Academic journal article The Southern Literary Journal

The Kid's Fate, the Judge's Guilt: Ramifications of Closure in Cormac McCarthy's Blood Meridian

Academic journal article The Southern Literary Journal

The Kid's Fate, the Judge's Guilt: Ramifications of Closure in Cormac McCarthy's Blood Meridian

Article excerpt

Except for a brief Epilogue, Cormac McCarthy's Blood Meridian: Or the Evening Redness in the West closes in a privy outside a saloon in Griffin, Texas. This jakes episode is the retrospective map to many of the obscure chasms and canyons of McCarthy's vast imaginative landscape:

... Then he [the kid] opened the rough board door of the jakes and stepped in.

The judge was seated upon the closet. He was naked and he rose up smiling and gathered him in his arms against his immense and terrible flesh and shot the wooden barlatch home behind him.

In the saloon two men who wanted to buy the hide were looking for the owner of the bear. The bear lay on the stage in an immense pool of blood. All the candles had gone out save one and it guttered uneasily in its grease like a votive lamp. In the dancehall a young man had joined the fiddler and he kept the measure of the music with a pair of spoons which he clapped between his knees. The whores sashayed half naked, some with their breasts exposed. In the mudded dogyard behind the premises two men went down the boards toward the jakes. A third man was standing there urinating into the mud.

Is someone in there?

I wouldn't go in.

He hitched himself up and buttoned his trousers and stepped past them and went up the walk toward the lights. The first man watched him go and then opened the door of the jakes.

Good God almighty, he said.

What is it?

He didn't answer. He stepped past the other and went back up the walk. The other man stood looking after him. Then he opened the door and looked in. (333-334)

The narrative focus then shifts from the jakes, and the episode closes with two paragraphs, one describing an immense semi-nude prostitute and the other judge Holden dancing naked and saying that he will never die.

The prevailing interpretation of this enigmatic scene is that Holden simply murders the unsuspecting kid. In The Achievement of Cormac McCarthy, Vereen M. Bell concludes that the judge is a "murderer of innocents--of a Mexican boy, of an Indian girl, of a mere puppy, and of the kid.... "(134). In "Fate and Free Will on the American Frontier: Cormac McCarthy's Western Fiction," Tom Pilkington states that the kid's death "is presided over by Judge Holden, a bloated angel of war and death" (317). John Emil Sepich in "The Dance of History in Cormac McCarthy's Blood Meridian" states that the kid "meets death in an outhouse in Griffin, Texas, in 1878 at the hands of a former compatriot named Judge Holden" (16) and predicates his thesis upon the "motive behind the murder" (18). Other critics who have-confronted McCarthy's blood epic, though not directly mentioning the kid's death, seem implicitly to agree that Holden kills the anonymous kid in the Griffin "jakes."

While these critics offer insights into other elements of McCarthy's complex novel, to conclude peremptorily that the judge kills the kid overlooks several crucial issues that interfuse the narrative and that McCarthy wants to articulate in the jakes episode. The text convincingly supports the hypothesis that the kid's death is not the crucial issue and that the judge's essential motivation is to assault the kid sexually. Significant economic, social, and psychoerotic motifs in the narrative are clarified as a result of an act which for the kid is a fate worse than death.

Because the subtitled evening redness is blood and not romantic sunsets, any analysis of the pivotal jakes scene must commence with a brief clarification of the phenomenal violence that governs Blood Meridian. McCarthy has made his own philosophy of violence rather clear:

   There's no such thing as life without bloodshed.... I think the notion that
   the species can be improved in some way, that everyone could live in
   harmony, is a really dangerous idea. Those who are afflicted with this
   notion are the first ones to give up their souls, their freedom. … 
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