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.
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.
(The entire section is 875 words.)