Study Guide

Blood Meridian What's Up With the Epigraph?

By Cormac McCarthy

What's Up With the Epigraph?

"Your ideas are terrifying and your hearts are faint. Your acts of pity and cruelty are absurd, committed with no calm, as if they were irresistible. Finally, you fear blood more and more. Blood and time" –Paul Valéry

"It is not to be thought that the life of darkness is sunk in misery and lost as if in sorrowing. There is no sorrowing. For sorrow is a thing that is swallowed up in death, and death and dying are the very life of the darkness" –Jacob Boehme

"Clark, who led last year's expedition to the Afar region of northern Ethiopia, and UC Berkeley colleague Tim D. White, also said that a re-examination of a 300,000-year-old fossil skull found in the same region earlier showed evidence of having been scalped" –The Yuma Daily Sun, June 13, 1982

Talk about bang for your buck. Cormac McCarthy gives us not one, not two, but three full epigraphs to start off Blood Meridian? But what can they tell us about the book, you ask? Let's take a look…

The first quote from French poet Paul Valéry might as well be spoken directly to Glanton in Blood Meridian. Glanton has a dark heart and he murders people as though it were impossible for him to resist. But over time, we can see cracks emerge in Glanton's tortured brain. He stares into his campfire at night and thinks about all the people he's killed and all his comrades who've died. But he always tried to put up a tough exterior until his mind eventually starts to go on him. At this point, Glanton knows that his end will come some day. And to this extent, he's afraid of blood and time just like Valéry says.

The second quote from Jacob Boehme tells us not to comfort ourselves with the thought that cruel people are secretly living a life of sadness. The truth is that they're probably enjoying their lives of sin way more than we're enjoying our normal, non-murderous lives. So next time we see a bully, there's no comfort to be found in thinking, "Oh, well he's sad deep down." Nope. That bully loves the fact that he's bigger than people and he simply enjoys hurting others.

The final quote from the Yuma Daily Sun tells us of a modern team of archaeologists who found evidence that a human skull from 300,000 years ago had been scalped. Or in other words, the practice of scalping has never been unique to any single culture. Scalping is a practice that's part of all human history, not just Aboriginal history. Although to be fair, people have still used it to stereotype Native Americans for hundreds of years, even though the practice was just as common among white American settlers.

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