By Benjamin Davis ’26
What makes a properly written plot? A story? An entire book, even? Any requirements that one may think of when asked these questions are thrown away entirely in Blood Meridian. Lacking any sort of obvious antagonist, major personality development, end goal or proper punctuation, Cormac McCarthy’s critically acclaimed novel utilizes a grueling, tedious narrative to tell a gory tale in America’s Wild West. It follows an unnamed protagonist simply known as “The Kid,” who embarks on a multitude of crusades throughout Mexico and Texas, skirmishing many who seek to hamper his journey. Though it covers many themes, one key concept falls completely under Blood Meridian’s domain: man’s aptitude for raw, uncensored violence, and the villainy that accompanies it.
Leading a nomadic, undetermined lifestyle, The Kid finds himself traveling under a company led by John Joel Glanton and Judge Holden (each based on real-life historical figures), two scalp-hunting mercenaries apparently seeking wealth, but innately striving for glory. With utter disregard for virtue, honor, or loyalty, the band ravages innocent civilians. Compared to Holden, each character is flat, uneducated, and basic; “The Judge,” as he is known, commands a unique presence. Seven feet tall, devoid of pigmentation, and hairless, The Judge is otherworldly not only by appearance, but by nature, too; ubiquity and intellect define his essence, and he consistently preaches a philosophical nihilism justifying his affinity for aggression. Though the epic technically centers around The Kid, most of Blood Meridian is focused on The Judge, and his overall perspective on existence.
Holden, in his entirety, should be interpreted metaphorically – in fact, McCarthy encourages the reader to do so simply by portraying him as inhuman; unkillable, even. The Judge, expressing a desire to become Earth’s “suzerain,” personifies pure war and its callous, savage horror. In his view, the universe is an abyss of sorts, and the greatest way to instill it with meaning is with acts that “wager one’s life.” Though not an antagonist in a traditional sense, he stands against any morality that The Kid, at his core, possesses, which results in an eventual conflict. In this demonic illustration of The Judge, McCarthy heavily warns against adopting a Machiavellian ideology, citing the suffering it causes others.
The uncanny structure, graphic butchery, and total dreariness of the saga all allude to its lesson on opposing evil. Judge Holden’s embodiment of sin hits home even further when he seems immortal – demonstrating that wickedness, just like him, will “never die.” The Kid is a beacon of righteousness in this murk of ignobility; though he belongs to a vile community of corruption, he is benign to the best of his ability to survive. Blood Meridian, at its crux, is not a surface-level journal, but a lesson of maintaining decent justice when confronted with the temptation of sacrilege.