Best Cormac McCarthy Quotes

On this list, readers can explore a few of the best quotes from famed American author Cormac McCarthy. They touch on subjects as wide-ranging as evil, existence, and dreams. 

These quotes are pulled from a few of his best-known novels but do not apply to the characters they were spoken by or to. They apply to everyday life, particularly one’s comprehension of how life should or could be lived. 

Best Cormac McCarthy Quotes


Existence 

Once there were brook trout in the streams in the mountains. You could see them standing in the amber current where the white edges of their fins wimpled softly in the flow. They smelled of moss in your hand. Polished and muscular and torsional. On their backs were vermiculate patterns that were maps of the world in its becoming. Maps and mazes. Of a thing which could not be put back. Not be made right again. In the deep glens where they lived all things were older than man and they hummed of mystery.

These thoughtful lines come from McCarthy’s novel, The Road. Here, the narrator, The Man (who goes by no other name), is thinking about the past prior to the world-ending events that shape the novel. He remembers what it was like to be in a world filled with beauty and mystery and the peaceful lives of other beings. Everything he mentions in this quote is lost. Now, the world has been chilled down to base needs. One has to survive at any cost; there is nothing more complicated than that. 

The universe is no narrow thing and the order within it is not constrained by any latitude in its conception to repeat what exists in one part in any other part. Even in this world more things exist without our knowledge than with it and the order in creation which you see is that which you have put there, like a string in a maze, so that you shall not lose your way. For existence has its own order and that no man’s mind can compass, that mind itself being but a fact among others.

These beautiful lines come from McCarthy’s Blood Meridian, one of his best-known novels. It is also one of his most violent. Readers who are familiar with the reputation of the novel but have not read it themselves may be surprised by the prose in this passage. The speaker is discussing the nature of the world and how complex it is. Humanity cannot grasp all the ins and outs of creation because they are an integral part. They are a “fact among others.” 

Moss walked out onto the prairie behind the motel with one of the motel pillows under his arm and he wrapped the pillow about the muzzle of the gun and fired off three rounds and then stood there in the cold sunlight watching the feathers drift across the gray chaparral, thinking about his life.

Here, the narrator describes the actions of one of the main characters of The Road, Llewelyn Moss. McCarthy brings together beautiful examples of imagery as he describes Moss’ actions. Readers may find themselves thinking about their fears and desires in life. Moss was in a difficult situation, something conveyed by his actions in these lines and something that spurred him to think about his life more broadly. 

Dreams 

He stood at the window of the empty cafe and watched the activities in the square and he said that it was good that God kept the truths of life from the young as they were starting out or else they’d have no heart to start at all.

In this quote from All the Pretty Horses, the speaker discusses the nature of life and knowledge. Here, he is expressing a belief about the young and wisdom. Those who are new to the world don’t understand it the way the old do. If they did, they wouldn’t “start at all.” They wouldn’t seek out challenges, changes and pursue their passions. This nihilistic and pessimistic approach to life shouldn’t surprise anyone familiar with McCarthy’s novels. 

Listen to me, he said, when your dreams are of some world that never was or some world that never will be, and you’re happy again, then you’ll have given up. Do you understand? And you can’t give up, I won’t let you.

These lines are spoken by The Man to his son, The Boy, in The Road. He’s referring to a belief he has about life. If one spends their time dreaming about peace and happiness, it’s a sun that they’ve given up. But, if they dream about darkness and fear, then they’re still working towards bettering their life. This is integral to the way he protects his son through their post-apocalyptic landscape, ensuring that he’ll survive. 

Evil 

You can find meanness in the least of creatures, but when God made man the devil was at his elbow. A creature that can do anything. Make a machine. And a machine to make the machine. And evil that can run itself a thousand years, no need to tend it.

These lines are spoken by The Hermit in Blood Meridian. He’s speaking about the nature of humankind and its capacity for evil. Humanity was touched by the “devil” from the moment God created it, the speaker says. It’s an evil that can last for a thousand years, running on and on without end. 

Ninety percent of the time. It takes very little to govern good people. Very little. And bad people cant be governed at all. Or if they could I never heard of it.

These short lines come from No Country for Old Men, one of McCarthy’s best-known films (that started as a screenplay and was later developed into a novel). They are spoken by Sheriff Ed Tom Bell, who spends part of the novel trying to protect Llewelyn Moss, a task he eventually fails at. 

FAQs 

What are Cormac McCarthy’s most famous works?

Cormac McCarthy’s best-known novels are Blood Meridian, The Road, and No Country for Old Men. All but the former have been made into award-winning feature films, something that has added to their overall popularity. 

Why does Cormac McCarthy not use punctuation?

In some instances, McCarthy chooses not to use traditional punctuation and capitalization. He may not use speech quotes or avoid breaking up his sentences. This is done on occasions he wants to emphasize a particular situation. For example, a train rushing by in All the Pretty Horses or the strange thought patterns or Cornelius Suttree in Suttree. 

Is Cormac McCarthy a nihilist?

Nihilism is prevalent in McCarthy’s novels. It would not be a stretch to say that, based on his novels, that he has a nihilistic approach to life and opinion of the future.

What makes Cormac McCarthy so good?

He is a skilled creator of characters and situations. Readers who enjoy his prose cite its dream-like qualities and his ability to tap into universals of human experience. 

About Emma Baldwin
Emma graduated from East Carolina University with a BA in English, minor in Creative Writing, BFA in Fine Art, and BA in Art Histories. Literature is one of her greatest passions which she pursues on Book Analysis.
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