Study Guide

Blood Meridian Violence

By Cormac McCarthy

Violence

"A rattling drove of arrows passed through the company and men tottered and dropped from their mounts" (4.79).

We get one of our first tastes of brutal violence in chapter 4 of this book, when a band of Apaches attacks the small army of Captain White and brutally wipes them out. And you'd better get ready for a whole lot more.

"In this container with hair afloat and eyes turned upward in a pale face sat a human head" (5.159).

Hey, that's not a pickle. Yup, the Mexicans have chopped off Captain White's head and put it in a jar. They might just enjoy the spectacle of it, but the gesture is no doubt a warning to any other white Americans who plan on messing with Mexico.

"The cat simply disappeared. There was no blood or cry, it just vanished" (7.4).

McCarthy is a fan of big guns, and so is the character Glanton. In this scene, we expect a lot of blood and gore when Glanton shoots a cat. But his gun is so powerful that the cat just disappears. When you think about it, there's something so much more violent about this image, as though the gun simply wiped the cat from existence altogether. Poor kitty.

"He pointed with his left hand and she turned to follow his hand with her gaze and he put the pistol to her head and fired" (7.177).

Glanton doesn't pick and choose when it comes to killing Aboriginal people. In this scene, he comes across an old, isolated Aboriginal woman and shoots her in the head because he can get money for her scalp. Grandma never even stood a chance.

"Blood, he said. This country is give much blood. This Mexico. This is a thirsty country. The blood of a thousand Christs. Nothing" (8.34).

The old Mexican man in the bar knows that a lot of blood has been shed in Mexico. But at the end of the day, he believes that all of this blood makes any future death seem unimportant. In other words, people are so used to brutal violence that it barely even upsets them anymore. Let's not forget that the old man says this even while his son sits behind him dying from a stab wound.

"The white man looked up drunkenly and the black stepped forward and with a single stroke swapt off his head" (8.81).

John Jackson has had enough of his fellow cowboy's racism. So he just gets up and chops the guy's head off with a single stroke of his knife. That's how you settle a disagreement in this book, apparently.

"Before the last poor n—r reached the bottom of the slope there was fifty-eight of them lay slaughtered among the gravels" (10.78).

The violence in this book is almost always mixed with some sort of racism. Sometimes it's enough to make you want to put the book down. But eventually it all gets so excessive that the violence almost gets kind of boring. And that's exactly the kind of thing McCarthy wants to confront you with—your own boredom at the suffering of others. Kind of creepy, right?

"The man as they rode turned black in the sun from the blood on their clothes and their faces and then paled slowly in the rising dust until they assumed once more the color of the land through which they passed" (12.53).

In a symbolic moment, the blood on the riders' clothes makes them blend in with the color of the red and black land around them. It's almost as if their violence has brought them to a more primal and essential kind of humanity. It's almost as if they are more connected to the land because of their violence. But now we have to do the tough work of deciding the bigger implications of what this means.

"In three days they would fall upon a band of peaceful Tiguas camped on the river and slaughter them every soul" (13.17).

Glanton's group comes across a group of peaceful Aboriginals and slaughters every last one of them. Just because.

"They rode up into the dripping hills and in the first light Brown raised the rifle and shot the boy through the back of the head (19.81).

A young soldier helps David Brown escape from prison, and David Brown thanks him by shooting him in the back of the head. Then again, most of us could probably see this coming, even if the soldier couldn't. You don't trust folks in the world of Blood Meridian.

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