With Blood Meridian: Or, The Evening Redness in the West, a novel of epic proportions and startling originality, McCarthy shifts his eye from Tennessee to the American Southwest and northern Mexico. The novel, set in the 1840’s, when the border between the United States and Mexico was under dispute, is an orgy of violence, vain striving, and desperate marauding. It gives form to the frontier theory, the idea of manifest destiny, which inspired Americans to seek dominion over the land and to expel, murder, or subjugate those peoples who stood in the way of their dominion over the mission. As the subtitle of the novel suggests, the book has elements of the Western, though McCarthy rigorously subverts the convention and its values. There are indeed cowboys, Indians, and Mexicans, but the shoot-outs, massacres, and raids (all depicted in graphic detail) take place in a vacuum of values where there is no such thing as a “good guy” or a “bad guy.” Alan Cheuse is on track in calling Blood Meridian “a Western that evokes the styles of both [film director] Sam Peckinpah and [artist] Hieronymus Bosch.”
The narrative loosely follows a young protagonist whom the reader knows only as “the kid” (born a hundred years before his creator, in 1833) as he leaves his Tennessee home at the age of fourteen, winds his way west to Texas, and is enlisted in a vigilante army of Americans who, under the command of Captain Glanton, march through the inhospitable plains, deserts, and mountains of Texas, Chihuahua, Sonora, Arizona, and southern California, terrorizing Indians, Mexicans, and one another along their wrathful path. Hosts of colorful characters appear and vanish through the journey’s course. Most important among them is Judge Holden, who first meets and observes the kid early in the novel and then picks up his trail later, following him until their ultimate showdown near the novel’s end.
Early in the novel, the kid meets a hermit who propounds his belief in evil and its mysterious, self-generating nature. This is one...
(The entire section is 843 words.)