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Blood Meridian: Or the Evening Redness in the West (Modern Library)

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Blood Meridian: Or the Evening Redness in the West (Modern Library) Cover

ISBN13: 9780679641049
ISBN10: 0679641041
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Excerpt

Blood Meridian (1985) seems to me the authentic American apocalyptic novel, more relevant even in 2000 than it was fifteen years ago. The fulfilled renown of Moby-Dick and of As I Lay Dying is augmented by Blood Meridian, since Cormac McCarthy is the worthy disciple both of Melville and of Faulkner. I venture that no other living American novelist, not even Pynchon, has given us a book as strong and memorable as Blood Meridian, much as I appreciate Don DeLillo's Underworld, Philip Roth's Zuckerman Bound, Sabbath's Theater, and American Pastoral, and Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow and Mason & Dixon. McCarthy himself, in his recent Border trilogy, commencing with the superb All the Pretty Horses, has not matched Blood Meridian, but it is the ultimate Western, not to be surpassed.

My concern being the reader, I will begin by confessing that my first two attempts to read through Blood Meridian failed, because I flinched from the overwhelming carnage that McCarthy portrays. The violence begins on the novel's second page, when the fifteen-year-old Kid is shot in the back and just below the heart, and continues almost with no respite until the end, thirty years later, when Judge Holden, the most frightening figure in all of American literature, murders the Kid in an outhouse. So appalling are the continuous massacres and mutilations of Blood Meridian that one could be reading a United Nations report on the horrors of Kosovo in 1999.

Nevertheless, I urge the reader to persevere, because Blood Meridian is a canonical imaginative achievement, both an American and a universal tragedy of blood. Judge Holden is a villain worthy of Shakespeare, Iago-like and demoniac, a theoretician of war everlasting. And the book's magnificence-its language, landscape, persons, conceptions-at last transcends the violence, and converts goriness into terrifying art, an art comparable to Melville's and to Faulkner's. When I teach the book, many of my students resist it initially (as I did, and as some of my friends continue to do). Television saturates us with actual as well as imagined violence, and I turn away, either in shock or in disgust. But I cannot turn away from Blood Meridian, now that I know how to read it, and why it has to be read. None of its carnage is gratuitous or redundant; it belonged to the Mexico-Texas borderlands in 1849-50, which is where and when most of the novel is set. I suppose one could call Blood Meridian a "historical novel," since it chronicles the actual expedition of the Glanton gang, a murderous paramilitary force sent out both by Mexican and Texan authorities to murder and scalp as many Indians as possible. Yet it does not have the aura of historical fiction, since what it depicts seethes on, in the United States, and nearly everywhere else, as we enter the third millennium. Judge Holden, the prophet of war, is unlikely to be without honor in our years to come.

Even as you learn to endure the slaughter McCarthy describes, you become accustomed to the book's high style, again as overtly Shakespearean as it is Faulknerian. There are passages of Melvillean-Faulknerian baroque richness and intensity in The Crying of Lot 49, and elsewhere in Pynchon, but we can never be sure that they are not parodistic. The prose of Blood Meridian soars, yet with its own economy, and its dialogue is always persuasive, particularly when the uncanny Judge Holden speaks (chapter 14, p. 199):

The judge placed his hands on the ground. He looked at his inquisitor. This is my claim, he said. And yet everywhere upon it are pockets of autonomous life. Autonomous. In order for it to be mine nothing must be permitted to occur upon it save by my dispensation.

Toadvine sat with his boots crossed before the fire. No man can acquaint himself with everything on this earth, he said.

The judge tilted his great head. The man who believes that the secrets of this world are forever hidden lives in mystery and fear. Superstition will drag him down. The rain will erode the deeds of his life. But that man who sets himself the task of singling out the thread of order from the tapestry will by the decision alone have taken charge of the world and it is only by such taking charge that he will effect a way to dictate the terms of his own fate.

Judge Holden is the spiritual leader of Glanton's filibusters, and McCarthy persuasively gives the self-styled judge a mythic status, appropriate for a deep Machiavelli whose "thread of order" recalls Iago's magic web, in which Othello, Desdemona, and Cassio are caught. Though all of the more colorful and murderous raiders are vividly characterized for us, the killing-machine Glanton with the others, the novel turns always upon its two central figures, Judge Holden and the Kid. We first meet the Judge on page 6: an enormous man, bald as a stone, no trace of a beard, and eyes without either brows or lashes. A seven-foot-tall albino almost seems to have come from some other world, and we learn to wonder about the Judge, who never sleeps, dances and fiddles with extraordinary art and energy, rapes and murders little children of both sexes, and who says that he will never die. By the book's close, I have come to believe that the Judge is immortal. And yet the Judge, while both more and less than human, is as individuated as Iago or Macbeth, and is quite at home in the Texan-Mexican borderlands where we watch him operate in 1849-50, and then find him again in 1878, not a day older after twenty-eight years, though the Kid, a sixteen-year-old at the start of Glanton's foray, is forty-five when murdered by the Judge at the end.

McCarthy subtly shows us the long, slow development of the Kid from another mindless scalper of Indians to the courageous confronter of the Judge in their final debate in a saloon. But though the Kid's moral maturation is heartening, his personality remains largely a cipher, as anonymous as his lack of a name. The three glories of the book are the Judge, the landscape, and (dreadful to say this) the slaughters, which are aesthetically distanced by McCarthy in a number of complex ways.

What is the reader to make of the Judge? He is immortal as principle, as War Everlasting, but is he a person, or something other? McCarthy will not tell us, which is all the better, since the ambiguity is most stimulating. Melville's Captain Ahab, though a Promethean demigod, is necessarily mortal, and perishes with the Pequod and all its crew, except for Ishmael. After he has killed the Kid, Blood Meridian's Ishmael, Judge Holden is the last survivor of Glanton's scalping crusade. Destroying the Native American nations of the Southwest is hardly analogous to the hunt to slay Moby-Dick, and yet McCarthy gives us some curious parallels between the two quests. The most striking is between Melville's chapter 19, where a ragged prophet, who calls himself Elijah, warns Ishmael and Queequeg against sailing on the Pequod, and McCarthy's chapter 4, where "an old disordered Mennonite" warns the Kid and his comrades not to join Captain Worth's filibuster, a disaster that preludes the greater catastrophe of Glanton's campaign.

McCarthy's invocation of Moby-Dick, while impressive and suggestive, in itself does not do much to illuminate Judge Holden for us. Ahab has his preternatural aspects, including his harpooner Fedellah and Parsee whaleboat crew, and the captain's conversion to their Zoroastrian faith. Elijah tells Ishmael touches of other Ahabian mysteries: a three-day trance off Cape Horn, slaying a Spaniard in front of a presumably Catholic altar in Santa, and a wholly enigmatic spitting into a "silver calabash."Yet all these are transparencies compared to the enigmas of Judge Holden, who seems to judge the entire earth, and whose name suggests a holding, presumably of sway over all he encounters. And yet, the Judge, unlike Ahab, is not wholly fictive; like Glanton, he is a historic filibuster or freebooter. McCarthy tells us most in the Kid's dream visions of Judge Holden, towards the close of the novel (chapter 22, pp. 309—10):

In that sleep and in sleep to follow the judge did visit. Who would come other? A great shambling mutant, silent and serene. Whatever his antecedents, he was something wholly other than their sum, nor was there system by which to divide him back into his origins for he would not go. Whoever would seek out his history through what unraveling of loins and ledgerbooks must stand at last darkened and dumb at the shore of a void without terminus or origin and whatever science he might bring to bear upon the dusty primal matter blowing down out of the millennia will discover no trace of ultimate atavistic egg by which to reckon his commencing.

I think that McCarthy is warning his reader that the Judge is Moby-Dick rather than Ahab. As another white enigma, the albino Judge, like the albino whale, cannot be slain. Melville, a professed Gnostic, who believed that some "anarch hand or cosmic blunder" had divided us into two fallen sexes, gives us a Manichean quester in Ahab. McCarthy gives Judge Holden the powers and purposes of the bad angels or demiurges that the Gnostics called archons, but he tells us not to make such an identification (as the critic Leo Daugherty eloquently has). Any "system," including the Gnostic one, will not divide the Judge back into his origins. The "ultimate atavistic egg" will not be found. What can the reader do with the haunting and terrifying Judge?

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Geodude, April 3, 2014 (view all comments by Geodude)
Cormac McCarthy’s novel, Blood Meridian, utilizes a unique point of view, depictive imagery and illusive symbolism to ultimately complete his goal of giving insight into the infamous “Wild West” of the mid-19th century. The idealistic view of the “Wild West” that’s often thought about consists of freedom, riches, and prosperity. In his novel McCarthy reveals the real “Wild West” by following a band of scalp hunters through their tour of the Texas-Mexico border. He gives insight into how harsh and brutal the “Wild West” really was and the true struggle of prospering in the western frontier.

The story follows the journey of a young man who is only referred to as the Kid. The reader is never brought into the mind of the Kid but follow him throughout his journey along with the historically known “Glanton Gang” as they become famous scalp hunters along the Texas-Mexico border. The novel’s objective third person point of view adds to the overall ruthlessness of the story’s tone by not allowing the readers inside the character’s thoughts and motives. Character development is stunted by the constant killing and violence throughout each chapter, creating continuous action and unrest . McCarthy strategically does not develop the characters to show how cruel and raw the life of these bandits are. The lack of development forces the reader’s to create the motive and reason through every violent and barbaric act the gang commits. Not only is McCarthy using this to accomplish his ultimate goal of the “Wild West” but also enables the novel to have very diverse interpretations.

McCarthy deals with the lack of character development by utilizing depictive imagery used to describe the bareness of the desert, the harsh climate, and the extremity of the Glanton Gang’s actions. After a slaughter of indians by the Glanton Gang, describes it by stating that “The desert wind would salt their ruins and there would be nothing, nor ghost nor scribe, to tell any pilgrim in his passing how it was that people had lived in this place and this placed died.” (174) McCarthy uses imagery to show the emotion of the scene without going into the minds of the characters. The image that is created is extremely vivid and incredibly brutal. He does this in order for the reader to see how cruel the scalp hunter are, but also to show how brutal and unwelcoming the surrounding is. McCarthy describes the desert saying “There was no wind and the silence out there was greatly favored by every kind of fugitive as was the open country itself and no mountains close at hand for enemies to black themselves against.”(236) The bareness of the desert creates a tone of loneliness for the audience. At no point in the novel can the audience see inside the characters head but the audience can feel that the gang is lonely too by the emptiness created by the desert.

McCarthy’s used symbolism to allude back to his ultimate thematic idea of the “Wild West.” This enabled the reader to tie the diverse plot together. There are several instances where symbolism is alluded back to McCarthy’s ultimate goal, but none was more evident than in the character known as the Judge. In the name itself it is led to believe that he is above everyone else. The Judge is the most intelligent member of the Glanton Gang and seems to always have a way around every situation and explanation for every terrible event. The cunny and almost mystical characteristics of the judge alludes to the symbolism that he represents, the devil. The judge symbolizes the picture perfect image of a “Wild West” bandit. He is cunning, ruthless, and generally overall badass. His philosophical take on life is that god is war and that the human race was designed to constantly be at war. The judge claims that to “Seen so, war is the truest form of divination... War is the ultimate game because war is at last a forcing of the unity of existence. War is god.” (261) The judge represents everything in the novel that is cold, heartless, and ruthless. There are several allusions between the judge and the devil but it is never more clear than in the final scene when it is said that “Towering over them all is the judge and he is naked dancing... He never sleeps, he says. He says he’ll never die. He bows to the fiddlers and sashays backwards and throws back his head and laughs deep in his throat and he is a great favorite, the judge.” (348) The judge being the only one who survives the novel is alluded to the devil by the evil and ruthlessness that lives inside him and in the “Wild West”. Anyone with a conscious in the novel is dead.

In conclusion, Blood Meridian is the ultimate book on the “Wild West.” McCarthy completes the image of the “Wild West” by his strategic use of point of view, imagery, and symbolism throughout the novel without missing a step. Every page is thought out and carefully planned to depict the perfect image of what it is like to be a scalphunter in the 1850s. After reading the novel, one would be easily convinced that the “Wild West” was a very dangerous and cruel place to journey through and not to be taken lightly.
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raflesher3, April 2, 2014 (view all comments by raflesher3)
Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy is a novel set in the west during the mid-1800’s. The novel is based on historical events that took place on the Texas-Mexico border, following the Kid from a very young age as he soon finds himself in a harsh and unforgiving world. Blood Meridian focuses on the harsh life of the Kid, as he battles nature’s elements, betrayal, and lives the life of a scalp hunter. This works to explore the theme of the difference between living violently (the Kid), and living insanely as portrayed by Judge Holden and others. Through the blood and gore, Blood Meridian was a book that I thoroughly enjoyed. The never ending action and conflict throughout the novel makes for a messy but enticing read. In Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian, McCarthy uses imagery and third person limited to tell a blunt tale of the unforgiving wild west during the mid-1800s. He utilizes these tools to further comment on the difference between living violently as a necessary evil and living insanely.
Blood Meridian follows the Kid through a time of great conflict in the wild west. In the novel, the Kid joins a section of the army on a mission to settle a land dispute between the U.S. and Mexico, and later joins a band of scalp hunters. In the band of scalp hunters, there are two men that I see as insane; Judge Holden and Glanton. In the novel, there are scenes of the scalp hunters killing babies, drowning dogs, making a sport of killing, to feed their thirst for violence. While the Kid is in the scalp hunting gang with these savages, he doesn’t have the thirst for killing that Holden and Glanton have. The Kid doesn’t have near the thirst for killing like his fellow scalp hunters, Holden and Glanton. The Kid is morally strong in comparison to his leaders. McCarthy uses the difference of the Kid and his leaders to create an interesting dynamic between them, specifically the Kid and Judge Holden. This is the relationship that the author utilizes to explore the theme in the novel.
McCarthy works to explore the theme of differentiating between living violently as a necessary evil and living insanely through emphasizing Glanton’s and Holden’s savage personalities and exposing the Kid’s ‘morality’. Throughout the novel, it is made clear that the Judge and Glanton kill for the sport of killing. At one point in the book, the Judge gathers a young Apache boy and has him ride on his saddle. As if to feed his thirst for killing, the Judge kills the boy and then scalps him. “Toadvine saw him with the child as he passed with his saddle but when he came back ten minutes later leading his horse the child was dead and the judge had scalped it”(170), and after questioning the judge “smiled and wiped the scalp on the leg of his trousers” (171) as if to have acquired a fix for his addiction. This is one example out of many savagery acts Judge Holden displays himself with. “But the judge had set forth, dogs dangling. He crossed upon the stone bridge and he looked down into the swollen waters and raised the dogs and pitched them in” (201), the Judge then watches as another man shoots the dogs in the water. McCarthy uses imagery in this example to make the dogs seem helpless and the Judge seem brutal. In comparison to the Judge, the Kid is a moral figure in the novel. When the Judge is looking to kill Tobin and the Kid, the Kid passes up the chance to kill the Judge even though the Judge has betrayed him. “The expriest raised himself slightly and looked at the kid. The kid lowered the hammer of the pistol” (311). This shows that the Kid doesn’t want to kill the Judge even though the Judge has intentions of killing Tobin and the Kid. The Judge wouldn’t have hesitated on the trigger, while the kid does not want to betray the Judge and unnecessarily kill someone. Unfortunately for the Kid, the Judge ends up killing him, thus proving the Judge’s insanity and sheer violence. Although the reader doesn’t exactly know what the Kid is thinking because of the third person point of view, one can assume that the Kid uses his morality more than the Judge.
Overall, Blood Meridian was an exciting and enticing novel to read. The book successfully achieved its goal of illustrating the life of a ruff and rugged cowboy/scalp hunter of the wild west. The novel focuses on both the unforgiving people and the unforgiving setting of the story. An idea suggested by the book was that the treacherous terrain, unpredictable weather, and the lifestyle of a scalp hunter, has made the Kid an animal. While the Kid is lost, he sees a burning tree with animals gathered around the fire. I think this comments on the fact that at this moment, the Kid is no longer a human, but an animal surviving the harsh elements. McCarthy effectively uses imagery to expose the harsh reality of the killings and emphasize the savage-like instincts that the scalp hunters had. Written in the third person, the novel is fairly blunt and it is sometimes tough to get a read on the thoughts and feelings of subdued characters such as the Kid. This is why I think it would have been interesting to see the story through the Kid’s perspective, to truly understand his thoughts and the rationale behind the things he does.
In conclusion, Cormac McCarthy uses the imagery and the third person to tell a blunt tale of the unforgiving wild west during the mid-1800s. He utilizes these tools to further comment on the difference between living violently as a necessary evil and living insanely. Through events in the novel, I think it is clear that the Judge is violently insane, while the Kid at least possesses a fiber of morality. McCarthy uses imagery beautifully to describe the setting and the rough lives of these scalp hunters, while using the third person to emphasize the shallowness and the characters cold-bloodedness.
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Derek_fuhrmann, April 2, 2014 (view all comments by Derek_fuhrmann)
Blood Meridian, Cormac McCarthy Critique
Cormac McCarthy’s novel, Blood Meridian is known as one of the bloodiest books in American literature, and with good reason. As you could expect, this novel is all about blood. Violence is the key theme in this story, and it can be found everywhere. Readers are thrown into the south immediately, following a fourteen year old boy from Tennessee and shadowing his adventures. What starts off as a Mexican hunt in the name of America quickly turns into an Indian scalping party. The boy meets characters like Glanton and other indian hunters as they embark on their journey. As the prices for scalps rise in Mexico, the prices on the party members’ heads do too. This struggle creates endless violence as the young boy tries to cope in the “wild west”.
Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian is set in the south, similar to All the Pretty Horses and several of his other novels. This depiction of the “wild west” is common in his books, and portrays what life was really like past the stereotypical cowboy. This novel takes place in the year 1847, which is right in the middle of the Mexican-American War. Because of this time period, the American’s don’t receive the warmest welcome in Mexican villages. McCarthy depicts this real, historical struggle by placing countless bar fights and skirmishes between the Mexicans and Americans in his novel. Another important element of this setting is the barren-like deserts that make up Mexico. Throughout the novel, the scalping party finds itself venturing for days on end through hot, dry landscapes. This not only captures the geography of the real Wild West, but also represents the emptiness and struggle these men faced in a conflicted Mexico. During 1847, it was common for Indians to be discriminated against as their land was invaded by settlers. Because of this, the Apaches and other Indian groups make an appearance in this novel and are very hostile to both Mexicans and Americans.
There are a couple main points of focus that are made prevalent in Blood Meridian. One big theme of this novel is the battle against evil, and morality in general. In such a dangerous, free-for-all setting like the Wild West, all morals seem to be crooked. There is a character known as the Judge that symbolizes the devil and evil itself. This character is constantly running into the kid, and has poor morals. In a land where killing is solved by more killing, morals seem to be nonexistent. Every character in this novel is arguably immoral, yet both sides think they are just in killing the other group. Another big idea in this novel is coming of age. As the kid goes farther south, he is metaphorically descending to hell. As the kid comes up however, he has the knowledge of someone older than himself, and has learned valuable lessons about life which changes his character. Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, violence is found everywhere in this novel. From bar fights to scalping parties, this book has violence on every page. McCarthy creates this violence to illustrate what life was really like back in the Wild West, proving that it didn’t get its name for nothing. McCarthy is able to create this violence using various literary techniques.
McCarthy effectively uses literary elements such as imagery and point of view to create the theme of violence throughout Blood Meridian. By creating vivid scenes of skirmishes and slaughters, McCarthy is able to portray violence. Imagery such as
“One of the Delawares emerged from the smoke with a naked infant dangling in each hand and squatted at a ring of midden stones and swung them by the heels each in turn and bashed their heads against the stones so that the brains burst forth through the fontanel in a bloody spew…”
creates graphic pictures in the readers mind and enhances the violence. This novel is also in a third person point of view, so the reader sees more violence then just one character would see. This point of view also requires the reader to fill in the thoughts of characters.
Overall, this book is a great read for anyone seeking a thrilling, violence driven story. McCarthy’s genius writing style portrays what the real Wild West was really like, along with the time period of 1847. This book is a great read because it contains several symbols and references that add to the meaning of the story. For Wild West fanatics, this novel is an absolute gold mine. If you get queasy at the thought of blood, you may want to pick another book, but if you love your daily dose of violence, then this book is the right pick for you.
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Product Details

ISBN:
9780679641049
Author:
McCarthy, Cormac
Publisher:
Modern Library
Introduction by:
Bloom, Harold
Introduction:
Bloom, Harold
Author:
Bloom, Harold
Location:
New York
Subject:
Indians of north america
Subject:
Historical - General
Subject:
Teenage boys
Subject:
Historical fiction
Subject:
General Fiction
Subject:
Literature-A to Z
Subject:
Literary
Subject:
fiction;western;novel;literature;violence;american;mexico;historical fiction;20th century;american literature;texas;usa;american west;america;historical;history;horror;war;native americans;american fiction;literary fiction;contemporary;violent;mccarthy;19
Subject:
fiction;western;novel;literature;violence;american;mexico;historical fiction;20th century;american literature;texas;usa;american west;america;historical;history;horror;war;native americans;american fiction;literary fiction;contemporary;violent;mccarthy;19
Copyright:
Edition Number:
Modern Library ed.
Edition Description:
Modern Library Hardcover
Series:
Modern Library (Hardcover)
Series Volume:
95-2
Publication Date:
20010131
Binding:
HARDCOVER
Grade Level:
General/trade
Language:
English
Illustrations:
1 MAP
Pages:
384
Dimensions:
7.50x5.10x1.01 in. .83 lbs.

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Blood Meridian: Or the Evening Redness in the West (Modern Library) New Hardcover
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Product details 384 pages Modern Library - English 9780679641049 Reviews:
"Review" by , "McCarthy is a writer to be read, to be admired, and quite honestly — envied."
"Review" by , "McCarthy is a born narrator, and his writing has, line by line, the stab of actuality. He is here to stay."
"Review" by , "A classic American novel of regeneration through violence....McCarthy can only be compared to our greatest writers."
"Synopsis" by , First published by Random House in 1985, Blood Meridian is the book that firmly established Cormac McCarthy as an American master — one who is, according to Michael Herr, among "our greatest writers, with Melville and Faulkner".

Based loosely on historical accounts of murder along the border between Texas and Mexico in the 1850s, the novel features a classic McCarthy reluctant hero: the Kid, a fourteen-year-old boy from Tennessee who sees more about the true nature of the West than he ever hopes to witness. A cult classic when published originally, Blood Meridian now stands squarely as part of American literature.

"Synopsis" by , "The fulfilled renown of Moby-Dick and of As I Lay Dying is augmented by Blood Meridian, since Cormac McCarthy is the worthy disciple both of Melville and Faulkner," writes esteemed literary scholar Harold Bloom in his Introduction to the Modern Library edition. "I venture that no other living American novelist, not even Pynchon, has given us a book as strong and memorable."

Cormac McCarthy's masterwork, Blood Meridian, chronicles the brutal world of the Texas-Mexico borderlands in the mid-nineteenth century. Its wounded hero, the teenage Kid, must confront the extraordinary violence of the Glanton gang, a murderous cadre on an official mission to scalp Indians and sell those scalps. Loosely based on fact, the novel represents a genius vision of the historical West, one so fiercely realized that since its initial publication in 1985 the canon of American literature has welcomed Blood Meridian to its shelf.

"A classic American novel of regeneration through violence," declares Michael Herr. "McCarthy can only be compared to our greatest writers."

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