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The Last Picture Show by Larry McMurty sample essay

The Last Picture Show is a story of isolation and dysfunction. Death is also a prevailing theme – death of a town, of friendships, of marriages and of friends. It is a story full of characters that can seem larger than life one moment and inconsequential the next moment. As different as they all appear to be, they all share traits in common and these are that they all feel separated from the rest of the world, they all seem to want more out of life than they currently have, and most feel an emptiness that loneliness and desire do not quite give full explanation or understanding of.

The story covers a time span of one year in the town of small Thalia, Texas in the 1950s, a dusty and desolate place where everybody knows not only everybody else in town, but everybody knows everybody else’s business and secrets may not always be exposed, but also they are almost always known. Thalia is a place where the undersized population appears to have settled into their unsatisfactory existences even while they often make blundering mistakes in efforts to burst out of their current lives.

McMurty’s story has an unusually large cast. Sonny Crawford, a high school senior and football player, is the story’s protagonist. An all-American genuinely nice young man full of deep sadness and quiet thoughts, Sonny lives in a rooming house with his best friend Dwayne, also a high school senior and football player. Duane, a main character, is a little rougher around the edges than Sonny.

He is quicker to lose his temper and though he appears as unsatisfied as other characters he does not acknowledge his feelings as profoundly as others. Jacy Farrow is another main character. The beautiful rich girl of Thalia, Jacy is a young woman whose unhappiness with her life, her family, and her fear of the future feeds the fuel of her wild side and unleashes her inhibitions.

The town of Thalia itself is also main character and an absolutely vital part of the story. Thalia, which in the beginning of the story is an old town clinging to life with its unchanging reliability, undergoes metamorphosis’s which parallel and oppose the lives of the characters within it. As the story progresses The Last Picture Show highlights Thalia’s own slow death with the changes it must face.

There are many lesser characters, which the story relies on to bring it depth and reinforce and are intricate to the themes of McMurty’s tale. These additional characters also allow the author to show very personal aspects of the main characters as they intermingle with each other.

The story centers on these three young adults as they search for something beyond their own existence. The reader follows them through their ordinary lives as they date, dream, and push against internal and external barriers. The story exposes these characters weaknesses as they journey through monotonous days of loneliness where they end up betraying each other and themselves to varying degrees. The story also shows human strength in continuing on during the bleakest of times.

Family dysfunction is a constant theme of this story. Sonny’s mother is dead and his relationship with is father is strained and shallow. His real family is Sam, a local businessman who runs the pool hall that is Sonny’s second home, and a handicapped boy, Billy, with no family of his own. Sonny lives in a rooming house with his best friend while his father lives in a hotel in town.

Sonny does not like his own girlfriend and he covets his best friend’s girl. Without planning, Sonny because the lover of his coaches’ wife. The coach is hinted to be a closet homosexual with a mean streak a mile wide. Ruth, his wife, has almost given up of finding any happiness in life. Sonny feels sorry for Ruth and their relationship develops into more than Sonny can handle.

Duane has no family and his father figure is a callous roughneck, Abilene, who sleeps with Duane’s girlfriend and his boss’s wife – who happens to also be the love of his best friends’ life. Jacy is showered with material items from her family but is neglected by her parents emotionally and is filled with unfeeling and despondent advise from her mother. Jacy uses her body to get what she wants and uses people with as little thought as well. Her mother is an unsatisfied woman that cheats on her husband whose focus in life is on making money in a town on its last legs. The family dysfunction is critical to the story because it emphasizes the frailty of the characters and explains the needs they face as well as the choices they make.

The town and the characters are supposed to inspired by the real life experiences of the author. How close to accurate portrayals The Last Picture Show is to his reality is unknown to this reader, but McMurty was able to create a life within his pages, which felt like it could have been real.

He created visual images that really give off one of the main themes of the story, which is isolation. The town is isolated and seem as far removed from the rest of the world even though it is only a short distance to the much larger Fort Worth. Most of the characters are isolated because the dysfunction of their family situations does not easily lead them to trust others or openly show their true feelings. The characters are isolated too because as much as they want change, especially the younger characters, they are fearful of as well.

There are some humorous moments in the story and these brief moments provide necessary alleviation of the overall melancholy, but the most memorable moments in the story are the poignant ones. One instance is when the boys return from Mexico, thrilled to be able to boast about their great adventure, but even more excited to be back in Thalia. They were grateful then, for the same things that often despised, the sameness of the town – they were happy then for the monotony of their Thalia. But that happiness was too brief because it is only minutes after their return that that they learn Sam has died during their time away.

Another very moving section is at the very end of the book. After Billy’s death Sonny is numb and in a great deal of pain. Duane has left town, Sam is dead, he feels guilty about Billy, and he knows Jacy is not an option for him. Instinctually, Sonny heads to Ruth. Her own pain is all too obvious as well. And in their pain they are able to comfort each other in a very touching way.

The Last Picture Show is a cheerless story. There is no pat happy ending to be had for any of the characters. But, this book is one I would certainly recommend to others because it is an American story which carries a ring of truth to it; life is not always perfect, happy, or fulfilling and fairytale endings are not realist and would not have fit the tone of this story.

The realist qualities and the powerfully accurate believability McMurty is able to generate enable the characters to come to life and produces profound feelings in the reader. The reader has become so involved in the lives of the characters that for those characters left at the end of the story the reader possesses intense hope for their future. When an author can bring into being these qualities they present a book incredibly worth reading.

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