Academic journal article Spatial Practices

Blood Meridian

Academic journal article Spatial Practices

Blood Meridian

Article excerpt

Blood Meridian is McCarthy's fifth novel and the first to take place in the deserts of the Southwest, a change from the Tennessee novels of his early period. It is also McCarthy's only text to be set in the nineteenth century. In many ways, Blood Meridian lays the groundwork for The Border Trilogy (novels six through eight) because it chronicles the closing of the frontier and the beginning of the end of cowboy life.1

This chapter is organized in the following way: I will first give a brief summary of Blood Meridian. This is followed by an analysis of the way in which the text depicts the environment. This is necessarily complex because though the text represents wilderness according to dystopian traditions, the text simultaneously challenges many of the binaries we use to talk about nature, for example, the wild and the civilized. Next, I will analyze the speech and action of one of the chief protagonists of the novel, Judge Holden, who proclaims a caricatured Enlightenment view of nature as a machine meant to serve 'man'. Finally, I explore the main tension of the novel, one that is key for this chapter and this book as a whole; it is the tension between the exploitative view of nature represented by Judge Holden and the disastrous consequences to which such a view leads; this is most clearly perceived in the text's epilogue which describes the ecological catastrophe that accompanied the closing of the frontier.

Let us begin with a brief synopsis of the text. Blood Meridian recounts the adventures of the Kid, a sixteen-year-old illiterate from Tennessee who wanders south into Mexico in the mid nineteenth century, eventually joining up with various mercenary bands. One such band contracts out to some of the Mexican cities in the states of Chihuahua and Sonora whose leaders, desperate to stop Indian raids, were paying as much as (the equivalent of) 200 dollars for a scalp from an Indian brave. However, the narrative seems to lose sight of the Kid throughout much of the scalp hunters' travels in Mexico. Instead, the text focuses on the leader of the mercenaries, Captain Glanton, and the enigmatic character of Judge Holden. Yet in the desert, it is the landscape itself that puts forth the "claim to precedence" (247), possessing a raw textual weight (measured objectively in sheer number of words) that dwarfs the human characters. Much of Blood Meridian is concerned with precise observations of the physical world, culminating in a catalogue of environmental changes that follow the closing of the frontier in the late nineteenth century. Though most of the narrative is set in 1849, the end of the novel takes the reader at least up to 1878 and the epilogue contains many cryptic references to the closing of the West, the extermination of the buffalo, the genocide perpetrated on many Native American tribes and the introduction of the railroad. In short, the great and terrible enterprise in which American spaces irrevocably became American places.

4.1. The Environment in Blood Meridian

Though the text begins in Tennessee, by the second page the Kid has already left it in order to wander down into Texas,

[o]nly now is the child finally divested of all that he has been. His origins are become remote as is his destiny and not again in all the world's turning will there be terrains so wild and barbarous to try whether the stuff of creation may be shaped to man's will or whether his own heart is not another kind of clay. (4)

The narrative truly begins with the crossing of the Kid into Mexico, these are the "terrains so wild and barbarous" which gradually trump the importance of the human characters that move through them. The reference to "clay" indicates that a primary concern of the text will center on whether and to what extent humans are part of nature. In Blood Meridian, as in The Border Trilogy, crossing the border into Mexico not only denotes movement through space, but also movement through time and culture, or lack thereof. …

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