The quest theme in the fiction of Larry McMurtry



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This thesis traces the quest theme in Larry McMurtry's early novels. Horseman, Pass By (1961), Leaving Cheyenne (1962), and The Last Picture Show (1966). The protagonists of these novels are small-town West Texas adolescents who are engaged in a search for their maturity and manhood. Lonnie, in Horseman, Pass By, Gid in Leaving Cheyenne, and Sonny in The Last Picture Show are all normal adolescents in the sense that they are eager to learn what life is all about, especially in the realm of sex. Because they have not established their otm identity, they are lonely, frustrated, and restless, but they maintain their dreams of romantic innocence. They are rudely disillusioned and react by turning in various directions for help. They find no comfort from the traditional supports of marriage, family, or religion. Their comfort and counsel comes, instead, from women. The distinction in McMurtry's treatment of lonely adolescence and the search for maturity lies in the importance he places on the female figure. And it is this distinction which this thesis will emphasize. All three adolescent protagonists are parentless but they adopt parent surrogates. In their parent surrogates, it is the woman who is the influential force. This woman, who can be designated as the McMurtry female archetype, figures largely, in fact, almost exclusively, in the maturation process of the protagonist. With her sophistication about life and her alluring sensuality, she exerts a magnetic pull over the protagonist as she teaches him about life and love. She is wiser, more mature, compassionate and giving than her pupil. She has accepted herself and tries to guide the protagonist into a self-identity and acceptance. McMurtry consistently shows her to be the support and the source of stability and comfort for his maturing adolescent. This thesis, then, will show the protagonists in their early state of lonely innocence and follow their development and emersion into a state of awareness with these women as their guides.