by Cormac McCarthy
“The truth about the world, he said, is that anything is possible. Had you not seen it all from birth and thereby bled it of its strangeness it would appear to you for what it is, a hat trick in a medicine show, a fevered dream, a trance be populate with chimeras having neither analogue nor precedent, an itinerant carnival, a migratory tentshow whose ultimate destination after many a pitch in many a mudded field is unspeakable and calamitous beyond reckoning. " - Cormac McCarthy
I. The Quest
McCarthy's prose has the character of the landscape it describes: Harsh and pure, as if it had been sculpted by wind and sand, like a naturally occurring phenomenon. In Blood Meridian McCarthy uses it to spin a yarn of gothic violence: In the 1840's a young boy joins a band of cutthroats who hunt Indians on the border between Texas and Mexico, under the leadership of an amoral, albino arch-monster known as the Judge. Rarely has literature presented spectacles of violence more extreme or less gratuitous. That having been said we find Harold Bloom writing, in his introduction to the Twenty-Fifth Anniversary edition, that "Blood Meridian is a canonical imaginative achievement, both an American and a universal tragedy of blood." (p viii, Modern Library edition) McCarthy's vision of the West summons up shadows of Dante and Melville, and demands of every reader that they reexamine why and how they cling to morality in a fallen world.
The narrative begins by introducing us to a child who "can neither read nor write". He has a "taste for mindless violence" and is described in words recalling the poetry of Wordsworth as having "All history present in that visage, the child the father of the man."( p3)
The novel is in part the story of this child who runs away from home at the age of fourteen, traveling on his own towards the west with "innocent eyes". After a near-death experience he takes a boat to Texas. It is at this point that he is "divested of all he has been".
"His origins are become remote as is his destiny and not again for all the world's turning will there be terrains so wild and barbarous to try whether the stuff of creation may be shaped to men's will of whether his own heart is not another kind of clay. " (p 4-5)
He metaphorically has crossed the river Styx and has begun his journey in hell. It is a journey that will take him through the Southwest United States and into Mexico. He will be jailed and freed from that jail only to join a gang of scalp hunters who troll the desolate prairie among skulls of the dead to add to their number in the search for more scalps. The landscape holds beauty in its sheer desolateness:
"The floor of the playa lay smooth and unbroken by any track and the mountains in their blue islands stood footless in the void like floating temples." (p 108)
The Kid's journey is populated with fascinating characters who sometimes are inarticulate but at other times may share enigmatic observations that may be of value to the Kid, or not.
While stopping at a tavern a Mennonite warns the Kid of the "wrath of God", reiterating the idea that things will only end "In confusion curses and blood." (p 40) The Kid is urged to continue his journey and he does despite these warnings.
Throughout this novel the traditional forms a narrative are subverted. The arc of the narrative is difficult to discern; the story may be picaresque in the Quixotian sense, but there are larger images and deeper meanings that impinge on the Kid's journey. I will address some of these images and the characters who the Kid meets on his journey in my next post on Blood Meridian.
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