Blood Meridian

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Blood Meridian Chapter 12 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
For the next two weeks, the gang rides by night, making no campfires, through storms and nights of hail. At one point, they come upon five wagons aflame, surrounded by mutilated human corpses, murdered by white men who disguise their work as that of Indians. The gang uses the wagon flames to boil water for coffee and roast meat. Then they continue riding south.
The gang makes no campfires so that the Indians don’t realize they’re being pursued. The white men’s disguising their acts of violence as that of Indians recalls the harness maker in the Judge’s tale, who disguised himself as a black to make easy money. The scalp hunters banally treat burning wreckage as a stove, almost indifferent to death.
Themes
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Racism and Partisanship Theme Icon
The narrator says that men engaging in rash undertakings often become preoccupied with ideas of chance and fate. Tobin comments that it is a cynical god who would lead travelers directly into the path of their murderers, despite all odds, in the middle of an immense wasteland. He wonders if a third party of witnesses diminishes the idea of such a meeting ocurring by chance, but the Judge responds that witness is not some third thing but the very foundation of such a meeting, for nothing occurs unobserved.
Given the low probability that the paths of travelers and their murderers should coincide in an immense desert, Tobin suspects a malignant god at work. The Judge implies that, without witnesses, such coincidences can’t even be said to exist. The Judge would witness everything around him so that he can exploit it, but would himself go unwitnessed so as to remain absolutely free.
Themes
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The Delawares go ahead to scout, and two days later return with the news that the Gileños, a group of Indians, are camped to the south only four hours away. By early morning, the gang has ridden upon them. Glanton tells his men to leave no Indian alive, and to spare their bullets only for Indians who can fight back. The scalp hunters massacre the Gileños, including infants and the Indians’ Mexican slaves, hacking at their skulls for scalps. When McGill is lanced, the kid attempts to help him, but Glanton orders him not to and shoots McGill in the head.
The scalp hunters are savage and ruthless, killing as many people as they can, including the Mexicans whom they have been contracted to protect (that scalps are largely unrecognizable as belong to one race or another, the arbitrariness of the wars between these different races is also portrayed here). The gang is also brutally pragmatic in preserving its ammunition. The kid attempts to help McGill, but gang members are only useful to Glanton unwounded. He murders McGill coldly, calculatingly.
Themes
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Apache warriors appear on a rise overlooking the massacre. Webster shoots their leader from a long distance with his rifle; Glanton whoops and rides forward. After threatening off the remaining Apache warriors with his pistol, Glanton decapitates the Apache leader, whom he thinks is Gómez, and takes his head as a trophy. When he returns to the site of the massacre, his men are taking scalps and stringing them on leather cords; their former comrade-in-arms McGill has also been scalped. The Judge tells Glanton that the head he’s taken is not Gómez’s.
Glanton is especially invigorated by the murder of the man he thinks is Gómez, because Gómez’s scalp is worth ten times that of any other. However, he also seems invigorated by the act of killing itself, evinced by his taking the head as a trophy. The gang is terrifyingly indifferent to death, including the death of one of their own. They go so far as to scalp one of their former fellows for profit.
Themes
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The gang rides from the villages of the Gileños, which is in ashes. The Judge has taken from the village a live human infant. At night, though pursued by Apaches, the riders halt and make camp. David Brown took an arrow to the thigh during the massacre and asks for help, but none, not even Doc Irving, will help him—none save the kid. The kid succeeds in removing the arrow’s point and shaft, but when he returns to his blanket Tobin hisses into his ear that he got lucky, because if he had failed to remove the arrow successfully, Brown would have surely killed him.
The Judge’s taking of the infant may seem like an act of mercy but will prove otherwise. Here the kid mercifully helps Brown, as he tried to help Sproule and McGill—an act no one else in the company will undertake. Tobin tells the kid that Brown would have killed him, which, if true, speaks to the murderous despair in Brown’s heart, wrath and a fear of dying alone.
Themes
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The scalp hunters ride on. One night at camp, the Judge is sitting with the Apache infant he took in his lap; the men play with the boy and laugh and give him jerky. The next morning, the child is alive in the Judge’s lap one minute, and the next he has killed it and taken its scalp. Toadvine curses the Judge and aims a pistol at his head; the Judge tells him to either shoot or put the gun away, now. Toadvine does the latter. The men ride out, still pursued by the Apaches.
Contrasted with the kid’s acts of small mercy are the Judge’s acts of huge cruelty. Monstrous though he is, even Toadvine is so outraged by the Judge that he threatens to kill him. Not all members of this hectic gang have entirely lost their sense of humanity.
Themes
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On the fifth day of riding, the Apaches have caught up and are almost close enough to shoot at the scalp hunters, when in the east the gang sees the white walls of a Mexican estate. The scalp hunters ride there, leading the Apaches onward into the town of Gallego, then through other villages, skirmishing as they go. On July 21, the scalp hunters reach Chihuahua City, where they’re greeted as heroes.
Ironically, though the scalp hunters are being paid to kill the warlike and despotic Apaches, they flee from them and murder easier quarry instead, like the Gileños and soon the peaceful Tiguas. They may serve the god of war, but only while minimizing personal risk.
Themes
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