What is the role of animals in Blood Meridian? What is the difference between the characters' attachment to humans and their attachments to a horse or a dog?
In a world as unpredictable as the frontier in Blood Meridian, there very little that a man can count on; there are few enduring relationships. However, throughout the novel, McCarthy's characters often develop strong bonds with their animals, which are more emotionally resonant than their relationships with their fellow human beings.
The kid's only possession when he rides into Nacogdoches is his mule. Later, the kid's involvement in the brutality at the hotel with Toadvine is juxtaposed with his desire to recover his mule from the Mexican family who has been looking after it. He shows a similar concern for his animal after killing the bartender in Bexar. An explanation for this could be that the kid has never had a trusting relationship with a human being, and he only becomes more suspicious of others as he delves deeper into this world of violence. Therefore, he forges a connection with his animal, which is constant and reliable. The mule serves a functional role in the kid's life as his vehicle, but it also provides him with comfort.
Similarly, Glanton treats his horse with utter respect, which the men in the presidio note while eating the remains of one of their own animals. Glanton also finds a dog in the remains of an Indian encampment and looks after it with care. They become inseparable; when the Yumas burn Glanton's body, they throw his dog into the flames after his master.
Both the kid and Glanton exhibit humane tendencies when it comes to their animals, revealing a glimmer of decency in both men. As noted, this could suggest that the trustworthiness of animals is an anomaly in their world, and so they reciprocate. The judge, naturally, does not show any more kindness to animals than he does to people. He actually purchases two puppies from a young boy only to drown them. Ultimately, the judge has no iota of humanity left in him, which perhaps explains why he is the only one who survives at the end of the novel.
What is Cormac McCarthy's stance on human nature and human beings' affinity for violence?
In Blood Meridian, Cormac McCarthy confronts his reader with intense violence without any padding to soften the blow. He writes about violence in a visceral and unforgiving way, even when it is his main characters committing the brutal acts. Judge Holden is the only character in the novel who remains unaffected by the terrible acts he commits.
McCarthy implies that violence is inherent in human beings, which is evident in the atrocities that some characters commit without any reason. He shows that under certain circumstances, a man's greed can overrule society's codes of decency. Specifically, the practice of governments offering scalp bounties institutionalizes violence; it is sanctioned by authorities. Overall, McCarthy's outlook is cynical and bleak, which forces the reader to confront his or her own propensity for violence rather than simply relegating it to a certain historical period.
Compare the depiction of Manifest Destiny in Blood Meridian to American foreign policy in the 21st Century.
Manifest Destiny was the commonly held belief that divine forces had destined the USA to expand across North America; it was major motivating factor for American expansion from 1812-1860. Based in the seminal American concepts of rugged individualism and moral absolutism (which date back to colonial times), the descendants of European settlers used the concept of Manifest Destiny to justify stealing land from Native Americans and engaging aggressively in conflicts like the Mexican-American War. In Blood Meridian, McCarthy examines the dark side of such beliefs as he shows the chaos and bloodshed that expansion caused in the border regions.
Although we no longer refer to it as such, the underlying concept behind Manifest Destiny has fed into contemporary American foreign policy as the American government continues to expand the country's influence overseas. Some theorists argue that ripples of Manifest Destiny were evident in the USA's decision to send troops to Vietnam in the 1960s and 70s. Cold-War era paranoia and foreign policy decision-making was rooted in the USA's attempts to contain the spread of communism. Then, in 2001, the USA invaded Afghanistan, vowing to hunt down the terrorists responsible for 9/11 and "save" the local people from the oppressive Taliban regime. The American invasion of Iraq was similarly motivated, even though the Iraqis had nothing to do with 9/11.
Therefore, while Blood Meridian is based in a certain historical period, it unfortunately remains timely and universal.
Why don't you think McCarthy ever names the kid? What does this say about the kid's position as a protagonist?
Overall, McCarthy emphasizes the anonymity of his protagonist, which both reflects the way the world perceives this young orphan and forces the reader to experience the novel on his or her own terms.
The kid was not welcomed into the world when he arrived. From the moment he was born, he had to struggle to keep himself alive. His journey is one of self-preservation. It is only when the kid joins up with Glanton's gang that finds a purpose he can share with others. Though he matures throughout the novel, he ultimately meets a somewhat anonymous end in an outhouse at the hands of Judge Holden.
McCarthy doesn't tell the reader much about his protagonist, but asks us to piece together what we can through the experiential nature of his narrative. He doesn't over-explain; rather, he asks us to discover what it feels like to be the kid, which makes us define him for ourselves. The kid doesn't drive the narrative, but introduces us to it. In this way, McCarthy uses the anonymity of his character to lead the reader to draw his or her own conclusions.
Discuss the relationships between different ethnic and/or racial groups in the novel.
Most of the relationships between racial groups in the novel are transactional, driven by profit and greed. Even though the Mexicans are paying Glanton for Indian scalps, a small group of Delawares voluntarily aid Glanton's mission because they, too, are profiting from the deaths of their own. The Mexicans in the novel have hired white American mercenaries like Glanton because they have proven to be dangerous and violent enough to help the Mexicans eliminate their Indian rivals. However, when the financial relationship between these two groups is complete, Glanton's gang shows that they are just as capable of inflicting their (often drunken) terror on the Mexican civilians, as well.
There are occasional moments of solidarity across the racial and ethnic divide, though. For example, when Glanton's company arrives in Tucson, the proprietor of an eating-house tries to divide up the company because of the (black) John Jackson. The company won't have it and Jackson ends up shooting the white man in the head. Nobody turns him in. The race relations in Blood Meridian aren't clearly defined, because the violence isn't contained to one side or another. Men end up on one side of a conflict in one instance and another side in a different set of circumstances. Ultimately, the characters in Blood Meridian act out of self-interest over all.
What kind of picture does McCarthy paint of the American government during this time?
Overall, Blood Meridian presents the American government as ineffective in combating the frontier violence during the time of American expansion. It seems entirely uninvolved in controlling the makeshift bands of mercenaries patrolling the Mexican/American border, making it appear as though organized government has no place on the frontier.
When the kid joins up with Captain White, the Captain tells him about the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, which is Washington DC to establish a boundary between Mexico and the USA. Later, before White's company crosses into Mexico, an older Mennonite man warns them that General Worth and the US Army will stop them. However, it is hardly the US army that presents the greatest danger to White's gang, who are quickly and brutally ambushed by Comanche warriors. For all the new laws that the government is attempting to establish, lawlessness rules the frontier.
Concurrently, the Mexican local governments cannot even secure their own country from Indian raids, and they thus decide to hire mercenaries like Glanton and his gang. During the time period of Blood Meridian the American government was just over a hundred years old and still expanding, so it didn't have full control over what was happening at the border. Universally, a general symptom of expansionism is turmoil in the lives of frontier residents (especially when that frontier is being taken by warfare), and that is the root of much of the external conflict in Blood Meridian.
How does this novel compare with the pop culture idea of Westerns? Is there a clear Western hero in Blood Meridian?
Though Western films are known for their moral ambiguity, there is usually a clear-cut antagonist and protagonist. Meanwhile, all of the main characters in Blood Meridian are culpable of something, and not one can easily be identified as a hero; McCarthy does not paint clear lines between right and wrong. For example, the kid occupies many different functions throughout the novel. At times, he is an observer, at times a fighter, and at times a victim. Sometimes, he is violent because he has to defend himself, and sometimes he is violent just because he feels like it. While Westerns stereotypically make their viewers believe that cowboys only killed Indians because they had to, McCarthy delves deeper into the unrestrained, ruthless violence on both sides of the conflict. McCarthy maintains the air of moral ambiguity, but he does not allow his reader to easily relate to anyone. This is why critics and readers often refer to Blood Meridian as a "revisionist Western" or an "anti-Western" narrative.
Write about the relationship between Glanton and Holden. Why do you think Glanton trusts Holden so deeply? Do you believe that Judge Holden feels the same way about Glanton?
Glanton and Holden embody two distinct types of violence; the former is an example of tainted humanity, while the latter projects pure, unalterable evil. Thus, Glanton is naturally drawn towards the judge, while the judge will always see Glanton as subservient. Glanton's first encounter with Judge Holden occurss when his company is in dire need of gunpowder. Through his knowledge and prowess, Holden is able to solve the problem. From then on, the two are inseparable. However, Glanton's psyche begins to deteriorate as a result of the atrocities he commits. The only person who can calm him down is the judge, and Glanton accepts this. The judge is extremely useful to Glanton and his gang because he is like a mythical protector silhouetted against the desert moon. The violence and brutality eats away at the other men, but Holden seems immune to it. It is doubtful that Holden feels any attachment to Glanton, as he doesn't really form attachments to anyone unless they serve a purpose for him.
Why do you think that McCarthy chooses to depict violence in such a brutal way? What does this say about the moral code of the Blood Meridian world?
In Blood Meridian, everyone is just trying to keep him or herself alive. People are aware of certain rules and codes of the Old West, and they know that things can erupt into violence at any time. For example, the kid kills the bartender in Bexar simply for refusing to keep a promise. John Jackson shoots Owens in the eating house for making a racist statement. In Glanton's gang, everyone is aware that the most unpredictable amongst them is Judge Holden. He can snap at any time and commits violence just because he's in the mood, like when he drowns the puppies. Because the judge possesses this power, he can mostly do whatever he wants. Judge Holden is a microcosmic representation of the power dynamic in the Old West, where power was not granted, but taken, no matter the cost to oneself or others.
Why does McCarthy choose to have words that describe the journey across the top of each chapter? How does this affect the process of reading Blood Meridian?
The chapter headings give the novel a journal-esque feeling, as if the kid were looking back and recounting his experiences with Glanton and his gang. They also conform to an older style of picaresque literature, which favored episodic storytelling over a cohesive plot. However, while McCarthy based a lot of Blood Meridian on his extensive research about the time period and the real-life Glanton gang, it is intended to invoke the frontier experience rather than provide an accurate account of historical events. To this end, the headings help to define the old world atmosphere that McCarthy creates. They also serve as signposts, guiding the reader through the dense, poetic narrative. As a result, the reader can surrender more willingly to the experience.