Blood Meridian

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Blood Meridian Chapter 16 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
In the morning, the scalp hunters leave Santa Cruz. They ride the next day past the ruins of an estate at San Bernardino full of wild bulls, one of which gores the horse ridden by one James Miller. Miller shoots both bull and wounded horse, disgusted by the whole affair. The gang rides on.
The bulls seem to be descended from domesticated bulls that over generations became feral and wild. Human dominion over nature is fragile; what we once mastered can soon come to master us.
Themes
Warfare and Domination Theme Icon
The following day, the men ride past a church at San José de Tumacacori, the architecture of which the Judge lectures on expertly. In the church live two hermits, one of which gang member John Prewett shoots while the other hermit, the first’s brother, escapes. This second hermit is soon found; he is imbecilic and not altogether sane. The gang leaves him. Glanton says they ought to have shot that hermit too, because he does not “like to see white men that way.”
The Judge’s lecture shows that one can have a deep knowledge of sacred objects without internalizing their sacredness. The hermits foreshadow the idiot whom the gang travels with later. Although Glanton thinks insanity troublingly diminishes a white man’s dignity, he ironically overlooks his own insane behavior.
Themes
Religion and Ritual Theme Icon
Racism and Partisanship Theme Icon
The gang heads out, riding through woods, past the village of Tubac, onto the desert. Eventually, they come upon their lost scouts—a man named Gilchrist, the last two Delawares and Bathcat—hanging from a tree, hideously mutilated. Some men cut them down, and the gang rides on, past San Xavier del Bac (a Catholic mission located ten miles out of Tucson)— where behind them a pale green meteor passes overhead—then past Tucson.
When he introduced Bathcat, the narrator foretold Bathcat’s death, and indeed that fate has come to pass here. In their small way, the gang honors these men’s deaths by cutting them down. The green meteor recalls the portentous meteors that fell during the kid’s birth, and also foreshadows the meteorite on which the Judge tests his strength in Tucson.
Themes
Witness and Mercy Theme Icon
Fate Theme Icon
Soon the gang rides within sight of a party of about one hundred Apaches. A group of twenty or so of the Apaches rides out to meet the gang. Their leader asks Glanton where the Americans are headed, but immediately thereafter Glanton’s horse bites the ear of the Apache leader’s horse. Weapons are drawn, but the Judge assures the Apache that his party is peaceful.
Glanton’s horse is so accustomed to violence that it bites the Apache’s horse unprovoked. It was cunning of the gang to discard their scalps, for otherwise the Judge would not have been able to deceive the Apaches into thinking his party is peaceful.
Themes
Warfare and Domination Theme Icon
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Soon, more Apaches ride out to meet the gang, including a tribal chief with even more authority, Mangas Colorado. The Judge speaks with him as well, and soon Mangas is convinced that the Americans are friendly. To make up for the injury to the Apache horse’s ear, Mangas demands whiskey, which can be procured in Tucson. Glanton asks Mangas how much gold he has; “bastante [enough],” Mangas replies. So Glanton promises to return within three days with a barrel of whiskey.
The Judge again demonstrates what an artfully manipulative diplomat he can be on the murderous gang’s behalf. This scene also underscores how fluidly opportunistic the gang is in its alliances: only days ago they were brutally hunting Apaches, and now they are procuring whiskey on the Apaches’ behalf. The gang is truly dedicated to nothing but survival and warfare itself.
Themes
Warfare and Domination Theme Icon
Racism and Partisanship Theme Icon
The garrison in Tucson, Arizona, is commanded by the American Lieutenant Couts. He returned from an expedition four days ago to discover Tucson full of Apaches, who have been disruptive and demanding whiskey. Very formally, Couts greets Glanton, who asks where the Americans can get a drink. All the bars are closed, but the Americans enter one anyway, and the proprietor serves them in his underwear.
The hermit at the beginning of the novel claimed that whiskey is one of the four things that can destroy the world, which seems borne out by how it dominates the Apaches’ actions. Couts is ironically respectful of the half-mad, barbarous Glanton, presumably because he is the leader of a company and white.
Themes
Warfare and Domination Theme Icon
Racism and Partisanship Theme Icon
Glanton and the Judge go out into the town square to recruit some new gang members. They meet a man named Cloyce Bell, who might be willing to pay for the gang to give him an escort to California. Bell would also be bringing with him a wild imbecile whom he owns and exhibits for money. The imbecile is kept in a filthy cage and is chewing feces when Glanton and the Judge first see him. Glanton asks if Cloyce lets women see the imbecile—hereafter referred to as the idiot—and Cloyce replies that none have ever asked.
The idiot is a character easily dominated, whose own brother treats him inhumanely, degradingly, and makes a profit in the process. Everyone in the novel is always using someone. Glanton is troubled to look upon the idiot perhaps because he sees in the idiot a man who has no control of his fate, something Glanton fears very much.
Themes
Warfare and Domination Theme Icon
Fate Theme Icon
By noon, the Americans, all slightly drunk, have gone to a place to eat. The proprietor, Owens, comes over to their table and says that he doesn’t mind serving “people of color,” but that they have to eat at a different table; he thinks that the gang members are not white. Glanton defies him, but Owens insists, saying that he knows for a fact that black Jackson is in fact black. David Brown gives Owens a gun and tells him to shoot Jackson; Jackson rises and blows Owens’s brains out. Davy Brown calls Jackson the “most terrible nigger I ever seen” and tells his brother, Charlie Brown, to get some plates.
Even though the white Americans are morally inferior to almost everyone else in the novel, they are ironically and absurdly offended to be identified as people of color, to resemble the people they’ve been hunting. In arming Owens, Brown seems to be intentionally provoking Jackson to violence.
Themes
Warfare and Domination Theme Icon
Racism and Partisanship Theme Icon
After eating, the gang goes to a cantina where Lieutenant Couts and some of his soldiers confront them. Couts tells Glanton that he needs to arrest Owens’s murderer. Glanton denies that any of his men shot Owens, and the Judge goes further and claims that the gang never even ate in Owens’s establishment. Couts curses and leaves with his soldiers.
Without a witness, Couts’s self-evidently just accusation against Glanton’s gang lacks legal efficacy. By avoiding surveillance, the gang also avoids being held accountable for its actions.
Themes
Witness and Mercy Theme Icon
Glanton succeeds in recruiting two men into the gang. In the cantina sits Cloyce, whom Glanton offers a drink. Cloyce explains to him and the Judge that the idiot he owns was left in his care once their mother died. Upon learning that the idiot is Cloyce’s own brother, the Judge proceeds to examine the contours of the man’s head. After the examination, Cloyce exits the cantina.
For the Judge, who desires a full knowledge of nature, biological mutations must be somewhat disturbing, occurring as they do by chance, beyond human control. He studies Cloyce’s head in accordance with the pseudoscience of phrenology, which holds that skull shape is indicative of character, thought, and emotion. Erudite as he is, the Judge’s scientific understanding does not transcend his time.
Themes
Warfare and Domination Theme Icon
Fate Theme Icon
Lieutenant Couts confronts the gang once more. He sits with the Judge, who learnedly explains points of law to him. The Judge translates Latin terms of jurisprudence, cites cases to support his explanation, and quotes legal authorities like Blackstone and Thales.
Though Couts’s cause is just, the Judge dominates him with his legal knowledge; Couts seems to yield to the Judge’s expertise, for none of Glanton’s gang is arrested for Owens’s murder.
Themes
Warfare and Domination Theme Icon
Witness and Mercy Theme Icon
In the morning, it’s discovered that a young Mexican girl has been abducted. Her clothes are found torn and bloody, and drag marks are found in the desert along with a shoe. Her father has fallen to his knees and cannot be persuaded to rise.
Quite likely another of the Judge’s young victims. However, not even the narrator witnesses the attacks on children it records; like the black Jackson, the Judge gets away with his unwitnessed crimes.
Themes
Warfare and Domination Theme Icon
Witness and Mercy Theme Icon
That night, the gang takes to the streets in drunken debauchery and they steal a barrel of whiskey. A merchant in Tucson brings out a litter of dogs, one of which has six legs and another of which has two. Yet another of the dogs has four eyes in its head. The merchant tries to sell the dogs to Glanton, but Glanton warns the man away and threatens to shoot the mutant dogs. More debauchery ensues.
Though Couts welcomed the gang members into Tucson, they are proving themselves even more disruptive than the Apaches. Like the idiot, the mutant dogs deeply disturb Glanton. They confront him with nature’s indifferent determination of an organism’s fate and the indignities an organism can suffer.
Themes
Warfare and Domination Theme Icon
Fate Theme Icon
By noon the next day, the gang again wanders the streets. They go to the farrier (someone who provides hoof care for horses), named Pacheco, to collect the horses they entrusted to his care. Pacheco has for his anvil an enormous meteorite, which the Judge lifts on a wager. On a further wager he lifts it over his head. While the men feel the meteorite, the Judge lectures on the heavenly bodies. A final wager is proposed, in which the Judge must throw the meteorite ten feet. Although no one is willing to bet that he can, the Judge clears the distance easily by a whole foot.
Like the idiot and the mutant dogs, whose mutations have fated them to be dominated and shunned by others, the Judge also seems a mutant, yet one contrastively rendered superhuman in strength and charisma.
Themes
Warfare and Domination Theme Icon
Fate Theme Icon