Blood Meridian Themes
by Cormac McCarthy

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Themes and Meanings

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

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Blood Meridian can be read on a number of levels. Although far too graphic and relentless to be considered an adventure novel, it is nevertheless a compelling narrative, full of fights, escapes, mysteries, and astonishments. McCarthy is masterful at creating a believable picture of the Old West in his expert physical description of landscape, his full and detailed knowledge of place and people, and his ability to reveal character through dialogue. The novel is also fascinating for its historical re-creation of a time and way of life generally romanticized or glossed over. Indeed, Blood Meridian may be read as revisionist history, a much truer picture of what the settling of the West was all about. McCarthy’s research into the time is everywhere evident; his authority gives the story a sense of authenticity that compels belief. There are no heroes in McCarthy’s tale, nor does he glorify or excuse or even explain either whites or Indians. Each acts according to needs and desires that seem almost atavistic, and the constant violence is presented as a necessity in such a rough and barbaric world.

The novel, however, is primarily a philosophical exploration of the nature of evil and the significance of moral choice. While most of the characters, including the kid, are not introspective, two figures stand in debate with one another. Judge Holden is the primary exponent of the violence of life. There is no mystery in the world, the judge argues; all things simply are. War, then, is the only “holy” act, the only true game, for only in combat, in the taking of another life, does man prove his existence. If a higher will exists, combat becomes proof of that will, for in battle one must survive and one die, and the battle itself forces a decision to be made by the greater power. Holden argues that all things are preordained and that...

(The entire section is 495 words.)