“Sot’s Skull Subsiding, Sweet Nothingness Betide Me”: Suttree and Sartrean Bad Faith




Guerra, Elijah

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Multidisciplinary Digital Publishing Institute


Cormac McCarthy’s Suttree is a literary representation of existentialism. The eponymous protagonist seeks his meaning and purpose in a universe that offers none. Jean-Paul Sartre’s existentialism proposes that people must fill the blank slate of the self and establish their own values through their actions. However, instead of establishing his values according to his constantly becoming self, Suttree restrictively bases his values on his material, monetary, functional and social existence. Sartre’s theory of bad faith provides a means to understand Suttree’s identity conflict and argues that the individual should identify not with any particular state of being, but rather with the constant process of becoming. Bad faith is a mode of self-deception in which one believes he is something he is not, or believes he is not something that he is. Suttree’s many forms of bad faith—material, monetary, functional, and social—hinder his ability to live a more meaningful and fulfilling life and embrace his responsibility to create himself. Of all the forms of bad faith Suttree suffers, perhaps the most detrimental to his project of self-creation is his failure to let go of the past. His obsession with past failures and deaths impedes his progress to a new, productive self. By transcending his oppressive past and realizing that he is a combination of his constituent parts and never solely one of them, Suttree understands his responsibility to embrace his past and propel himself into new identities in the constant quest of becoming. Suttree exemplifies a responsible embrace of the project of self-creation in the midst of materialism and nihilism.



Suttree, McCarthy, Cormac, existentialism, Sartre, Jean-Paul, bad faith, English


Guerra, E. (2017). “Sot’s skull subsiding, sweet nothingness betide me”: Suttree and Sartrean bad faith. Humanities, 6(2): 38.


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