Blood Meridian

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Blood Meridian Chapter 20 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Pursued by the Yumas, Toadvine and the kid escape into the desert. The kid has taken an arrow to his leg, but keeps moving. The two spend a cold night sleeping amid the dunes, and keep moving at dawn. The kid finds a wagon tongue, which he uses as a crutch. He tells Toadvine several times to go on ahead, but Toadvine insists on staying with the kid.
The kid’s involvement with the gang has left him worse off than when he first joined them. This scene recalls the trek that the kid and Sproule made through the desert, but now it is the kid who is cripplingly wounded. Toadvine remains surprisingly loyal to the kid.
Themes
Warfare and Domination Theme Icon
Witness and Mercy Theme Icon
By the afternoon, the Indians have caught up with the two Americans and begin throwing spears at them and raining down arrows. The kid and Toadvine make a stand, killing one Indian before resuming their trek, pursued by the Indians all day.
The gang pursues versions and inversions of a single journey: the hunt. Many times have they triumphantly pursued the defeated; many times have they been wretchedly pursued, as here. Such is the hunter’s fate.
Themes
Warfare and Domination Theme Icon
Fate Theme Icon
At the wells of Alamo Mucho (a lake basin in Baja California), the kid and Toadvine meet up with Tobin. They drop down into one of the wells together to drink while the Indians fan out and fire arrows at them. The kid returns fire, and with Tobin’s encouragement he kills so many Indians that the Indians decide to cease their pursuit. The Indians make camp nearby for the night, but by morning have gone.
It is not for nothing that the kid rode with Glanton’s gang: he proves himself an expert murderer here, a son of war whose efficacy would not disappoint the Judge himself.
Themes
Warfare and Domination Theme Icon
As the three Americans look out, they spy two figures moving through the desert: it is the idiot and the Judge, who is draped with meat. The two rendezvous with their fellows at the well, where the Judge offers Toadvine $100 for his hat. Toadvine accepts the trade for $125 and slides down the slope to where the Judge stands in order to hand over his hat, which the Judge refashions so that it fits his enormous head.
As he overpaid for the puppies he drowned, the Judge here pays an absurd sum for Toadvine’s hat. Money is less valuable to him than it is to others; indeed, he exploits others’ overvaluation of money to acquire the equipment of survival and domination.
Themes
Warfare and Domination Theme Icon
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The Judge invites the kid and Tobin to join him down the slope for meat and water, but the two are nervous. The Judge asks if they are armed, and Tobin replies, “We’ve just the one pistol.” “We?” the Judge responds. The Judge suggests that forming rival bands is absurd, given that divided the men will die “impartially.” At last, the kid descends with his canteen, which he fills. The kid asks Toadvine if he’ll join him and Tobin on a journey to California, but Toadvine, looking at the Judge, says that he’s wanted in California and has run out of country. The kid tells him that it isn’t country he’s run out of and climbs back up the bank.
The Judge is quick to seek a weapon with which to impose his will. Tobin’s reply to his question indicates that he and the kid have allied themselves against the Judge, perhaps wary of his belligerence. But the Judge reminds Tobin that partisanship means nothing if the men’s fate is to perish in the desert anyway. Toadvine sides with the Judge, it would seem; he may not have run out of country, but he has run out of the freedom of spirit required to live any other life but the life of war.
Themes
Warfare and Domination Theme Icon
Fate Theme Icon
Racism and Partisanship Theme Icon
The Judge offers the kid $500 for his pistol, gunpowder, and ammunition. Tobin urges the kid to shoot the Judge then and there, for he’ll have no other chance to kill him, and if he doesn’t his “life is forfeit.” The kid neither sells his gun nor shoots the Judge, and, leaving Toadvine, he and Tobin set out west.
Why Tobin thinks the kid’s life is forfeit if he fails to kill the Judge is unclear—perhaps because the kid has challenged the Judge’s will, which to the Judge’s mind is a capital crime. The kid spares the Judge, thinking him (perhaps in error) a man like any other.
Themes
Warfare and Domination Theme Icon
Witness and Mercy Theme Icon
Fate Theme Icon
Racism and Partisanship Theme Icon
Tobin and the kid soon come across David Brown in the desert. Brown asks about what’s happened to them, and Tobin explains that the Yumas took the ferry and killed most of the gang members, including Glanton. Brown learns that the Judge survived and is nearby, unarmed. He fingers the necklace of human ears around his neck, asks the ex-priest if he saw Glanton dead, which Tobin did. Then Brown rides off.
Brown, who seems to have defected from the gang in San Diego, confirms the Judge’s lack of a weapon and Glanton’s death with an attitude not unlike relief. Deserters in the past were punished severely by the gang, but Brown seems to have evaded such a fate.
Themes
Racism and Partisanship Theme Icon
As Tobin and the kid trek through the desert the following day, they encounter the ruins of caravans before reaching Carrizo Creek. As the kid drinks, a shot is fired at him; he turns and sees the Judge armed with a rifle on horseback, dressed in Toadvine and Brown’s clothing. The kid draws his pistol and hides, watching as the Judge and the idiot move toward the creek. He and the Judge exchange gunfire, but no one is hit. Tobin advises the kid to shoot the idiot, then disappears into the desert. The Judge calls out for the kid to get a drink in the creek, for the two of them to be friends. The kid says nothing.
The Judge, probably by means of force, takes Toadvine and Brown’s equipment: this is the kind of ruthless, traitorous ally he is when backed into a corner (it should be added that he does not murder the two here, though—they are later hanged in Las Angeles). The Judge fires on the kid without proportionate cause, provoked only by the kid’s defiance of his will.
Themes
Warfare and Domination Theme Icon
Racism and Partisanship Theme Icon
At night, the kid and Tobin reunite; the ex-priest is bearing a cross fashioned from the shins of a ram and calling out in a foreign language. The kid rises from his hiding spot and witnesses the Judge shoot Tobin. The kid shoots back, but misses, and the Judge disappears. The kid rushes to Tobin’s side and finds him bleeding to death. Tobin tells the kid to shoot the Judge’s horses. The kid manages to do so, then moves back toward the creek where he sits to drink and bathe his leg.
The ex-priest seems convinced that divine aid is needed in the confrontation with the Judge, perhaps because the Judge is the devil himself—hence the makeshift cross. After being shot, Tobin advises the kid to kill the Judge’s horses so that the Judge must trek through the desert on foot, without the advantage of speed which the horses would grant him.
Themes
Warfare and Domination Theme Icon
Religion and Ritual Theme Icon
Not fifty feet away, wading upstream despite the swift current, the Judge calls out to the kid, ordering him to surrender his pistol as punishment for killing the horses. He says he knows that Tobin put the kid up to it, and will take that as a mitigating factor. The kid waits till the Judge passes before making a break for it. Soon after, he finds Tobin’s tracks and blood, which lead him to the ex-priest; Tobin praises the kid for killing the Judge’s horses.
In assigning culpability, the Judge conveniently neglects to take into account the fact that he himself was the first to open hostilities. The kid is merely acting in self-defense when he kills the horses. The Judge seems offended that the kid should side not with him but with the ex-priest.
Themes
Warfare and Domination Theme Icon
Racism and Partisanship Theme Icon
That night, Tobin and the kid set off across the dunes, looking back one last time to see the Judge’s fire flickering in the valley behind them. Wolves and jackals cry all night. After another day of trekking and a night spent sleeping, the two wake up and see pursuing them over the plain the figures of the Judge and the idiot.
Why is the Judge so relentless in his pursuit here? Perhaps he can’t stand the idea that people should challenge his will and survive, or perhaps he does not want witnesses to his monstrosities at the ferry to live to tell the tale. Perhaps he just enjoys the hunt for its own sake.
Themes
Warfare and Domination Theme Icon