Study Guide

Blood Meridian Themes

  • Madness

    Riding around drunk in the burning hot sun all day and constantly under the threat of guerilla warfare is enough to drive any person crazy, but the question Blood Meridian keeps asking us is: where do we draw the line between pure craziness and the violence that every sane person has inside themselves? Are Glanton and his gang truly crazy for riding around and murdering a bunch of people, or are they just self-interested and totally devoid of compassion? You need to be the judge. Well, scratch that. The judge character needs to be the judge. You need to be the reader… oh, you know what we mean.

    Questions About Madness

    1. Do you think there's any particular character in this book who's crazy, or is everyone crazy? Why?
    2. In a world as brutal as that of Blood Meridian, where do you draw the line between sane and insane? Can you?
    3. Do you think that the judge is crazy? Why or why not?

    Chew on This

    In Blood Meridian, we learn that "crazy" is a relative term and that something that's crazy in one culture can be completely sane in another.

    Blood Meridian shows us that there's no hope for survival for people who don't have at least a little craziness in them.

  • Race

    When you have a 350-page book that's all about white Americans, Mexicans, and Aboriginal people killing each other, you can bet that race is going to be a central theme in what's going on. No one in this book seems to care who started the conflicts between these three groups, but everyone seems pretty interested in ending things by wiping out their enemies. Glanton, for example, seems like he won't be happy until he's killed every last Aboriginal person in the world. Uh…good luck with that, dude. On the other hand, the Aboriginals and Mexicans both want Glanton dead for all the trouble he's caused, yet the Mexicans don't like the Aboriginal people either. So it really just turns into one giant knot of racism that usually ends in death.

    Questions About Race

    1. Why does Captain White have such a deep hatred for Mexicans? Please support your answer with evidence from the text.
    2. Why do the Mexicans offer a bounty on the scalps of Apaches? How do they know the scalps people bring in actually belong to Apaches? Do they know at all?
    3. Are there any instances in this book where Glanton's gang gets along with any other race? Where?
    4. How do the white John Jackson and the black John Jackson sort out their differences?

    Chew on This

    In Blood Meridian, we learn that racial hatred is like a grease fire. The more water you throw on it, the more it'll spread.

    Blood Meridian shows us that racism tends to exist in people who already have tons of other flaws. It usually doesn't appear in people who are otherwise good and moral.

  • Religion

    No matter what McCarthy book you read, you'll always come across the question of God in one way or another. In Blood Meridian, McCarthy constantly asks us to think about whether there is any God and, if there is one, whether this God cares about human suffering. Furthermore, we must ask ourselves: if there is no God, then is there no such thing as morality? This is a tough question, especially when you're asking it while watching people slaughter one another for more than 300 pages. But these are the tough questions we need to ask ourselves if we're going to move forward as a civilization.

    Questions About Religion

    1. Do you think Blood Meridian ultimately supports the idea of God? Why? Why not?
    2. What does the judge mean when he says that God speaks through rocks and bones? Please use evidence from the text to support your answers.
    3. Do you think the judge is Satan? Is he some sort of immortal demon? What evidence do we have to support either suggestion?
    4. Do you think McCarthy intends for Blood Meridian to shake people's faith in religion or to reinforce it?

    Chew on This

    In Blood Meridian, we see that with all the violence and hatred in the world, there's no way God could exist.

    Blood Meridian shows us that God probably does exist, but doesn't care about us or our problems all that much.

  • Alcohol and Drugs

    With all of the horrible suffering and physical discomfort that comes with living in the desert, you can sure bet that the characters in this book like to drink away their problems whenever they get the chance. Now Blood Meridian isn't the first book to tell us about Wild West saloons and it sure won't be the last. But the saloon and drinking scenes in this book are especially vivid because we're super aware of all the horror that people are trying to escape from when they drink. In this case, alcohol is a lot like medicine for a bunch of guys who are right on the edge of madness every second of the day. You know what they say—candy is dandy, but liquor is quicker.

    Questions About Alcohol and Drugs

    1. Do you think that alcoholism is more forgivable in this book because of the harsh world the characters have to live in? Why or why not?
    2. In what moments does the kid turn to liquor? Do you see any pattern? Please use evidence from the text to support your answer.
    3. Are there any times when alcohol leaves a character vulnerable? Where? What does it teach us about booze?

    Chew on This

    In Blood Meridian, we learn that alcohol provides an escape from a horrible reality.

    In Blood Meridian, alcohol is a type of slow death that's in partnership with the quick death of battle.

  • Violence

    If you want to start a conversation about Blood Meridian, you're pretty safe in saying that it's a violent book. Don't believe us? Take a look for yourself. Everywhere you look in this book, you'll see someone getting stabbed or shot or killed in a hundred other brutal ways. And the question you're always left asking is "Why?" Well most of the characters in this book (who are all men, by the way) don't have a clear answer for you. The judge, on the other hand, has a whole philosophical view of the world that celebrates violence as a productive force. For the judge violence is great because death is beautiful and the only way for new life to grow is to clear away all the old life. When you read Cormac McCarthy's writing, there's definitely some beauty there even in the most violent moments. But that doesn't mean you have to agree with the judge.

    Questions About Violence

    1. At which point do you realize that the violence in this book will never let up? Why?
    2. Why do people keep killing each other in this book? Is it about self-preservation or do people actually enjoy it?
    3. Do we ever catch a glimpse of a world other than the violent one McCarthy puts in front of us? If so, where?
    4. Does the violence in this book shake your faith in human nature? Why or why not?

    Chew on This

    In Blood Meridian, McCarthy shows us that the only way for humanity to move forward is through brutal violence.

    Blood Meridian shows us that no matter what the main characters might think, violence never accomplishes anything other than the production of more violence in an endless, pointless circle.

  • Man and the Natural World

    There are few writers who can describe a landscape as vividly as Cormac McCarthy. But the dude isn't describing the land just for its own sake. Throughout this book, McCarthy gives us the sense that the landscape of Mexico and the Southwestern U.S. is thirsty for blood and that it'll never be satisfied. Further, the people in this book who commit the most murder seem to blend in and connect with the land more than people who try to act civilized. In the end, there's a primal connection in this book between violence and the blood-red sand of the desert. The thing that we then need to figure out is what this means for humanity and for civilization moving forward.

    Questions About Man and the Natural World

    1. Do you think McCarthy's descriptions of the landscape are effective, or just overblown and repetitive? Why?
    2. What do you think the connection is between the violence in this book and the landscape of Mexico and the Southwest U.S.? Is there something inherently violent about these areas?
    3. What do you make of the title of this book? What is a meridian and how is a "blood meridian" connected to McCarthy's descriptions of nature?
    4. Do you think this book shows too cruel a treatment of animals? Do you think it encourages a lack of respect for animals? Why or why not?

    Chew on This

    In Blood Meridian, we confront a world in which nature itself seems to endorse all of the horrible acts of violence we read about.

    In Blood Meridian, it's not as though nature is good or evil. It simply doesn't care.

  • Sex

    It's true that sex doesn't show up all the time in Blood Meridian. But this is the Wild West we're talking about, so you're bound to get some tavern scenes with prostitutes and barmaids. What makes sex such an important theme in this book is that whenever it does show up, it reminds you just how dude-centric this book is. And we're not calling McCarthy out for that. Rather, McCarthy seems to use these scenes to remind readers that men weren't the only people who existed in the old west. The problem is that women were often reduced to the role of mother or prostitute. What gives?

    Questions About Sex

    1. Where does sex tend to be mentioned in this book? Why?
    2. Do you think sex in this book is treated the same way as alcohol (as an escape), or do you think McCarthy explores the possibility of meaningful sexual relationships between people?
    3. With all the violence and brutality of this book, are you surprised that McCarthy doesn't show more sexual abuse or violence? Do you think he holds back on this type of violence? Why or why not?

    Chew on This

    In Blood Meridian, Cormac McCarthy shows us that hiding behind the obvious violence between men is a much more long-term sexual violence toward women.

    In Blood Meridian, McCarthy treats sex as just one of the many terrible things that the men in this book engage in.

  • Family

    The kid decides to leave his family behind when he's only in his mid-teens. Meanwhile, Glanton has a family in America that he'll never see again because he's wanted by the law and he's dedicated himself to a life of murdering and stealing. Yup, it'd be nice to think that family can offer some sort of comfort in the cold, cruel world of Blood Meridian. But it never appears as a realistic option. Nope, McCarthy's message seems to be, "If you allow yourself to get attached to anything or anyone, you're just setting yourself up for a big disappointment when they die (which they will)." It looks like the only way to avoid sadness in Blood Meridian is to make sure you die before your loved ones do.

    Questions About Family

    1. Why do you think the kid leaves his family at the beginning of this book? Is there any specific evidence for his motives?
    2. Is there any mention of anyone's family in Glanton's gang? Where? What des it tells us about the character?
    3. Do you think of Glanton's gang as one big family? How do they look out for each other? How do they not?

    Chew on This

    In Blood Meridian, we learn that family is a luxury that people in harsh circumstances can't afford.

    In Blood Meridian, family is just an empty concept meant to protect the weaklings of society.