24 Oct Blood Meridian
By: Cormac McCarthy
Not too long ago, a friend asked me why I considered Blood Meridian my favorite novel. Although it’s a simple question, I found it difficult to answer. Of course, the prose is beautifully poetic, and the historical accuracy is astounding, but these weren’t the reasons. After all, the novel is brutal in its depiction of the American West, Manifest Destiny, and humanity’s capacity for evil. The story can be emotionally exhausting to the reader. But it is also a book that rewards readers for their patience and challenges them. To understand why it challenges us in such a unique way, keep reading and I will explain.
Blood Meridian is a historical novel that takes place in the middle of the nineteenth century in the American Southwest and Mexico, and tells the story of “The Kid.” At the beginning of the novel, he joins a small army detachment hungry for more land after the Mexican-American war, but after his group is attacked and massacred, he is imprisoned in Mexico and recruited by the infamous Glanton Gang. The novel follows the activities of the criminals that form this gang from the perspective of The Kid, as they hunt Native Americans for their scalps in return for bounty from the Mexican Government. However, the depravity of the gang eventually makes them resort to violence towards anyone they cross in order to make more money.
Along this dark and degenerative story is the character of Judge Holden, a toweringly tall man who invokes profound fear and dread. Everyone in the Glanton Gang has stories of how they first met him independent of the others, and many even doubt if he’s human at all. As the novel continues, he takes the role of the main antagonist. To Judge Holden, humanity does not have a penchant for war, but war is the very nature of humanity itself.
The novel is also beautifully written. Landscapes are painted with words in a way I have never before encountered, and I found myself frequently reaching for my dictionary as I turned the pages. Descriptions are as scientific as they are poetic, and the detailed landscapes never seem dull.
Cormac McCarthy’s unflinching portrayal of violence in this story challenges the readers’ core values and beliefs, such as how such great evil can exist in this world, and what can be hoped for if it never seems to end. But in confronting these dilemmas and the sad past events in human history, we are challenged to make something better for ourselves in our world. We cannot become the best versions of ourselves as people if we do not grapple and examine the very dark and very real malevolence we are capable of as a species. We all have the capacity to prove that Judge Holden is wrong, and that humanity is not as dark as he says.
Review By: Justin Davis