dying old man. You have the rise of the young, and the passing of the old. This cycle is commonly used in bildungsroman literature. How well do you think McCarthy conveys opposites in this scene?
This Spanish phrase literally translates: "The wolf is an unknowable thing."
Which of the following BEST summarizes the advice the old man gives to Billy?
"Faith is everything." As you can tell, there is a contrast between belief in God and belief in man. Billy is also struggling with his identity and his beliefs, and the characters he comes across have this same dilemma.
What is the significance of this scene in terms of Billy's development as a character?
In coming-of-age tales, the protagonist often acts in ways that seem contradictory to others. This is because these young protagonists, arguably, are on a hero's quest. Study the diagram below. If you had to pinpoint where Billy is in this diagram, where would you select? Why? (This annotation contains an image)
Billy's journey can be compared to a hero's quest. Which phase of the hero's quest is Billy on at this moment in the story?
Let's take a look the events that are transpiring and see where they fit in our hero's journey. What challenges does he face in this scene? How is the rancher who owns the dogs considered a helper?
How does the help that Billy receives MOST affect him?
The imagery used in this highlighted passage is meant to convey a sense of ________ between Billy and the wolf.
Because this story is a bildungsroman, we will see the character go through a transformation. In what ways does his journey with the wolf show transformation? What has he done to transform his view of the world?
Recall the dream of the burning dried-up lake that Billy had earlier. Do you think this dream and the last are related? Does Billy have a "sense" of what's going on in the future?
Billy's encounter with this young girl is MOST likely going to make him question
As Billy passes many types of people--Mennonites, ranchers, pregnant teenagers--you may be reminded of other literature that involves a journey. I am reminded of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and The Canterbury Tales. What literature does this narrative structure remind you of?
In what way are these men on the two horses MOST different from other people that Billy passes?
Billy seems to be in trouble. Think back to the hero's journey graphic you saw earlier in the story. What point of the journey do you think Billy is at now? Why? (This annotation contains an image)
Why would this moment in the story be considered the "Abyss" stage of Billy's development?
The "carretero" is the carter--the man who is holding his wolf in his cart. As you read this scene, how does Billy's pursuit of his wolf plummet him farther into an "Abyss"? In what ways does his journey seem like the danger is growing?
Which character trait does Billy MOST develop as he tries to get back his wolf?
Take a moment and think about the significance of the symbols in this dream. What does a sunset that is followed by total darkness or a bell tolling and then ceasing making you think of? Remember that we were wondering if dreams would be an important aspect of this story. So far, this is the third time a dream has been referenced.
What are the residents of this town doing specifically with Billy's wolf?
According to the Hero's Journey, Billy should have changed as a result of his trials. What does he prove as he enters the ring to rescue his wolf? Does his surrender prove he's not a hero?
Watch the following video to learn more about the hero's journey, and go deeper with this concept. There will be more questions throughout this book about this narrative structure. (This annotation contains a video)
The details in this passage indicate that Billy is in the ________ phase at this point in the story.
Part I Quiz
Pause for a moment and consider the profound nature of this line. Should we read this literally? Should we read this as the extent to which Billy has become enmeshed with the life and death of this wolf? However you read it, consider what it implies about our protagonist who has emerged from his first crossing a completely different young man.
Oftentimes an author will repeatedly use an image or object or concept throughout a story to help communicate themes and give insight into how characters are developing. These are referred to as motifs. Watch the following video on motifs. What motif is found in the highlighted passage to the left? (This annotation contains a video)
Which of the following words BEST describes the psychological state of Billy?
A "huerfano" is a Spanish term for orphan. Why would the old man use this term to describe Billy?
As Billy makes his return home, you might be reminded of other famous literary works, like Homer's Odyssey. What would you say characterizes the journey home? How is it very different from the call to adventure and the first half of the journey?
The encounters that Billy has with strangers he meets are meant to convey which of the following themes?
Take a moment and think about how the details in this story about the town and church develop the theme of violence. In what ways does this violence manifest itself in Billy's life?
What theme does this metaphor MOST convey in this story?
Faith in God is a common theme in literature. From Odysseus and his struggles with Poseidon to Moses and his journey through the wilderness with the God of Abraham, men face the challenge of believing in God when bad things happen. How does this story help advance this theme? How do you think it relates to Billy?
What is the MAIN reason the old man in this story lives such a troubled life?
The priest and old man both express the belief that wisdom is found in knowing how little we actually know. The phrases and sentiments expressed by the priest in this story echo those found in the Book of Ecclesiastes. Read the chapter from this link, and compare it what is found in this passage. (This annotation contains a link)
What element of Billy's return does the author MOST convey through Billy's exchange with Gilchrist?
If you're familiar with Homer's The Odyssey, then you'll recall that Odysseus returns home to find his home in complete disorder. His wife is going to be married off to another man; his son and father live like slaves; and no one respects his throne anymore. He has to decide how to react to all of this. He exacts revenge. Do you think Billy will respond the same way? Why or why not?
The townspeople mostly seem to __________ Billy because of what he has become.
True Grit, a Western film about a young female protagonist who wants to avenge her father, is similar in many ways to this story. Here is a scene from the True Grit film that was released in 2010. Watch the clip below. In what ways does the protagonist in this film remind you of Billy? (This annotation contains a video)
Which of the following main conflicts about Billy is this highlighted passage meant to remind the readers?
As you read this conversation between Billy and his brother, their colloquialisms and dialect start to become obvious. What can you infer about the characters based on the kinds of words they use and how they say certain phrases and words? What can you infer about the setting based on their dialogue?
What effect is the end of this scene MOST likely meant to have on the reader?
In what way does the foreboding mood of this old man create tension in the plot? As Billy listens to him, think about what is going through his mind. Also think about how this augury relates to the other signs of danger that come Billy's way.
Which of the following causes the MOST tension between Boyd and Billy?
Billy now has a companion on this journey. On his first journey, he did not. How does having his brother along change the way he approaches his mission? What outcome do you think this will have for his brother and himself?
What aspect of Billy's character is MOST developed through his conversation with this ganadero?
Here is yet another augury. How do you think Billy will respond to this one? Does this deter him from doing what he feels he must do? Should he listen to these omens?
The gander's words bring up an important theme in this story. This theme has been developing slowly, and now starts to emerge more clearly as the plot in this story thickens. How would describe the lesson is Billy learning at this stage in his journey? (This annotation contains a video)
In thinking about the hero's journey, we might pinpoint this as the moment in which the hero faces the dilemma of accepting the real challenge or returning home. What's interesting about this moment is that both Boyd and Billy are aware of the danger that lies before them and the choice they must make. In Billy's first adventure, he made this choice alone.
What effect is this highlighted detail MOST likely meant to have?
Billy has fully entered this journey. But he does so this time without a mentor. Sometimes heroes don't always need a mentor--they just need to look inside themselves and find courage. In what ways did Billy just do this?
Why are Billy and his companions so quickly rushed out of the complex?
Unexpected favors are an important aspect of the hero's journey. The woman gives Billy money for his journey. In what way does this change Billy? In what ways does this advance the plot?
What central message is conveyed about violence through this conversation with the primadonna?
In looking at the hero's journey again, where would you place Billy right now? He has already crossed the threshold and now he is figuring out who he can trust and who he cannot--his allies and enemies. In what way does this primadonna come off to Billy? What about the woman at the compound? Why do you think so? (This annotation contains an image)
Based on Boyd's comments to Billy, one can infer that he is MOSTLY feeling ____ in this scene.
The dialogue in this highlighted passage is meant to create a sense of danger, and possibly foretell a conflict that the boys will be facing. Think about the way Billy (and Boyd) both change in regards to how they foresee danger. How is this development a sign of maturity?
Why do Billy and Boyd have a conflict with these cowboys?
The darkness in this scene symbolizes an aspect of the plot. Think back to the image of the hero's journey. Which point in the plot do you think Billy and Boyd are in? Why?
The ease in which Billy and Boyd reclaim their horses through the assistance of Quijada is MOST likely meant to create an element of
A hackamore, shown below, fits around the snout of a horse and is used to help the rider steer and guide the horse. (This annotation contains an image)
What does Billy's confrontation with the one-armed jefe MOSTLY tell you about how he has changed throughout this story?
Notice the figure of speech Billy uses. It is slightly ironic, and telling of where Billy is in his journey--he is descending to a place that may be a point of no return. The odds are stacked against him as he tries to get himself and his brother out of this foreign land. What other details in the setting give the sense of Billy's descent into his darkest place yet?
What do the poor farmers on the truck MOSTLY represent in the rugged setting of Mexico and its harsh rancheros?
Billy's journey through Mexico can be compared to Odysseus' descent into Hades or even Dante's journey through Hell. If you have read these stories, you will likely find the influence they had on this story. Take this blind man, for example. In The Odyssey, Odysseus meets Tiresias, a blind prophet who prophesies the demise of all of his soldiers (see below). Many of the people Billy meets have regrets to tell him; they all know, though, that they have come to terms with God and themselves. Think about how their stories will impact Billy. (This annotation contains an image)
What theme does the story of the blind man MOST convey?
What role does compassion play in the destiny of men? How does this story about the woman and blind man reveal the way sorrow and empathy help bring healing to a violent world? Billy travels through a world that questions the same things he does. These stories he hears all have a similar message. As you read on, think about how these stories will change our young protagonist.
Consider this statement by the blind man in the context of the hero's journey. It is only by dying that one can find true life. Do you think this is true? Do you think Billy still has more "dying" to do to himself before he is reborn?
Billy's dreams portend future events. What does this dream suggest?
Milagro means miracle in Spanish. What miracle is the girl referring to?
The mood that McCarthy creates in this scene can BEST be described as
The doctor is requesting supplies, a chair, clean water, and for the door to be opened. Based on his requests, what do you think is about to happen?
Why does the doctor ask Billy to hold Boyd's hand?
A hemostat, shown below, is used to control bleeding by allowing doctors to pinch blood vessels shut and cauterize them with something like silver nitrate. Once the blood vessel has been clamped shut, it can be burned at the end to seal the opening. (This annotation contains an image)
The doctor tells Billy that his brother is brave. Billy asks if the wound is serious. The doctor says yes, but not very serious. The Spanish dialogue in this conversation serves as a reminder that Billy is far from home--still an alien in a foreign land.
The doctor tells Billy that his brother is very fortunate because the bullet missed his lungs and major arteries.
What new conflict must Billy now take on?
A rumor is sweeping across the countryside--Boyd killed the gerente with one arm. This makes him a living legend to some, but to others he is a wanted man. How do you think this rumor will complicate the plot of this story?
The images in Billy's dream MOST likely indicate which of the following?
What dilemma is Billy experiencing? If you think back to his last dream, you will recall that he is dealing with a darkness in his soul. Not evil, but lack of understanding. He doesn't know who he is or what his purpose is in life. How do you think Billy will resolve this conflict?
These final lines read: "No one knows what awaits him in this world" said the mozo. "That's the truth," the boy said. Take a moment and think about the significance of this dialogue. How does the use of Spanish affect the way you read these lines? How do you think these lines connect to Billy's journey?
Part II Quiz
Like Odysseus' return to his home, Billy makes his journey back to his origins. In many tales in which the hero returns from his journey, there is a temptation to just aggressively jump back into things. Odysseus faces this temptation. What temptations do you think Billy has and will face in his return?
What is MOST likely the strongest factor influencing Billy to join the Army?
Billy doesn't seem to settle down in any way or have a clue who he really is throughout this story. Think about what he represents on a larger scale. What statement do you think the author wants to make? Is it about youth from his time? Is it about identity crisis all young people throughout time face? Although this story is rooted in a very unique time and place that most modern readers cannot relate to, it relates to more universal themes and concepts. As you read on, think about the way it connects to these more universal concepts.
In many of Billy's encounters with strangers, like this scene in the bar, what seems to be very obvious about Billy?
How does McCarthy use the Bible as a point of symbolism in this story? Think about where Billy is in his journey, and think about how this might connect to the what you know about the Bible.
What thematic element does the drunk soldier MOST represent in this scene at the bar?
What does Billy prove to himself in this scene? Take a moment and think about what motivated him to turn around, when his better judgement told him not to.
Which detail from the highlighted passage BEST indicates the novel's thematic focus on destiny?
Thy mystery that surrounds the identity of this woman who Billy meets changes the mood of this story. How does this woman suddenly make this shift occur? Use details from the text to justify your response.
Billy is pulling fortune cards. He draws the calavera, the Spanish word for skull. What do you think this card symbolizes?
What is the MOST likely reason that death features so prominently in this chapter?
This is the message that many people have told Billy. How does this line apply to his conflict in this story? How does it convey larger themes in this story?
Which BEST describes what Billy is doing in this scene?
Who is this man that attacks Billy? Think about the weapon he is using to attack him, and this should remind you of a character he (and Boyd) both encountered earlier in the story.
The imagery and action in this scene both contribute to the __________ mood of this part of the story.
Billy is about to hear another story. As you think about the stories that have been told in this novel, what role do you think these stories play? How do they impact Billy and his development as a character in the story?
What lesson does Billy MOST learn through the story of the gypsies and the plane?
Billy's trips back and forth across the border into Mexico have spanned several years. Each time he sets out after something, yet returns home empty-handed. He develops courage, bravery, and learns how to survive in a country many foreigners could not. He admits, though, that these journeys have taken a toll on him. In what ways do you think his crossings have had a negative impact on him? Do you think it has been worth it to him?
What view about the world has Billy come to accept as a result of his experiences?
Take a moment and think about why Billy treats the dog the way he does. He is obviously not as compassionate as he once was. What has happened to make him this way? How does his response make you feel?
Part III Quiz