A Review of Cormac McCarthy’s ‘Blood Meridian’
By: Valeria Ramos
The “Wild West” of the United States conjures images of lawless cowboys and Native Americans, greedy manifest destiny, and war. In Blood Meridian, Cormac McCarthy takes this narrative of the Western United States to a more graphic level, giving readers a 350-page tour of hell filled with intense violence, evil, and bloodlust.
While the cruel imagery in Blood Meridian is hard to digest and excessive at many points, McCarthy uses violence to argue that mankind has an innate sense of evil and prejudice.
Blood Meridian follows “the Kid” on a journey from boyhood to manhood, although there is nothing innocent or conventional about this coming-of-age story. Having to depend on himself in a ruthless environment, the Kid is a violent force despite the naivety his name conveys.
“He can neither read nor write and in him broods already a taste for mindless violence. All history present in that visage.” (McCarthy, 3).
Here McCarthy alludes to humanity’s taste for violence that has existed since the beginning of time. Throughout the book, the Kid murders without blinking an eye and has no apparent reaction to the atrocities that surround him.
However, the Kid is not alone in this indifference. The world McCarthy depicts is one where people are void of displaying any emotion other than hatred.
Men were wading about in the red waters hacking aimlessly at the dead and some lay coupled to the bludgeoned bodies of young women dead or dying on the beach. One of the Delawares passed with a collection of heads like some strange vendor bound for market, the hair twisted about his wrist and the heads dangling and turning together.”
Whether the story’s characters have become numb to the evil around them or this is McCarthy’s way of conveying how commonplace violence was at this time, the blasé attitude of this story’s characters make the gruesome details in the book all the more chilling.
The relentless violence in the book, while shocking, was ultimately drawn out in a way that took focus away from the real meat of the story, which could have been condensed into a much shorter, purposeful plot.
By normalizing brutality in his book, McCarthy leads readers, like the characters in the story, to become less shocked with each horrific act. In doing this, he reinforces the idea that all humans have an innate sense of evil.
This is captured by the Kid’s character. Although he is quick to slip into the role of a killer outlaw in the Glanton Gang, the Kid shows a few signs of what appears to be compassion.
His small moments of morality are overshadowed by the rest of his actions in the book, however, and the sympathy he displayed falls second to the violence he fell so naturally into. While the violence in the book serves a purpose, its repetitive nature makes McCarthy’s point oversaturated.
While most Westerns leave some room for morals, McCarthy’s version consists only of scalping and Western landscapes described in rambling syntax that muddles his point. His lack of dialogue and run-on sentences coupled with disturbing imagery ultimately make the violence in this book overwhelming.
In Blood Meridian, the search for the point of all the violence in the story begins and ends with the Judge. A monstrous, pale, and devilish character whose antics in the book include raping children and murdering people for pleasure, the Judge personifies evil throughout the book.
McCarthy uses this alarmingly violent character to convey the message that war is inevitable. A hairless, age-defying creature standing at seven feet, the Judge is “otherworldly” and plays the role of the devil in McCarthy’s hell. The Judge believes he is above everyone and sees himself as a ruler.
Whatever exists, he said. Whatever in creation exists without my knowledge exists without my consent.”
With each gruesome act after the other, readers become more passive to the scalpings that go on so frequently in the book, proving the Judge’s ideology that violence is natural and mankind’s capacity for cruelty is unlimited.
According to the Judge, “War was always here. Before man was, war waited for him. The ultimate trade awaiting its ultimate practitioner.” (McCarthy, 259). To him, war is part of human nature, and “moral law is an invention of mankind for the disenfranchisement of the powerful in favor of the weak” (McCarthy, 261).
While the violence in this book aimed to prove this point, it did not need the seemingly endless cycle of outlaws raping and pillaging village after village to do so.
The Judge’s character was McCarthy’s strongest conveyer of his theme and with more focus on delivering his theme through an intriguing plot or character development, this book’s message would have been not only more clear but also more enjoyable.
While many rave for McCarthy’s depiction of a “country filled with violent children orphaned by war” (McCarthy, 335), there is no light at the end of the tunnel in this book which made reading it feel like a punishment.
If you’re looking to delve into the work of McCarthy, I suggest avoiding Blood Meridian at all costs and picking up The Road or No Country For Old Men instead.