Blood Meridian

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Blood Meridian Chapter 18 Summary & Analysis

In the early morning, Glanton, the Judge, and their five men ride out of the Yuma camp. They’ve conspired with the Indians to seize the ferry.
Partisanship between the gang and the Yumas is fluidly and opportunistically established.
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Meanwhile, that morning, a group of women at the ferry crossing have discovered the idiot in his cage. One “huge woman” named Sarah Borginnis seeks out Cloyce and shames him for keeping his brother—his given name revealed for the first time here as James Robert Bell—in a filthy cage. Cloyce gives the idiot to the care of the women.
Throughout the novel, the female characters tend to be more humane than their male counterparts, not at all preoccupied with power or entertained by cruelty. Sarah’s liberation of the idiot exemplifies this. She sees the idiot not as a thing to be exploited but as a person, with a name.
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While singing hymns, the women bathe the idiot and dress him in clean clothes. Sarah orders, while she wades in the water with James Robert, that his cage be burnt. As it goes up in flames, the idiot stares at it: everyone agrees that he understands the significance of this. Later, at night, Sarah tucks James Robert into bed.
Whereas the Judge claims that he’d have all birds put into zoos, Sarah offers a different vision of life, where cages are burnt and all human beings are treated with kindness and respect. Ironically, she acts more like a family member to James than James’s own brother does. The bathing of the idiot is reminiscent of a baptism, and it is no coincidence that it is in these interactions that James Robert Bell regains his name.
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In the night, the idiot wakes, and naked he wanders to the river. He enters the water, but soon loses his footing and sinks from sight. At just this moment, the Judge is walking by, “such encounters being commoner than men suppose.” The Judge steps into the water and seizes the idiot—it is like “a birth scene or baptism” or some other strange ritual—and carries him safely back to the camp.
The Judge sadistically drowned puppies earlier, but rescues the idiot from drowning here. One explanation for this seeming inconsistency of character is that letting the idiot drown provides no sadistic pleasure to the Judge, though perhaps also the Judge has an idea for how he might use or master the idiot. The idiot seems to long for the water that Sarah so kindly bathed him in. It may be that the idiot wants to die, and so the Judge’s act is no kindness at all. After all a traditional baptism is one in which a person is dunked in the water, and here the Judge does the opposite, removing the idiot—who in his lack of thought has a kind of natural innocence—from the water.
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