Blood Meridian: Or the Evening Redness in the West

Blood Meridian: Or the Evening Redness in the West Literary Elements



Setting and Context

Southwestern United States and Northern Mexico, 1830s-1870s

Narrator and Point of View

Blood Meridian is written in third-person omniscient narration. The plot generally follows the experiences of the kid and his time as a member of Glanton's scalp hunting gang.

Tone and Mood

McCarthy's overall tone is cynical; he presents a bleak image of humanity. The mood of the novel is pessimistic, somber, and fatalistic, mostly due to McCarthy's portrayal of violence as an inherent human trait.

Protagonist and Antagonist

Although they do not fit neatly into these traditional roles, the kid could be viewed as the protagonist and the judge as the antagonist of the novel.

Major Conflict

The major conflict in Blood Meridian is between the kid and the judge. The kid is always trying to stay in the judge's good graces, even though he professes more than once to hate him. The judge also represents the kid's inherent violent streak, and thus McCarthy draws the reader's attention to the greater conflict between man's thirst for blood and his desire to fit into civilization.


The climax of Blood Meridian occurs when the Yumas, furious at Glanton for double crossing them, descend upon Glanton and his gang while they are sleeping. In this bloody battle, Glanton is killed. Afterwards, the kid and Toadvine face off against the judge, who tries (unsuccessfully) to lure them out of hiding.


1) As the kid is making his way south from Tennessee, he spends the night in an old hermit's tent. The hermit, a retired slaver, has seen the worst of humanity and warns the kid, "you can find meanness in the least of creatures, but when God made man the devil was at his elbow" (19). The hermit's words coupled with the human heart he shows the kid foreshadow the godless and violent world he is about to enter.

2) Right before he is about to ride out with Captain White, the kid and his new comrades encounter an old Mennonite man in a tavern. He warns them, "The wrath of God lies sleeping. It was hid a million years before me were and only men have the power to wake it. Hell ain't half full. Hear me. Ye carry war of a madman's making onto a foreign land. Ye'll wake more than the dogs" (40). This foreshadows the bedlam that these men are walking into and the insanity of the conflict they are perpetrating.

3) The magician/juggler accurately predicts the outcome of the conflict between the two John Jacksons; he also senses something deeply evil in Glanton, a sentiment that Tobin reiterates in his story, as well (96).


1) "How do you like city life?" Toadvine asks the kid when they meet up again in prison, right before he secures himself and the kid positions with Captain White's gang. Here, Toadvine uses understatement to find out how the kid likes living on the right side of the law (74).


1) McCarthy describes the men going into the mountains as part of the California Gold Rush as "...patched argonauts from the states driving mules through the streets on their way south..." (78). The word "argonauts" is an allusion to Greek mythology; the argonauts were an army of heroes who accompanied Jason to help him find his golden fleece. The use of the allusion here not only gives the Gold Rush mythical undertones, but it also emphasizes the irony of this particular Gold Rush; many of McCarthy's argonauts will eventually be driven mad by greed and/or return from the hills empty-handed.

2) When Glanton and his gang stumble upon a group of squatters living in a presidio, there is a snakebitten horse in the compound "with its head enormously swollen and grotesque like some fabled equine ideation out of an Attic tragedy" (115). An Attic tragedy is a self-contained piece of heroic myth, performed in a poetic and highly stylized manner by a chorus of Athenian citizens during a public festival celebrating Dionysus, the god of wine and ritual madness. By alluding to this Greek tradition, McCarthy infuses the scene with drama and theatricality.


In Blood Meridian, McCarthy relies heavily on the use of imagery to craft the world and inform the movements of his characters. While writing the book, he did a great deal of research, traveling to each of the locations he describes. With his imagery, McCarthy immerses the reader in the era about which he is writing, making the satirical undertones of the novel feel universally timely and urgent. For specific examples of McCarthy's use of imagery, please refer to the section devoted to this topic.


1) "Your heart's desire is to be told some mystery. The mystery is that there's no mystery" (252), says the judge. This paradox speaks to the judge's view of humanity. He devalues the importance of concepts like love and yearning but worships violence as and war as divine.

2) "Whatever his antecedents he was something wholly other than their sum" (309). McCarthy uses this paradox to describe the judge, and it gives his character an air of omnipresence - he did not come from anywhere, he's not going anywhere, but he simply exists and he cannot be ignored.


1) "When the lambs is lost in the mountain, he said. They is cry. Sometime come the mother. Sometime the wolf" (65). The Mexican leader says this to Sproule and the kid after he gives them water and they take advantage of his kindness by greedily drinking as much of it as possible. The use of parallelism here emphasizes the fact that they are wandering through a lawless frontier where any person who comes around the corner could either be a friend or an enemy; furthermore, people change sides all the time.

2) While he is in prison after the end of his journey with Captain White and his gang, the kid meets a thin boy from Georgia. Of his experiences with scalp hunters, the young man says, "I was afraid I was going to die and then I was afraid I wasn't" (70). Here, McCarthy uses parallelism to equate the misery of being alive in this nightmarish reality with the pain of death.

Metonymy and Synecdoche

Throughout the novel, McCarthy's characters frequently use words like "Indians" or "savages" to describe all indigenous peoples, no matter which tribe they are from. This is an example of synecdoche because these general terms stand for Apaches, Comanches, Yumas, and in some instances, even Mexicans.


1) McCarthy writes about the kid's rifle: "He had fired it a few times and it carried much where it chose" (43). The personification of the rifle shows the importance of these weapons in the Americans' campaign; their superior weaponry was part of the reason they were able to conquer so much of North America.

2) "The night wore a thousand shapes out there in the brush..." (55). By personifying the night, McCarthy shows how powerful nature is in the world of this novel; the unpredictable weather dictates the movements of all the marauding bands equally, no matter if they are Indians, Mexicans, or Americans.

3) "The dawn found them on the plain again" (57). Again, McCarthy frequently personifies aspects of nature to show how much of a factor it is in deciding the outcome of these various conflicts.