Blood Meridian


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In Blood Meridian, Cormac McCarthy describes a lawless and godless group of men ordained to cleanse the West of lesser people. This group wanders through the West leaving a trail of slaughtered people in their trail. The emptiness and ruthlessness of their hearts is reflected in the harsh and unforgiving landscape. McCarthy uses reoccurring themes of war, religion, and dance to paint a graphic picture of the savageness of life in the West.
As men ordained on a mission, Glanton's Gang is paid to seek out the scalps of Apaches and return them to the Mexican town of Chihuahua City. The gang quickly moves beyond the killing of Indians to include Mexicans, Americans, and whoever else crosses their path. The men are killing on their own accord. The excessive killing at first seems to be driven by greed. The senselessness of the deaths leads to the conclusion these men kill for power. Blood-thirsty and without the bounds of written law, Glanton's Gang become warriors, just like the Apaches they set out to kill. As Judge Holden explains to the gang around the campfire, war has always existed and will always exist. Every thing that exists is contained in war. By the Judge's theory, the actions of the gang are inherent. War is a natural occurrence and the men are merely acting naturally. War is a game. Throughout the story, death is treated as a game. While members of the gang die, the group continues, barely taking notice another man has been lost. Yet, the only real control the characters have over their lives is death. On the harsh plains, the only thing certain is death. Other occurrences are merely incidental or random. In essence the group treats death like a game; with no value on the fallen, only placing importance on the living.
When Holden declares nothing in the universe can exist without his consent, he ensures his role as a god-like character. Judge Holden explains man is enslaved by nature and the true suzerain will no longer be enslaved by nature because he knows all. The Kid questions what exactly Holden is the judge of. This question is not directly answered. Whatever Holden judges, it is not written law.

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It is an unwritten law, the law of death and evil. Judge Holden represents a demonic character, larger than life, with a cruel soul.
The Imbecile, James Robert, exemplifies the Judge's god-like power. Once the Judge rescues James from drowning and after a sort of mock baptism, the once wild man becomes docile and shadows the Judge's every movement. Judge Holden leading the imbecile around on a leash is similar to a king being followed by his fool. The imbecile is another creature the Judge controls by allowing to exist. One reason he allows the imbecile to live, while killing so many others, may be as a way to show his superiority to Glanton. While Glanton has a mere dog as a pet, the Judge has an actual human as a pet.
Another example of Judge Holden's god-like behavior occurs as he is pursuing the Kid and Tobin. Throughout the novel, whenever the Judge set out to accomplish a task, he succeeds. While the Kid is drinking water in the bone filled ravine, the Judge shoots at the Kid and misses. The Judge is an excellent marksman and has a clear shot. However, at this point, he allows the Kid to live. Instead of shooting to kill, the Judge's shot serves as a way to control the Kid; to maintain his suzerainty over the weakest member of the group.
Judge Holden controls through destruction and pure evil, only he perseveres and triumphs, while others fail, including the Kid. The Kid represents the innocent and vulnerable. Slaughtering as part of the group came naturally, however, when faced one on one with killing, the Kid was hesitant. When faced with killing Dick Shelby, the Kid leaves him alive to face Elias's men. The Kid has three opportunities to kill Holden but lets Holden live. Holden implies the Kid's behavior is mutinous. When imprisoned in San Diego, the Kid chooses to stay in jail and face execution instead of allowing Holden to get him out. By remaining in jail, the Kid accepts that death is more desirable than living life the same way the Judge lives his. This decision shows the Kid understands the evil behind Holden and makes a conscious choice to not follow the same path. Later, the Kid encounters the old withered grandmother in the desert among the massacred. The Kid reaches out to help the woman, only to find she has been dead for a long time. By reaching out to help, the Kid shows the weakness he exhibits when sparing Shelby and Holden's lives. What is considered a weakness by Holden, shows godliness in the Kid.
At Fort Griffin, as the Judge explains to the Kid, this godliness is a weakness. Judge Holden refers to the Kid and himself as the last of the true. God-like forces brought the pair together. After wandering for twenty years, it is not likely the Kid happened upon the Judge in this place by mere accident. Fate pairs these two men up consistently. From the chance meeting in Nacogdoches, to joining up with Glanton's Gang, the Kid is destined to find the Judge. These two men exist only because they allow the other to exist. Both have the opportunity to kill the other and chose not to. Holden's role as a supreme being may have brought the Kid to Fort Griffin. The Judge seems to be able to control events, but yet allows evil to occur. By participating in the evil, the Judge ordains it to exist. Just as the Judge ordains the Kid to exist.
The final chapter synopsis lists the phrase "Sie müssen schlafen aber Ich muss tanzen." Translated this means, "they must sleep, however I must dance." These lines are not spoken within the text, but are crucial to another theme of the story, the dance. The Judge explains to the Kid only a true dancer who has seen war and horror will be able to dance. After visiting the Kid in the jakes, the Judge goes to the dance and dances, all the while chanting that he will never die. All of the gang is gone, including the Kid, and the only person left to dance is the Judge. Throughout the story, the Judge is seen dancing. Foreshadowing, that in the final dance, he alone will remain to prevail.
The West is about death and survival. The West is bleak and desolate, like the hearts of the gang, with each passing slaughter, becoming more barren and cold. The West leaves no survivors of Glanton's Gang, except, the heartless, the heartless who becomes the suzerain of the West.

Cormac McCarthy. Blood Meridian. New York, 1985.


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