Blood Meridian Cormac McCarthy
(Born Charles Joseph McCarthy, Jr.) American novelist and playwright.
The following entry presents criticism on McCarthy's Blood Meridian (1985) through 2003. See also Cormac McCarthy Criticism (Volume 4) and Cormac McCarthy Criticism (Volume 101).
While not his most famous work, McCarthy's Blood Meridian is a complex and multi-layered reexamination of the mythology of the American West and is critically regarded as his best writing. Broadly defined as a historical novel, Blood Meridian incorporates documented events chronicling the Glanton Gang, who worked as scalp hunters from 1849 to 1850 before devolving into a ragged band of villains who pillaged and murdered across the Sonora Desert between Texas and Mexico. Ultimately, the marauders were violently murdered by brethren of the gang's most recent victims, the Yuma Indians. From this historical framework, McCarthy has built a gruesome account of the real West that works in direct opposition to the romanticized conventions of heroic roughriders and wild adventure built by John Wayne movies and pulp westerns. Presenting the blunt face of violence, McCarthy examines the dichotomies between strength and weakness, light and dark, and conscience and instinct, within a context of Manifest Destiny and the founding of American society. Due to graphic violence, Blood Meridian is an intense novel for many readers, but contains a tight prose style that lends itself to a number of alternate readings. Critical appraisal of the novel has been widely varied, and is burgeoning.
An intensely private man, McCarthy has refused to engage in press junkets for his books or accept speaking engagements. Instead, he has relied upon the marginal sales of his books as well as several financial awards, including a William Faulkner Foundation Award in 1966, a Guggenheim fellowship in 1971, and a MacArthur Foundation “genius grant” in 1981. During this period, he published two novels, Child of God (1974) and Suttree (1979), and his screenplay The Gardener's Son (1976), was staged and broadcast on PBS. McCarthy had begun writing Suttree, a tale of a lonely drunk who struggles with a fixation on death, in the late 1960s, after completing The Orchard Keeper. Child of God and The Gardener's Son are distinctive in representing McCarthy's first forays into so-called historical fiction—fictional works based upon factual events. The experience he gained in writing these works would later be incorporated into Blood Meridian's melding of literature and fact. Using money from the MacArthur Foundation award, McCarthy decided to pursue his interest in the Southwest and settled in El Paso, Texas, in 1981—one of the settings for Blood Meridian. Researching this novel meticulously, McCarthy visited each of the locations mentioned in his source material and learned Spanish expressly for the purpose of lending authenticity. These elements are reflected in the novel's intricate attention to detail. Released in 1985 to limited reviews and hindered by McCarthy's reluctance to promote the book, Blood Meridian nonetheless garnered several positive appraisals, although it remained a fairly obscure work. McCarthy gained popular fame for his next novel, All the Pretty Horses (1992), a coming-of-age tale of two Texans that was awarded the National Book Award in 1992. Following the novel's success, critics began to work backward through McCarthy's canon and revisited Blood Meridian. Interest in All the Pretty Horses has spurred new scholarship focusing on Blood Meridian, with many hailing the latter as McCarthy's most complete novel.
Plot and Major Characters
Blood Meridian is built upon information found in three primary sources: General Samuel Emery Chamberlain's autobiographical My Confessions: Recollections of a Rogue, gathered together as a manuscript in 1905 and published in book form in 1956; Audubon's Western Journal 1849-1850, (1906) by John Woodhouse Audubon, son of noted naturalist John James Audubon; and Mayne Reid's The Scalphunters (c. 1851). Recalling the savagery of the Glanton Gang, Blood Meridian fictionalizes little. The Glanton Gang contracted with the Governor of Chihuahua to eliminate the threat of rogue tribes of Comanche and Apache Native Americans who had been raiding various border towns. Members of the gang were paid ＄200 for every Indian scalp they provided to the Mexican authorities as proof of their efforts. The gang engaged in several pitched battles with various tribes, murdering as many members of these groups as they could—women and children included. Finding fewer legitimate targets as time went on, the ruthless gang quickly discovered that any scalp could be presented for payment and commonly attacked the very people their efforts were intended to protect. They became a fearsome presence in the region, scalping all their victims irrespective of race or age in their attempts to sell scalps to the Governor. When the Mexican army became aware of the gang's tactics, the gang was chased out of the area and forced to retreat into a nomadic existence along what is now the border of Arizona and Mexico. In a bloody encounter, the gang hijacked a ferry used by the Yuma Indians to shuttle gold-hunters across a river. Settling into the business of ferrying prospectors, the gang members set up camp at the port of Yuma Crossing until the Yumas retaliated and murdered Glanton and most of his men. Chamberlain, who was both a member of the gang and a firsthand witness to these events, escaped, along with several others who were away at the time of the attack. Chamberlain later recounted the atrocities of the Glanton Gang in My Confessions, judged by critics as equal parts braggadocio and confessional.
From this basic outline of events, McCarthy has altered few details. The inherent atrocities of the story—with its horrific slaughters and senseless rampages—lend Blood Meridian its major theme: the book functions as an indictment of the extreme violence inflicted by one group upon another and provides a glimpse into the very real elements upon which the West was founded. As a witness to this world, McCarthy adds “the kid”—a nameless, poorly educated wanderer from Tennessee with a taste for violence. The first six chapters of the book introduce “the kid,” charting his life from birth in an outhouse to his eventual imprisonment in a Chihuahua cell, and his affiliation with the Glanton Gang. Ostensibly, the kid is a stand-in for Chamberlain, who never makes a direct appearance. The next thirteen chapters are concerned with events detailing the degeneration of the Glanton Gang, from its initial operation as an ethnically mixed group and morally corrupt band of former soldiers, into their transformation into a mob of murderers. The gang initially included American Indians, Blacks, Mexicans, and whites. In the novel, as in actual history, nearly all of the Glanton Gang are killed by Indians at Yuma Crossing, Arizona. The kid escapes, as does at least one other member—the charismatic and wholly evil Judge Holden. The last four chapters feature a denouement that follows the kid through his final years as he seeks to make amends. In the last chapter he reencounters Holden, who, the narrative implies, murders the kid in an outhouse.
Blood Meridian features two main characters: the kid and Judge Holden. Holden is well educated, charismatic, and powerful; the kid is none of these. The two develop a type of mentor and protege relationship that devolves into a battle of wills, focused on the spiritual salvation of the kid. Holden, like most characters in Blood Meridian, is modeled upon a historical figure. Described by Chamberlain as a giant, frightening man with a menacing past and a threatening self-assurance, the actual Holden was widely considered responsible for the murder and rape of several children, though charges were never brought against him. Both Chamberlain's and McCarthy's versions depict the character as an omnipresent, wary figure, knowledgeable about science, religion, and the natural world. While Holden officially is second in command, there is no mistaking the power he wields within the gang. McCarthy's portrayal of him is analogous to that of a corrupt preacher—a spiritual leader who simultaneously denounces and indulges in the behaviors that ultimately condemn the gang. Godlike in his core ambition, he assumes a demonic status. Critics have compared Holden to the characters of Kurtz in Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness and Ahab in Herman Melville's Moby-Dick. In a penultimate scene, occurring thirty years after the demise of the gang, the narrative insinuates that Holden kills the kid, equating the murder to a religious act. Holden becomes Blood Meridian's last man standing, challenging the prototypical Western's ideal of normative justice.
Most critical interpretations of Blood Meridian target the seemingly arbitrary violence and grim images that characterize the novel. The events of the book occur south of Nacogdoches, Texas, which is located on the 98th meridian—a spot that historian Frederick Jackson Turner described as the demarcation point between the civilized world and the wild frontier. Many critics have suggested that this geographic location explains the use of the words “blood meridian” in the title. Deliberately stark, the novel portrays images of babies dangling from trees, cut throats, scalped victims, and detailed accounts of bloody battles from the Mexican-American War. While other accounts of American Western expansion are filled with rosy images, historical facts revealed to McCarthy a darker reality. His novel offers a new perspective on the events that are the foundation of much American culture and examines primal instincts as well as societal forces intended to suppress those urges. Most critics conclude the narrative implies that violence is an inherent part of the human condition and that to sublimate its power is to risk the creation of a repression that, in its own way, is equally dangerous. In the only interview that McCarthy has granted to date, he told the New York Times in 1992, “There's no such thing as life without bloodshed. I think the notion that the species can be improved in some way, that everyone could live in harmony, is a really dangerous idea. Those who are afflicted with this notion are the first ones to give up their souls, their freedom. Your desire that it be that way will enslave you and make your life vacuous.”
The natural world of Blood Meridian also seems set in revolt against mankind. The landscape is inhospitable, waging open conflict against any who seek to tame it or find refuge within it. The book's lack of harmony extends to every aspect of the desert; fauna and flora, fire and rock, stars and sun are all a menace to the Glanton Gang. These elements threaten the gang as much as the hostile Indians and warring soldiers. Such depictions of nature's ill will towards humans function as another example of McCarthy's revision of common cliches and traditional features within Western mythology. McCarthy renders the brutal and unpleasant details with historical accuracy. Where other Westerns idealize the beauty of roughriders rambling across scenes of unrivalled beauty, Blood Meridian features a troop of exiles wandering the desert past flocks of vultures feeding upon the dried scalps of dead men. Religion is also reevaluated in McCarthy's West. The use of such words as “preordained,” “austere,” “destiny,” and “reckoning” suggests a constant but subtle religious presence, though this presence is subverted by the goals of “holy” men like Judge Holden, who preaches passionately and kills indiscriminately. While the book centers around a Christian perspective, other myths, including the legend of the “Sacred Hunter” of the Yuma, inform aspects of the novel. Existential themes are manifest as well; the choices the Glanton Gang members make in succumbing to base instincts recall fundamental questions about being and an indifferent universe.
McCarthy's literary reputation underwent dramatic revitalization upon his winning the National Book Award in 1992. Consistently a favorite among critics, McCarthy nonetheless struggled as writer in an age in which book sales and public appearances are expected for success. Many critics assert that his unwillingness to publicize his work has limited his career scope, despite being championed by such luminaries as Saul Bellow who, when sitting on the 1981 MacArthur Fellowship panel, lauded McCarthy's “absolutely overpowering use of language, his life-giving and death-dealing sentences.” The critical approval for All the Pretty Horses prompted a surge of new readers as the book became McCarthy's best seller to date. The accolades increased critical attention to his earlier works, particularly Blood Meridian—McCarthy's first Western. Prior to Blood Meridian, McCarthy's narrative structure and prose style derived from a Southern Gothic mode, in the manner of William Faulkner and Flannery O'Connor. With Blood Meridian, McCarthy began to reformat the traditional Western into a more complex design incorporating a mélange of historical fiction and philosophical parable. This marked change in style has divided his core audience between those who prefer his early, Southern novels, and those with an affinity for his later Westerns.
Blood Meridian has been hailed as one of his best books, one that, as critic Dana Phillips summarizes, “marks McCarthy's progress towards addressing not just the Wild West, but Western culture as a whole.” While All the Pretty Horses remains his most popular novel, the complex narrative of Blood Meridian is widely considered his most skilled achievement. Despite the stark violence and gory descriptions, McCarthy's prose does not seek to pass judgment or assess a moral imperative. Instead, critics maintain, the evocations of wanton destruction and nihilism require only that readers remain cognizant of the violent impulse inherent in all mankind. Passages describing the most horrific events are understated, using simple and precise language devoid of emotion, forcing readers to acknowledge what is being shown. McCarthy's third-person narrative style functions as an impartial observer, documenting inhumanity in much the way a historian records history.
The Orchard Keeper (novel) 1965
Outer Dark (novel) 1968
Child of God (novel) 1974
The Gardener's Son (teleplay) 1977
Suttree (novel) 1979
Blood Meridian, or, The Evening Redness in the West (novel) 1985
All the Pretty Horses (novel) 1992
The Crossing (novel) 1994
*The Stonemason: A Play in Five Acts (play) 1994
Cities of the Plain (novel) 1998
The Border Trilogy: All the Pretty Horses, The Crossing, and Cities of the Plain (novels) 1999
*This play, written in the mid-1970s, has not been staged; 1994 represents its publication date.
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SOURCE: Hislop, Andrew. “The Wild Bunch.” Times Literary Supplement, no. 4490 (21-27 April 1989): 436.
[In the following review, Hislop views Blood Meridian as more than a conventional Western, believing it to be a treatise on the interconnection of violence and culture.]
The sheriffs and gun-slingers of European culture have long preferred the American West on film rather than in fiction. While even “spaghetti” Westerns have been roped in as intellectual property, the novelists of the “Wild West”, like Holly Martins in The Third Man, are still not considered quite worthy of literary discussion. Though the abuser-friendly graffiti of any urban American literary urchin able to make a pun of “crack” is almost instantly beamed across the Atlantic, Cormac McCarthy's extraordinary, poetic novel about the West, Blood Meridian, published to critical acclaim in the United States in 1985, has only just appeared in Britain.
The novel is indeed a bloody affair, which spares no detail in its chronicling of atrocity. For most of its gory trail it describes the murderous progress of a band of Indian hunters in the 1840s who also prey on Mexicans and Americans. Images of gruesome perversity stand out from the daily round of shootings and scalpings: dead babies hanging from a tree, men crawling through the desert, the soles of their feet cut off by Indians, or...
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SOURCE: Sepich, John Emil. “The Dance of History in Cormac McCarthy's Blood Meridian.” Southern Literary Journal 24, no. 1 (fall 1991): 16-31.
[In the following essay, Sepich reviews the potential causes for Judge Holden's murder of the unnamed character “the kid,” through an examination of historical sources, as well as through an exploration of the moral universe as it exists in the novel.]
Blood Meridian's odyssey, begun in a Tennessee cabin in 1833, comes to a close when the novel's unnamed protagonist, “the kid,” meets death in an outhouse in Griffin, Texas, in 1878 at the hands of a former compatriot named Judge Holden. But the murder seems to occur without intelligible motive. The kid and Holden had ridden together years before in John Glanton's gang of professional scalp-hunters in Mexico and the American southwest.1 Shortly before the killing, Holden has remarked that the kid was a traitor to Glanton's band and its principles in having “shown clemency for the heathen” (299). But McCarthy declines to share with his reader any example of this clemency, and the reader expecting logical closure may well feel puzzled about the source of Holden's charge.
Vereen Bell speculates in The Achievement of Cormac McCarthy that Holden “merely surmised” that the kid had not committed himself fully to the rough life of Glanton's crew (120),...
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SOURCE: Sepich, John Emil. “‘What Kind of Indians Was Them?’: Some Historical Sources in Cormac McCarthy's Blood Meridian.” Southern Quarterly 30, no. 4 (summer 1992): 93-110.
[In the following essay, Sepich documents the historical context of Blood Meridian, particularly relying on General Samuel Emery Chamberlain's memoir My Confession.]
A number of critics have remarked that Cormac McCarthy's Blood Meridian is based on “history.”1 In fact, the dust jacket of the novel's hardcover edition states flatly that Glanton, Holden and “a number of their followers … actually existed, and various accounts of their exploits can be found in chronicles of the period.” An under-informed reading of Blood Meridian is comparable to the kid's question to Sproule, just after their filibustering expedition to Sonora has been devastated by an Indian attack: “What kind of indians was them?” (56). In some ways, the assailant's name hardly matters. But readers of historical novels expect to know such names, to know background information and relationships.2 Because McCarthy's story unfolds in a relatively forgotten mid-nineteenth century some thirty years in advance of cowboys, trail drives and rail heads in the Southwest, and because his protagonist aligns himself, for better or worse, with professional scalphunters, a glance at the historical record...
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SOURCE: Sepich, John Emil. “A ‘Bloody Dark Pastryman’: Cormac McCarthy's Recipe for Gunpowder and Historical Fiction in Blood Meridian.” Mississippi Quarterly 46, no. 4 (fall 1993): 547-63.
[In the following essay, Sepich argues that Blood Meridian's Judge Holden is in many ways a metaphor for Satan, and that the eventual death of “the kid” is the inevitable result of his association with Holden.]
Blood Meridian, Cormac McCarthy's tale of a rough gang bounty-hunting scalps in the mid-nineteenth-century American Southwest, contains a remarkable character named Judge Holden. Judge Holden's importance in the novel is far greater than his actual position as one of this band of renegades and desperadoes under the command of the historical “Captain” John Joel Glanton.1 The gang's first meeting with Holden, in a story told by an ex-priest turned scalper named Ben Tobin, is fascinating.2 Tobin opens with Glanton's decimated gang in flight, retreating ahead of several score Apaches, on the run because out of black powder for their guns. The Apaches trail them “ridin four and six abreast and there was no short supply of them and they were in no hurry” (p. 126). “Every man jack of us knew that in that godforsook land somewhere was a draw or a cul-desac (sic) of perhaps just a pile of rocks and there we'd be driven to a stand with those empty guns.”...
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SOURCE: Schopen, Bernard A. “‘They Rode On’: Blood Meridian and the Art of Narrative.” Western American Literature 30, no. 2 (summer 1995): 179-94.
[In the following essay, Schopen studies McCarthy's complexly integrated narrative structures in Blood Meridian, deeming that these elements fuse together to form a truthful assessment of the nature of humanity.]
Since its publication in 1985, Cormac McCarthy's Blood Meridian, or, The Evening Redness in the West has received little serious criticism. This remarkable neglect of what Denis Donoghue calls “one of the most powerful American novels I have read” (6) is about to end, however. Now that All The Pretty Horses has garnered a National Book Award and The Crossing leaped up the best-seller list, McCarthy threatens to become an academically fashionable, perhaps even a canonical figure, and we can expect that his novels will increasingly be “interrogated” into confessing that they are cultural documents desperately in need of “post-something” reading and ideological excavation.1 Insofar as Blood Meridian is concerned, however, cultural and ideological critics will need to consider that what draws our attention to the novel in the first place is thoroughly literary. While certainly the study of la bête humaine and the philosophical inquiry that reviewers and critics would have...
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SOURCE: Donoghue, Denis. “Reading Blood Meridian.” Sewanee Review 105, no. 3 (summer 1997): 401-18.
[In the following essay, Donoghue presents several possible readings of Blood Meridian as he outlines several key themes, among them McCarthy's muted narrative response to endless violence and the relationship between Judge Holden and “the kid.”]
A year or two ago at New York University I taught a graduate course called Aesthetics and Aesthetic Ideology. The main aim I set myself was to examine the impingement of political, social, and moral considerations on certain works of literature. I did not conceal from myself or from the students the fact that I wished to maintain the aesthetic and formal character of literature and that I was dismayed by current attempts to reduce literature to a set of ideological conclusions. Many of those conclusions were biographical rigmaroles. Yeats and Pound were Fascists. Eliot was anti-Semitic. Wyndham Lewis was a neo-Nazi. So-and-so was prejudiced against women. Or homophobic. In the face of such routines I found it hard to convince students that a work of literature is not an editorial or a political manifesto and that the experience of reading a novel does not consist in finding one's prejudices confirmed. It was difficult to speak of language, form, style, and tone without appearing decadent, ethically irresponsible.
One of the...
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SOURCE: Campbell, Neil. “‘Beyond Reckoning’: Cormac McCarthy's Version of the West in Blood Meridian, or, The Evening Redness in the West.” Critique 39, no. 1 (fall 1997): 55-64.
[In the following essay, Campbell presents Blood Meridian as a re-creation of the traditional Western novel and its archetypal mythos.]
Depend upon it, there is mythology now as there was in the time of Homer, only we do not perceive it, because we ourselves live in the very shadow of it, and because we all shrink from the full meridian light of truth.
—Max Muller, Introduction to the Science of Religion (1873)1
Frederick Jackson Turner claimed in 1893 that
[t]he United States lies like a huge page in the history of society. Line by line as we read this continental page from West to East we find the record of social evolution.
On that page Turner inscribed his version of history, marking out his concept of the West as the key to American development.
As Alan Trachtenberg has written,
The nation needed … a coherent, integrated story of its beginnings and its development. Connectedness, wholeness, unity: these narrative virtues, with their implied telos of closure, of a...
(The entire section is 4460 words.)
SOURCE: Pitts, Jonathan. “Writing On: Blood Meridian as Devisionary Western.” Western American Literature 33, no. 1 (spring 1998): 7-25.
[In the following essay, Pitts argues that Blood Meridian's encompassing of historical, cultural, and literary styles enhances its ability to serve as a parable for the American vision of life.]
We have yet had no genius in America, with tyrannous eye, which knew the value of our incomparable materials, and saw, in the barbarism and materialism of the times, another carnival of the same gods whose picture he so much admires in Homer.
—Emerson, “The Poet”
The nervous, rocky West is intruding a new and continental element into the national mind, and we shall yet have an American genius.
—Emerson, “The Young American”
For the eye predicates the whole on some feature or part and here was nothing more luminous than another and nothing more enshadowed and in the optical democracy of such landscapes all preference is made whimsical and a man and a rock become endowed with unguessed kinships.
—McCarthy, Blood Meridian
So far there seem to be four sorts of readers of Blood Meridian. Roughly, there are the historical...
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SOURCE: Masters, Joshua J. “‘Witness to the Uttermost Edge of the World’: Judge Holden's Textual Enterprise in Cormac McCarthy's Blood Meridian.” Critique 40, no. 1 (fall 1998): 25-37.
[In the following essay, Masters views the ambiguous character of Judge Holden as a trailblazer of the Wild West who seeks to fill the moral vacuum of that space with his own brand of “amoral logos.”]
At the center of Cormac McCarthy's epic fifth novel, Blood Meridian (1985), we find Judge Holden,1 a Mephistophelean figure who seduces a nomadic horde of scalp hunters into a “terrible covenant” (126), which consigns both their spiritual and physical lives to the judge's jurisdiction. With his “disciples of a new faith” (130), the judge wanders the Mexican-American borderlands like an anti-Moses, a lawgiver who has made no covenant with a higher power, save, of course, war. Amidst the arbitrary violence and mindless wanderings of the Glanton Gang, we find only the judge's voice, for he provides the coherence, the order, the meaning that defines the scalp hunter's pilgrimage west. Certainly McCarthy's most articulate, cunning, and slippery character to date, the judge is a nightmarish embodiment of the myths of colonial expansion, myths that he extends, rewrites, and reconstructs to apocalyptic ends. In Blood Meridian, McCarthy reconsiders the myths (and mythmakers)...
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SOURCE: Twomey, Jay. “Tempting the Child: The Lyrical Madness of Cormac McCarthy's Blood Meridian.” Southern Quarterly 37, nos. 3-4 (spring-summer 1999): 255-65.
[In the following essay, Twomey characterizes Blood Meridian as a battle between the madness of Judge Holden, who converts the Glanton Gang to his irrational mindset, and the resistant kid—a battle in which the judge finally triumphs.]
I walked in a desert. And I cried, “Ah, God, take me from this place!” A voice said, “It is no desert.” I cried, “Well, but— The sand, the heart, the vacant horizon.” A voice said, “It is no desert.”
Cormac McCarthy's novel Blood Meridian is an epic of violence stark and calamitous, set in the liminal desert. But its depiction of bloodshed is not, as some would have it, a commemoration of “slaughter in all its sumptuousness and splendor” (Shaviro 144) despite McCarthy's testamental lyricism. Violence here is rather symptomatic of the novel's more central obsession: madness. But this oversimplifies. Madness in Blood Meridian is a complex demon, multi-vocal and ultimately transcending designation as psychosis—though psychotics abound in this book. Or rather psychosis becomes an ambulant signifier in the novel defining an act, an individual, a group in turn—and perhaps coming to rest at last as plot and...
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SOURCE: Dow, William. “Topographical Strides of Thoreau: The Poet and Pioneer in Cormac McCarthy's Blood Meridian.” Revue Française D'Études Américaines, no. 84 (March 2000): 89-105.
[In the following essay, Dow examines Blood Meridian as a topographical study in the tradition of Henry David Thoreau's Walden.]
A general knowledge of the topography is, then, the main guide, enabling one to determine where the trail ought to go—must go.1
We must look to the West for the growth of a new literature, manners, architecture, etc. Already there is more language there, which is the growth of the soil, than here …2
(Henry David Thoreau)
Throughout his career as a writer and naturalist, Thoreau wished to reinvent “a new literature” linked to topographies. He held constant to what I would term a “poet-pioneer” binary in which the figural representations of a “poet” interact with the actual experiences of a “pioneer”3. For example, even in his journal he is constantly alternating between the actions of an explorer and the ponderings of a philosopher-aesthetician: “Well in this pond thus dug in the midst of a meadow a year or two ago and supplied by springs in the meadow, I find to-day several...
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SOURCE: Mitchell, Jason P. “Louise Erdrich's Love Medicine, Cormac McCarthy's Blood Meridian, and the (De)Mythologizing of the American West.” Critique 41, no. 3 (spring 2000): 290-304.
[In the following essay comparing Louise Erdrich's Love Medicine and Cormac McCarthy's Blood Meridian, Mitchell argues that, despite the surface dissimilarities between the two books, they are both borne from the myths of the American West which they ultimately refute.]
“Fighting; his way with knife and gun,” the Texas cowboy was evolved, a fearless rider, a workman of sublime self-confidence, unequaled in the technique and tricks of “cowpunching,” the most accurate on the trigger and the last to leave untasted the glass which the bartender silently refilled. When the northern trails became an institution the Texan was trail-boss and straw-boss; and as boss he was a dictator. As an underling he was not so successful in the north; with a Yankee boss, or worse yet an Englishman, he cherished a studied disregard for authority, and an assured satisfaction in the superiority of is own ways. His loyalty to his profession made him willing to do any amount of work in the line of duty; but he would have defended with his gun his right to sing as he rode:
Oh, I am a Texas cowboy. Far away from home. If I ever get back to Texas I never more...
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SOURCE: Spurgeon, Sara. “The Sacred Hunter and the Eucharist of the Wilderness: Mythic Reconstructions in Blood Meridian.” In Cormac McCarthy: New Directions, edited by James D. Lilley, pp. 75-101. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2002.
[In the following essay, Spurgeon suggests that Blood Meridian attempts to bridge the difference between the mythic representations of the old West and the true natural world, particularly through its reworking of the traditional figure of the sacred hunter.]
One of the many complex relationships Cormac McCarthy explores in Blood Meridian, or, The Evening Redness in the West is between humans, especially Anglo Americans, and the natural world. He does so in part through the manipulation of several archetypal myths closely identified with the European experience in the New World, and most specifically with the border regions of the American Southwest.
McCarthy moves Blood Meridian through the dark and disordered spaces of what Lauren Berlant calls the “national symbolic.” Unlike the familiar icons of mythic frontier tales, however, McCarthy's characters seek no closure, nor do they render order out of the chaos of history and myth. The novel functions on the level of mythmaking and national fantasy as an American origin story, a reimaging upon the palimpsest of the western frontier of the birth of one of our...
(The entire section is 10346 words.)
SOURCE: Douglas, Christopher. “The Flawed Design: American Imperialism in N. Scott Momaday's House Made of Dawn and Cormac McCarthy's Blood Meridian.” Critique 45, no. 1 (fall 2003): 3-24.
[In the following essay, Douglas proposes that N. Scott Momaday's House Made of Dawn and Cormac McCarthy's Blood Meridian are borne from the need to critically examine the European-American foundational tenets upon which the Southwest was colonized.]
The first colonists saw in America an opportunity to regenerate their fortunes, their spirits, and the power of their church and nation; but the means to that regeneration ultimately became the means of violence, and the myth of regeneration through violence became the structuring metaphor of the American experience.
History and rhetoric—which is to say, conquest by arms and conquest by the word: the discovery of America is the modern instance par excellence of how these two kinds of violence are entwined; how metaphor becomes fact, and fact, metaphor; how the realms of power and myth can be reciprocally sustaining.
A quarter of the way through N. Scott Momaday's House Made of Dawn, the story is interrupted by this narrative of migration and settlement in the...
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SOURCE: Eddins, Dwight. “‘Everything a Hunter and Everything Hunted’: Schopenhauer and Cormac McCarthy's Blood Meridian.” Critique 45, no. 1 (fall 2003): 25-33.
[In the following essay, Eddins uses the philosophical theories of Arthur Schopenhauer to examine the aesthetics of Blood Meridian.]
The great novelists of modern times have tended to be those whose visions estrange us from our familiar world to bring us back to it with unique new perspectives and an expanded sense of the human domain. Joyce, Faulkner, Mann, and Pynchon—to take four prominent examples—all destabilize and unsettle to construct an enhanced reality. Their subversion can be either epistemological or ontological or both; it may problematize the ways in which we construct reality or else problematize the very modes of being by which we define that reality. In practice, as Brian McHale notes, these two problematics tend to blur into each other:
[I]ntractable epistemological uncertainty becomes at a certain point ontological plurality or instability: push epistemological questions far enough and they “tip over” into ontological questions. By the same token, push ontological questions far enough and they tip over into epistemological questions—the sequence is not linear and unidirectional, but bidirectional and reversible.
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Campbell, Neil. “Liberty Beyond Its Proper Bounds: Cormac McCarthy's History of the West in Blood Meridian.” In Myth, Legend, Dust: Critical Responses to Cormac McCarthy, edited by Rich Wallach, pp. 217-26. New York: Manchester University Press, 2000.
Argues that Blood Meridian is a re-conceptualization of the traditional Western as established by Frederick Jackson Turner.
Daugherty, Leo. “Gravers False and True: Blood Meridian as Gnostic Tragedy.” Southern Quarterly 30, no. 4 (summer 1992): 122-33.
Links Gnostic thought to Blood Meridian through an assessment of four characters from the novel.
Jarrett, Robert L. “Rewriting the Southwest: Blood Meridian as a Revisionary Western.” In Cormac McCarthy, pp. 63-93. New York: Twayne Publishers, 1997.
Portrays Blood Meridian as a shift away from the Southern perspective underlying McCarthy's first novels to a more Southwestern view which mirrors the historical outward growth of the nation.
Luce, Dianne C. “On the Trail of History in McCarthy's Blood Meridian.” Southern Quarterly 49, no. 4 (fall 1996): 843-49.
Review of John Emil Sepich's Notes on Blood Meridian that commends the detailed historical analysis by Sepich....
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