Academic journal article The Cormac McCarthy Journal

Suttree's Dead Acquaintances and McCarthy's Dead Friends

Academic journal article The Cormac McCarthy Journal

Suttree's Dead Acquaintances and McCarthy's Dead Friends

Article excerpt

Hey Hatmaker. Tell Hoghead and Donald and Byrd and Bobby and Hugh and Conrad and all of em that they aint barred.

They're dead. (Suttree 456)

The quoted selection above mentions six of Cornelius Suttree's dead acquaintances in a scene relating a typhoid fever-induced hallucination or dream in Suttree by Cormac McCarthy. Hoghead, Byrd and Bobby have all been introduced previously and should be familiar to careful readers of the novel. On the other hand, Donald, Hugh and Conrad appear out of the blue and are mentioned for the first and only time in this single sentence. The action is set in the spring or summer of 1955 in the Huddle tavern where Ernest Hatmaker is the proprietor.

The remainder of this paper will present historical and biographical information concerning the lives of the real Knoxville people upon whom these characters seem to be based. It will conclude with some speculations about McCarthy's motivation for writing of these deaths near the end of his novel.


"Hoghead" Henry is first encountered in the book along with J-Bone and Boneyard at a table at the rear of the Sanitary Lunch as Suttree joins the group. After eating, the group adjourns to the Huddle tavern (70-75). Suttree next encounters Hoghead on the street as Hoghead is in the process of delivering some punchboards (109). Hoghead is then found with the "good hearts from McAnally" in a fight at the Indian Rock roadhouse (185) and is seen in Suttree's dream in the hospital as Suttree recovers from his floorbuffer induced head injury (189). Later Hoghead is mentioned as having drunk whisky with Leonard (243), standing on the corner with Bucket and Bobbyjohn (301), and among the drinkers in the "Buffalo Room" (384). Suttree reads of Hoghead's death in the newspaper while drinking coffee at the E&E drugstore (403), and later Hoghead appears in a hallucination or dream (452) and in the hospital scene quoted above (456).

Jimmy Ray (Hoghead) Henry was born on August 15, 1934, to Boyd and Emma Henry. It should be noted here that his legal given name was "Jimmy" rather than "James" as McCarthy reported it (403). He dropped out of West High School sometime before graduating and is remembered as a fun-loving kid who hung around Comer's Sport Center playing pool or running errands for people there. Jimmy Henry's family lived in the Fort Sanders area of Knoxville at 1302 Grand Avenue, only two blocks away from where the Long family resided. The Henry family, along with Jimmy, had been living in the Ft. Sanders area for a number of years.

John Caldwell, an acquaintance of mine, first met Hoghead in about 1949 when Hoghead was about 15-years old. "I remember him as a skinny kid," recalled John, "not unlike myself; with reddish blonde hair and freckles. His head did look a little large for his body and I guess that is where the name came from although I never asked" (Caldwell 20 Feb. 2005). He had strawberry blonde hair that was very thin which he wore cut in flat top, but his hair was so fine it would not stand up. He had freckles, and he was always laughing and acting silly (Caldwell 5 Mar. 2005).

The account of Jimmy Henry's death makes a story good enough for McCarthy to have retold it in the novel. A few of the details were included in an early draft of the book found in the Cormac McCarthy Papers at Texas State University but were not used in the final version of the book. Around 8:30 a.m. on the morning of August 13, 1955, red-haired Vicki White and blond-headed Jimmy Henry were in an upstairs apartment at 203 Twelfth Street. According to Vicki they decided to play Russian Roulette after a night of heavy drinking. Jimmy had a gun and Vicki asked him to let her shoot it. He then unloaded the gun and gave it to her. Vicki put the gun to her head and pulled the trigger "two or three times," and then handed it to Jimmy. He pulled the trigger a couple of times and the gun fired she said. The 38-caliber slug entered Jimmy's right temple and emerged from the top of his head. …

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