Blood Meridian

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The John Jacksons Character Analysis

Two members of Glanton’s gang are named John Jackson, one white, the other black. Bathcat bets that the black will kill the white, which does indeed come to pass when the white drives the black away from a campfire around which are seated only white men. Although the family of magicians foretells that the black Jackson can begin his life anew and change his fate—and despite a failed attempt to desert the gang—the black Jackson stays the course of ruthless violence. He murders the proprietor of an eating-house in Tucson, Owens, and seems to have become something of a disciple of the Judge toward the end of his life, even imitating the Judge’s garb, “a mantle of freeflowing cloth.” The black Jackson is killed by the Yumas who raid the gang’s ferry and nearby fortifications on the Colorado River.

The John Jacksons Quotes in Blood Meridian

The Blood Meridian quotes below are all either spoken by The John Jacksons or refer to The John Jacksons . For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Warfare and Domination Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Vintage edition of Blood Meridian published in 1992.
Chapter 7 Quotes

In this company there rode two men named Jackson, one black, one white, both forenamed John. Bad blood lay between them and as they rode up under the barren mountains the white man would fall back alongside the other and take his shadow for the shade that was in it and whisper to him. The black would check or start his horse to shake him off. As if the white man were in violation of his person, had stumbled onto some ritual dormant in his dark blood or his dark soul whereby the shape he stood the sun from on that rocky ground bore something of the man himself and in so doing lay imperiled.

Related Characters: The John Jacksons
Page Number: 74
Explanation and Analysis:

As the Glanton gang proceeds out of Chihuahua City on its first scalp-hunting expedition, the narrator introduces us to the two John Jacksons. There is animosity between the Jacksons, which is ironic: but for the fact that one is black and the other white, the two men are virtually indistinguishable from one another. 

Here the white Jackson is bothering the black by riding beside him in his shadow and whispering to him. He is presumably motivated by racial prejudice, but also, perhaps, by a more complicated feeling. In some ways, the two Jackson's are one another's shadows and doubles – figuratively speaking, they are the same man. The white Jackson, then, is forced to confront the fact, in confronting his black double, that the social privileges he enjoys as a white man have nothing to do with him as an individual, that these privileges are fragile figments of culture and nothing more. The black Jackson is forced to confront the fact, in confronting his white double, that society's racism is an absurdity, but one firmly upheld nonetheless, as though it were a fact of the world.

The narrator speculates that the black Jackson shakes off the white to protect his own shadow, as though the shadow were part of the man who cast it and endangered by the white Jackson riding on it. In one sense, the shadow here represents the authentic part of oneself, which exists outside of social categories like race or class. In driving off the white, the black Jackson is metaphorically protecting the inmost part of himself.

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The judge smiled. It is not necessary, he said, that the principals here be in possession of the facts concerning their case, for their acts will ultimately accommodate history with or without their understanding. But it is consistent with notions of right principle that these facts…should find a repository in the witness of some third party. Sergeant Aguilar is just such a party and any slight to his office is but a secondary consideration when compared to divergences in that larger protocol exacted by the formal agenda of an absolute destiny. Words are things. The words he is in possession of he cannot be deprived of. Their authority transcends his ignorance of their meaning.

Related Characters: Judge Holden (speaker), The John Jacksons , Sergeant Aguilar
Page Number: 78
Explanation and Analysis:

When the Judge introduces the Mexican Sergeant Aguilar to the gang on the outskirts of Chihuahua, he explains in Spanish the black Jackson's racial heritage at length—drawing on racist, false accounts of the inferiority of the black race presented in the Bible, Greek poetry, anthropology, and science. The black Jackson demands to know what's been said of him, and the Judge responds with the quote discussed here.

The Judge is saying, using legal terminology, that the black Jackson, one of "the principals" of the case at hand, doesn't himself need to know the facts of his own racial heritage, because his actions will be consistent with his alleged inferiority as a black man. However, the Judge also says that the facts need to find "a repository in the witness of some third party," that third party being Aguilar. For the Judge, truth must have witnesses before it can be truth at all; but the witnesses don't need to understand the truth for it to contribute to destiny. 

However, doesn't the so-called truth of black Jackson's inferiority to whites already have a third-party witness – namely, the Judge? Why does some random sergeant need to bear witness to it, too? It would seem that the Judge is merely trying to antagonize the black Jackson. The bigger irony here is that the so-called truth the Judge is propagating here isn't a truth at all, and so it has no authority outside of a merely social authority – a myth of Western society that nonetheless is held up by Western society as fact.

Chapter 8 Quotes

The nearest man to him [the white Jackson] was Tobin and when the black stepped out of the darkness bearing the bowieknife in both hands like some instrument of ceremony Tobin started to rise. The white man looked up drunkenly and the black stepped forward and with a single stroke swapt off his head.

Related Characters: The John Jacksons , Ben Tobin
Page Number: 101
Explanation and Analysis:

One night at camp, the gang sets up two campfires, one around which the whites sit, and one around which all the other men sit. When the black Jackson attempts to sit with the whites, the white Jackson drives him off, going so far as to draw and cock his pistol. The black Jackson avenges himself by cutting, or "swapping," off the white Jackson's head.

Later in the novel, the Judge will announce that war is god. This seems to be the case for the gang members in general and for the black Jackson in particular who, after all, handles his knife "like some instrument of ceremony." Now it is one of the effects of a ceremony, often performed in worship of a god, to bring people together and solidify their group identity. Black Jackson's killing of the white seems to do just that. The other white gang members do not rise to avenge the white Jackson but accept his death without so much as a word. That is because they are men of war first, and members of racial categories second. War and violence really do make these men closer, then, but only by pitting them against the whole world.

Significantly, Tobin rises here just as the black Jackson offers a sacrifice to the god of war, so to speak. Tobin was once a novitiate to a religious order, and he alone questions, however faintly, the Judge's religion of total war.

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The John Jacksons Character Timeline in Blood Meridian

The timeline below shows where the character The John Jacksons appears in Blood Meridian. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 7
Warfare and Domination Theme Icon
Racism and Partisanship Theme Icon
In the gang there are two men named John Jackson, one black, the other white. They have bad blood between them. As they ride under... (full context)
Fate Theme Icon
Racism and Partisanship Theme Icon
...presents him to each member of the gang. When he comes to the vexed-looking black Jackson, the Judge introduces him to Aguilar very learnedly—drawing on accounts of the inferiority of the... (full context)
Witness and Mercy Theme Icon
Fate Theme Icon
Racism and Partisanship Theme Icon
The black Jackson ignores Aguilar’s attempts to shake hands, and he asks the Judge what he’s told Aguilar.... (full context)
Warfare and Domination Theme Icon
Racism and Partisanship Theme Icon
...is received with silence from the gang, a few smiles, a half-witted guffaw. The black Jackson is sweating. The Judge proceeds to show Aguilar one of the just-delivered pistols and carefully... (full context)
Warfare and Domination Theme Icon
Fate Theme Icon
Racism and Partisanship Theme Icon
...Land (present-day Tasmania) to hunt aborigines. Bathcat offers a bet to Toadvine as to which Jackson will kill the other, but Toadvine declines. Bathcat predicts that black Jackson will kill white.... (full context)
Fate Theme Icon
Racism and Partisanship Theme Icon
...pack of Tarot cards. He offers a card to Glanton, who declines; but the black Jackson accepts. Jackson draws a card with a picture of a fool and cat on it.... (full context)
Warfare and Domination Theme Icon
Fate Theme Icon
Jackson then asks the Judge to tell him what the woman is saying. The Judge is... (full context)
Fate Theme Icon
...to the beat of a drum. Bathcat leans over to them and points out black Jackson, who is in the square with the magicians, standing behind their tent. The old magician... (full context)
Chapter 8
Warfare and Domination Theme Icon
Racism and Partisanship Theme Icon
...Delawares and the Mexican McGill are around one fire, the whites around the other. Black Jackson sits with the whites, but the white Jackson drives him off, going so far as... (full context)
Chapter 14
Racism and Partisanship Theme Icon
Away from the scene of carnage, the Americans dismount. The Judge asks where the black Jackson is. No one knows. The Judge and a Delaware ride out to find him, and... (full context)
Chapter 16
Warfare and Domination Theme Icon
Racism and Partisanship Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
Chapter 19
Warfare and Domination Theme Icon
Fate Theme Icon
...rides up the hill to find the Judge “like some great balden archimandrite” and black Jackson wearing nothing but free-flowing cloth. Glanton rides on to his own quarters. (full context)
Warfare and Domination Theme Icon
Fate Theme Icon
Religion and Ritual Theme Icon
...idiot whiskey one night and he dances “with great gravity.” A few mornings later, black Jackson is standing on the ferry and leans down to picks up a coin he finds... (full context)