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Depravity and Destruction in Blood Meridian

Depravity and Destruction in Blood Meridian

Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian is a passionate, lyrical, and ugly novel of depravity and destruction of life in the Old West. It is a story of a hellish journey where violence and corruption are currency in a life of murder and treachery. Contrasting scenes of scenic beauty, poetically described by McCarthy, are negated by his gruesome accounts of despicable scenes of human cruelty in the examination of evil.

Like all of McCarthy’s earlier novels, Blood Meridian (1985) had a lukewarm arrival to the literary world in the sense of sales and publicity, in part due to McCarthy’s own aversion to self-promotion (Woodward 28). Yet critics and scholars were captivated by the mindless violence of the story and its tale of deceit, genocide, and gruesome realities set around the US-Mexico border in the 1840’s (James 31). Blood Meridian, McCarthy’s fifth book, was received with a variety of reactions from critics. Terence Moran, though finding McCarthy’s writing to be “evocative,” believed the author “failed in Blood Meridian to retell a simple Western in his haunting, original voice” (37). Conversely, Steven Shaviro wrote, “Cormac McCarthy, the solitary poet of his exultation, is our greatest living author…[this novel] manifests a sublime visionary power that is matched only by a still more ferocious irony” (144).

This novel, due to its candid narration of barbarous events, prevails as one of a few books which challenge traditional molds of literature. Not a story of the redeemable antagonist or the helpless victim, Blood Meridian blurs the lines of sanctity and depravity in this lawless and demoralized land. This examination of the most unimaginable e…

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…stence in a world of depravity that seems foreign to the reader, but is all too normal in the world created in the book (147).

As the novel tells of the kid’s appalling journey, much of the action seen is centered around Judge Holden. The mysterious, malignant man varies in interpretation from godlike to child-like. Many critics have commented on Holden’s manipulative power, ability to remain unchanged by years, and his appearance in several places at what seems the same time. Many lines are drawn between Judge Holden and the devil (Wallach 125).

Though not a literary success in terms of book sales and overall recognition, Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian tells and intriguing story in a light in which the Old West is rarely seen. Conscienceless violence, devil-like characters, and breathtaking scenery fill this novel uninhibited by morality or rectitude.

The Setting of Blood Meridian

Cormac McCarthy’s setting in Blood Meridian is a landscape of endless and diverse beauty. McCarthy highlights the surprising beauty of combinations of scrubby plants, jagged rock, and the fused auburn and crimson colors of the fiery wasteland that frame this nightmarish novel. Various descriptions, from the desolate to the scenic, feature McCarthy’s highly wrought, lyrical prose. Such descriptions of the divine landscape seem to serve a dual function. While being an isolated highlight to this gruesome novel, McCarthy’s beautiful setting also serves as an intricate device in defining the novel’s themes and creating the reality in which it is set.

Apart from the novel’s thematic development, McCarthy’s setting and his detailed description of the ornate beauty of the desert southwest is deserving of praise. A lyrical quality and refined beauty are apparent in the novel’s description. McCarthy’s extended accounts of the pristine beauty of the desert can be seen as an artistic and visually appealing piece work apart from the plot of the novel. Such memorable accounts seem to be a lone highlight in a shockingly disturbing book (Moran 37).

By noon they had begun to climb toward the gap in the mountains. Riding up through the lavender or soapweed, under the Animas peaks. The shadow of an eagle that had set forth from the line of riders below and they looked up to mark it where it rode in that brittle blue and faultless void. In the evening they came out to upon a mesa that overlooked all the country to the north… The crumpled butcher paper mountains lay in sharp shadowfold under the long blue dusk and in the middle distance the glazed bed of a dry lake lay shimmering like the mare imbrium. (168)

Such highly-developed and…

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…n there are no limitations of morality or law. A comparison of man’s fruitless journey is described as “they move like migrants under a drifting star and their track across the land reflected in its faint arcature the movements of the earth itself” (McCarthy 153). Thus, the setting powerfully influences the novel’s theme and its characters rather than being a detached element of the narrative (147).

Cormac McCarthy’s brilliant descriptions of the landscape of the desert southwest in Blood Meridian can be seen to have a dual purpose. In one sense they are the lone highlight of a novel filled with gruesome realities. In analyzing the setting’s features and connections to the novel’s plot and theme, the reader can see that the setting is an element vital in plausibility of the plot and the understanding of the novel’s underlying meaning.

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