The Characters

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

The kid is the novel’s primary protagonist, although, like Ishmael in Moby Dick: Or, The Whale (Herman Melville’s 1851 classic, echoed throughout Blood Meridian), he disappears for considerable periods in the narrative. Although he is almost instinctively capable of violence and appears to be undisturbed by the brutality of the life he pursues, McCarthy sets him apart from the other men of Glanton’s gang. The reader is never given insight into the kid’s thoughts; he must be judged solely by his actions and occasional statements. Nevertheless, the book does dramatize its concept of moral struggle through the kid. Judge Holden chooses him as disciple or victim from the first time he sees him, and their final encounter, though delayed for almost thirty years, is, according to the judge, predetermined. In the judge’s words, only the kid, of all the group, holds back from giving himself fully to the act of bloodletting. Throughout, the kid performs acts of minor mercy, which the other members of the group refuse to do. Yet he is never able to confront the judge. After the massacre at Yuma Crossing, the kid seems increasingly haunted, finally sated with murder and gore. Still, when the judge approaches him in the Fort Griffin saloon, the kid, now the man, continues to hold back, refusing either to join the judge or stand against him. His subsequent death seems a consequence of his failure to make a choice.

Judge Holden is the most intriguing, fascinating, and horrifying of this appalling band of killers. Based on a historical figure, he is well over six feet tall, monstrous in build, and completely hairless. Yet the judge seems almost supernatural, invested with marvelous powers and knowledge, which makes his numerous acts of carnage all the more terrible. Indeed,...

(The entire section is 735 words.)

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)


Blasarius, known as the kid, a scrappy runaway with a taste for violence. At the age of sixteen, he joins an outlaw army with the ostensible goal of “liberating” Mexico but an actual mission of seizing land. After his party is slaughtered by Comanches, he is arrested in Mexico. He and his fellow prisoner Toadvine are freed to join a rabble gang of scalp hunters, led by Captain Glanton and Judge Holden. The kid is initiated into a naturalistic universe in which, according to the judge, war is god. When a gypsy reads the men’s tarot cards, the kid draws the Four of Cups, indicating discontent and doubt—the kid has not completely internalized the brutality—but help from a divine source. The mysterious judge then shows special interest in the kid. When the kid and Tobin become separated from the group, the kid, despite Tobin’s warnings, cannot shoot the judge, who calls to him that his soul is not like that of the others. Wounded, the kid wanders to San Diego, where the arrow lodged in his thigh is removed. During the ensuing delirium, the judge appears and declares that, although he had loved him like a son, the kid is culpable for all the bloodshed, because he remained uncommitted to the mission: He still retained some modicum of mercy in his heart. Years pass, during which the kid, now isolated, wears David Brown’s necklace of human ears and avoids killing when possible. In Texas, he again meets the judge, who warns that the kid’s soul will be required that night. Going to the toilet, the kid meets the naked judge, who embraces him in his death.

Judge Holden

Judge Holden, an enigmatic figure who seems omnipotent, ubiquitous, and omniscient. He converses expertly on all subjects, speaks all languages fluently, and plays the fiddle and dances. A man of ambiguous morality, pleased with the terrible beauty and violence of creation, he represents the awful neutrality...

(The entire section is 791 words.)