The Power of Horace McCoy’s They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? Essay

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The Power of Horace McCoy’s They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?

Professor’s Comment: The premise of this essay is to highlight the capacity of Noir literature to defy Modernist values and pioneer later avant-garde literary movements. This student produced a focused, organized, well supported essay.

Nearly half a century has passed since most films and texts in the Noir tradition were created, yet one may wonder how much is really known about these popular American products. Scholars remain fascinated by many aspects of Film Noir, yet it appears that its fictional precursors (such as the texts of Cain, McCoy and Hammett) may have been too quickly ignored within the canon. Many have enthusiastically studied, for example, Film Noir’s ground-breaking effects on lighting and acting techniques, as well as its value as a gauge of socio-political climate; couldn’t Noir texts, too, have initiated equally significant results?

Whilst critics continue to dispute the categorization of filmic Noir, the very texts that spawned this filmic (r)evolution have been largely dismissed as predictable ‘junk’ for the plebian masses, unspectacular in their normalcy as standard Modernist works. So I wonder: what is it that makes these texts so plain and ordinary, and so Modernist that they require no further attention? Furthermore, in aligning these texts with one particular school (‘Modernism’), are we not limiting their potential to convey a marked unique or progressive ideology?

These questions propelled my investigation into Horace McCoy’s novel, They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?. In the examination of this particular source, then, the premise of this paper is to highlight the capacity of Noir literature to defy Modernist values and pioneer late...

... middle of paper ...

...ascinating questions: could Noir literature have pre-dated the onslaught of post-World War Two Post-Modernist fiction? My guess is McCoy, and other Noir writers, were inner Post-Modernists aching to break from Modernist convention, while still turning a profit on their ‘pulp’ fiction.


McCoy, Horace. They Shoot Horses, Don't They?. London: Midnight Classics, 1995.

Mary, Klages. Postmodernism. 21 Apr. 2003. University of Colorado. 24 Apr. 2004 .

"entropy •n." The Concise Oxford Dictionary. Ed. Judy Pearsall. Oxford University Press, 2001. Oxford Reference Online. Oxford University Press. McGill University (Nylink). 25 Apr 2004.

Pynchon, Thomas. “Entropy”. The Crying of Lot 49. Perennial, 1999.

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