Blood Meridian

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The main character of the novel is known only as the Kid. At the age of fourteen, he leaves his birthplace in the mountains of Tennessee and travels west. In New Orleans, he is shot and almost killed. When he recovers, he continues his journey, no longer a child though retaining a kind of odd innocence that stays with him throughout all the atrocities he commits and experiences.

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Moving away from the last vestiges of civilization, the Kid joins forces with a group of scalp hunters, led by the mad Captain John Glanton and a self-proclaimed judge named Holden (both men are based on historical figures). Glanton has dedicated himself to killing every Apache he encounters. Holden, a huge, completely hairless monstrosity, is given to moments of philosophical eloquence and to acts of gentleness, but he is capable of awful perversity and depravity.

McCarthy recounts the Kid’s adventures in a dispassionate, understated manner that often heightens the horror of the deeds. Each chapter is prefaced by an outline of the events which occur in that section, a dry recitation of outrages. Acts of violence are repeated with numbing regularity, to the point that the reader becomes almost immune to the cruelty. Yet McCarthy’s purpose is ultimately a moral one. Although the Kid participates in the bloodletting, he tries to resist the enticement of Holden, for whom evil is a path to knowledge. The book ends ambiguously. McCarthy’s world is dark and foreboding but not totally without hope. Nevertheless, Blood Meridian will prove a demanding and harrowing experience for the reader.


Bell, Vereen M. The Achievement of Cormac McCarthy. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1988. The first book-length study of McCarthy’s work through Blood Meridian. “The Metaphysics of Violence: Blood Meridian” is the last chapter in the book and compares the novel to Herman Melville’s Moby Dick: Or, The Whale (1851) and Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness (1899) as a study of evil. Bell views McCarthy as primarily a nihilist.

Campbell, Neil. “ Beyond Reckoning’: Cormac McCarthy’s Version of the West in Blood Meridian or the Evening Redness in the West.” CRITIQUE: Studies in Contemporary Fiction 39 (Fall, 1997): 55-64. Campbell discusses McCarthy’s portrayal of the West as a symbolic landscape combining the power of life and death in Blood Meridian. He explores McCarthy’s pursuit of the West in American mythology as McCarthy seeks to make the myth contain the certainty of its own failure, a movement toward death.

Daugherty, Leo. “Gravers False and True: Blood Meridian as Gnostic Tragedy.” Southern Quarterly 30 (Summer, 1992): 122-133. Argues that gnostic thought is central to McCarthy’s work, especially Blood Meridian. There is a good god somewhere in the universe, but he is separated from the world, which is ruled by “archons” who establish their own form of justice and rule. Judge Holden, Daugherty maintains, is such an archon.

Donoghue, Denis. “Reading Blood Meridian.” The Sewanee Review 105 (Summer, 1997): 401-418. Donoghue offers a critique of McCarthy’s novel. He recommends it for use in a graduate literature course in the teaching of aesthetics and aesthetic ideology because of its narrative style, which discourages ethical judgments.

James, Caryn. “Is Everybody Dead Around Here?” The New York Times Book Review, April 28, 1985, 31. A mixed review of Blood Meridian that praises McCarthy’s originality but decries the novel’s “stylistically dazzling but facile conclusion.”

Masters, Joshua J. “ Witness to the Uttermost Edge of the World’: Judge Holden’s Textual Enterprise in Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian.” CRITIQUE: Studies in Contemporary Fiction 40 (Fall, 1998): 25-37. Masters analyzes the character of Judge Holden in Blood Meridian and sees him as a “Mephistophelean figure who seduces a nomadic horde of scalp...

(The entire section contains 3471 words.)

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Critical Essays