Blood Meridian

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Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Vintage edition of Blood Meridian published in 1992.
Chapter 1 Quotes

He can neither read nor write and in him broods already a taste for mindless violence. All history present in that visage, the child the father of the man.

Related Characters: The kid
Page Number: 1
Explanation and Analysis:

This quote is among the earliest descriptions of the Kid presented in the novel. Although born to a schoolmaster in Tennessee, the Kid is, ironically, illiterate, which suggests the extent to which culture has decayed in the novel's America by the time of the Kid's birth in 1833. The Kid cannot even read the Bible, and indeed throughout the novel McCarthy suggests that spiritual ignorance has in large part given rise to the world of rampant cruelty and violence represented throughout the book.

The Kid, with his "taste for mindless violence," is little more than a beast in a man's skin. The Kid's "visage" is his facial expression, and based on that expression one could predict that he will lead a spiritually empty, violent life. In that sense, the Kid's history is "present in that visage," and the violent child he is will metaphorically give birth to the violent man the Kid grows up to be.

Surprising as it may sound, this one little quotation holds three allusions: one to Milton's Paradise Lost where God "dove-like satst brooding on the vast Abyss"; one to Shakespeare's Macbeth, where Lady Macbeth tells her violent husband, "Your face, my thane, is as a book where Men / May read strange matters"; and one to Wordsworth's little poem "My heart leaps up when I behold," where we find the line, "The Child is father of the Man." The first two allusions, to the war in heaven and fall from grace depicted in Milton, the violence, betrayal and revenge in Macbeth, have natural connections to the themes of the novel. The pious hopefulness and love of beauty in Wordsworth's poem seem to be connected to the novel more by their almost complete absence rather than their presence. It's worth noting, also, that McCarthy's supreme knowledge in being able to make such allusions as an author stands in stark contrast to the Kid's intellectual and spiritual degeneracy, and therefore serves as a kind of emphasis of all that has been lost in that degeneracy.


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Chapter 2 Quotes

You can find meanness in the least of creatures, but when God made man the devil was at his elbow. A creature that can do anything. Make a machine. And a machine to make the machine. And evil that can run itself a thousand years, no need to tend it.

Related Characters: The hermit (speaker)
Page Number: 17
Explanation and Analysis:

After setting fire to the hotel in Nacogdoches with Toadvine, the Kid flees and begins a life of begging and theft on the prairies. One night, he sees smoke rising from among the hills, and riding toward it discovers a hut where a character called the hermit dwells. The Kid stays the night at the hermit's hut and the two talk.

The hermit used to be a slaver in Mississippi, and therefore knows from personal experience a good deal about the "meanness," or cruelty, that every animal exhibits in nature. However, the hermit holds that the cruelest animal in the world –whose creation the devil must have had a hand in – is man himself. The novel does not contradict this claim. Other animals fight and kill to survive – but men like Judge Holden fight for the sheer pleasure of fighting.

Blood Meridian is set in the mid 1800s, toward the end of the Industrial Revolution when manual labor was being replaced by machines. Although we don't see any factories, for example, in the novel, the hermit reminds us that the same spirit of dominating nature which the Judge sermonizes on is also at work in American industry. Moreover, the hermit's prophecy suggests that industrialization will lead to an evil that can run itself for a thousand years, but no more: an economy that can will provide the weapons for mass warfare and also the incentive to use them. Through the hermit's "prophecy" McCarthy, then, connects the shocking brutality on display in the novel to the present world, suggesting that such brutality still exists all around us.

Chapter 3 Quotes

There is no government in Mexico. Hell, there’s no God in Mexico. Never will be. We are dealing with a people manifestly incapable of governing themselves. And do you know what happens with people who cannot govern themselves? That’s right. Others come in to govern for them.

Related Characters: Captain White (speaker)
Page Number: 33
Explanation and Analysis:

After getting into a vicious bar-fight in Bexar, the Kid is recruited into Captain White's army. In conversation with the Kid, Captain White announces that the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, which formally ended the Mexican-American War (1846-1848), was a betrayal of Americans who fought in that war. He believes that it would have been better had the United States simply conquered Mexico and absorbed it into U.S. rule, because, he says, the people of Mexico are lawless, godless, and barbaric. His plan is to take his own army into Mexico, without authorization from the American government, and to finish what the Mexican-American War started.

The Captain's justifications for conquering Mexico are both racist and merely a pretense: it would seem that he is ultimately less interested in "governing" Mexico than in plundering the country. Moreover, the rest of the novel challenges Captain White's view of Mexico. The leaders of Mexico whom we meet, like Governor Trias of Chihuahua, are very cultured and sophisticated, and the citizens of Mexico are relatively peaceful. Far more barbaric than Trias is Captain White himself, or the anarchic gang of scalp-hunters led by Glanton. However, perhaps the most cultured, sophisticated character in the novel, Judge Holden, is also the cruelest and most bloodthirsty. He introduces a God into Mexico – but it is the god of war.

The wrath of God lies sleeping. It was hid a million years before men were and only men have power to wake it. Hell aint half full. Hear me. Ye carry war of a madman’s making onto a foreign land. Ye’ll wake more than the dogs.

Related Characters: The Mennonite (speaker), Captain White
Page Number: 39
Explanation and Analysis:

After being contracted into Captain White's army, the Kid celebrates by going into Bexar to drink with some of his comrades-in-arms. There, they meet a Mennonite – a Christian sect of strong moral and religious beliefs and a refusal to engage with modern culture. The Mennonite is one of several prophets in the novel who foretells death and destruction. 

Specifically, the Mennonite gives an account of God's Creation of the universe which holds that God created not just with love but also wrath, and that the wrath of God has been merely sleeping, to be awoken by the evil acts of human beings themselves. This account is an allusion to Herman Melville's Moby Dick, where the narrator thinks, "Though in many of its aspects the visible world seems formed in love, the invisible spheres were formed in fright." In other words, Love and Wrath are not distinct, but bound to one another. We will see just how frightful our universe is if we persist in our evil ways, the Mennonite implies.

One of the ironies underlying this passage is that Captain White claims to be bringing God and good government into Mexico by making war there. He, like many Americans of his time, are intoxicated with a myth of progress, the idea that human beings can master nature and spread civilization and perfect themselves. The Mennonite sees, however, that unchecked, ruthless progress, far from bringing paradise to earth, will bring a hell instead. 

Of course, no one heeds the Mennonite's words.

Chapter 4 Quotes

The survivors lay quietly in that cratered void and watched the whitehot stars go rifling down the dark. Or slept with their alien hearts beating in the sand like pilgrims exhausted on the face of the planet Anareta, clutched to a namelessness wheeling in the night.

Related Characters: The kid
Page Number: 44
Explanation and Analysis:

Many days into Captain White's march through the Sonoran Desert, as part of his mad plot to conquer Mexico, his soldiers begin to fall ill with cholera and die. The landscape becomes more hostile and alien; wolves come to lope behind the army.

This quote gives a description of the soldiers as they lie down at night, as well as the desert around them. The landscape is at once empty – what we'd expect of a "void" – but also deeply menacing, with stars moving hot and swift as bullets spinning (or "rifling") through the barrel of a gun. This is nature at its most hostile, terrifying, and meaningless.

It is ironic that the narrator refers to the soldiers as "pilgrims," because pilgrims are people on journeys to holy places, while the soldiers ride out to death and destruction. The novel often associates war and religion, as though to suggest that man has indeed made war into a religion, as the Judge would wish for us. The soldiers' hearts are alien in two ways. First, they are alien because the soldiers are more and more coming to fear death, so that they see their hearts not only as a source of life but also as a vulnerability, something that puts them at risk. Second, the soldiers are alienated from their hearts in a spiritual sense: they can no longer hear the call of conscience and follow their hearts, so to speak.

Anareta is from the Greek meaning "destroyer," and it is an astrological term for any planet that portends doom. This is appropriate, considering that most of the soldiers sleeping in this passage will be soon slaughtered by the Comanches.

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.

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.

Chapter 9 Quotes

And so these parties divided upon that midnight plain, each passing back the way the other had come, pursuing as all travelers must inversions without end upon other men’s journeys.

Page Number: 116
Explanation and Analysis:

The night after riding away from the squatters' camp near the Mexican copper mine, the gang members come upon a party that is like the mirror-image of their own. The two parties talk — about what we never learn, perhaps what to expect on the roads ahead of them — and then move on. 

The idea that travelers merely pursue "inversions" of others’ journeys — that they are just taking different versions of journeys already made by others — implies that human desires and their endeavors to dominate are inherently wayward, backwards, senseless, and yet the same as they’ve always been. It also implies that the horrific events of the novel are fated to repeat themselves, that the brutality on display in the story has always existed and still exists, today.

Chapter 10 Quotes

For let it go how it will, he said, God speaks in the least of creatures.

Related Characters: Ben Tobin (speaker)
Page Number: 119
Explanation and Analysis:

One night, while sitting around a campfire, Tobin and the Kid discuss in hushed tones the Judge. Tobin, one of the only gang members with a shred of humanity intact, acknowledges that the Judge is profoundly gifted and immensely learned. This leads him to speculate that God doesn't much care about learnedness – if He cared about it, Tobin implies, He wouldn't have given it to such a devil-man as the Judge.

Instead, Tobin believes that God doesn't speak to the great like the Judge, but rather to the silent, the meek, "the least of creatures." This is in keeping with the Christian value of humility that Tobin would have been familiar with as a novitiate to a religious order; for it was Jesus Christ himself who said that the meek "shall inherit the earth" (Matthew 5:5). Contrast this belief with the hermit's, who says that there's "meanness in the least of creatures." The hermit is referring to the cruelty that is a part of the order of nature, whereas Tobin is referring to the divine grace that belongs to the order of divinity.

Tobin's belief is borne out in the case of the Kid. The Kid is virtually silent throughout the novel, and he is a very small creature in its pages indeed, little more than a name on a page. But it is precisely in the Kid that the novel sees some grace in the world of war. He holds mercy in his heart, unlike almost every other gang member. The Judge eventually kills the Kid, but it is the insistent voice of God that speaks through the Kid which more deeply impresses us. 

Chapter 11 Quotes

If God meant to interfere in the degeneracy of mankind would he not have done so by now? Wolves cull themselves, man. What other creature could? And is the race of man not more predacious yet? The way of the world is to bloom and to flower and die but in the affairs of men there is no waning and the noon of his expression signals the onset of night… This you see here, these ruins wondered at by tribes of savages, do you not think that this will be again? Aye. And again. With other people, with other sons.

Related Characters: Judge Holden (speaker)
Page Number: 141
Explanation and Analysis:

While the gang camps amid the Anasazi Indian ruins, the Judge tells the story of the harness maker, in which the sons of both a good father and a bad father come equally to spiritual ruin. So, Tobin asks, how should a father raise his son?

The Judge responds that children should be forced to undergo deadly trials. This is a form of eugenic "culling," or getting rid of the so-called weak members of a species to promote the breeding of the strong. This idea owes something to Charles Darwin's theory of evolution by the process of natural selection, but the Judge couldn't have known about this theory, since it is 1849 when he delivers the speech quoted here and Darwin's Origin of Species wasn't published until 1859.

According to the Judge, it is because human beings can cull themselves through warfare and the like that we can make cultural progress and achieve great things. He contrasts this progress – in which "there is no waning" – with the waxing and waning cycle of death and birth in the natural world. However, we can't take the Judge at his word: for he himself shows that there is waning in the affairs of men, namely when a culture collapses at the height of its greatness, "the noon of [its] expression," as Rome collapsed, or the Anasazi culture in whose ruins the gang is camping. The Judge wants us to believe that human progress is limitless, precisely because such a belief will lead us into "the onset of night," and the Judge desires to bring about a bloody night that does not end.

Chapter 12 Quotes

They rode on. They rode like men invested with a purpose whose origins were antecedent to them, like blood legatees of an order both imperative and remote.

Page Number: 146
Explanation and Analysis:

While riding in pursuit of the first Indians they've had any sign of for days, the Gileños, the gang crosses into Mexico, through a forbidding landscape. This quote describes the men as they ride through a swallowing darkness.

The narrator says that the origins of the men's purpose seemed "antecedent" to the men themselves – that is, the men's purpose existed before the men themselves existed. In other words, the men are instruments of fate, and they do what they do because they are fated to do it. This is a point of view verging on fatalism, the belief that all events are predetermined and inevitable. But predetermined by what or whom? The physical laws of the universe? God?

Furthermore, the narrator compares the men of Glanton's gang to "blood legatees," that is, people who have inherited their bad blood and their penchant for spilling blood from a will. This will was signed, so to speak, by the same fate that gives the men (or forces upon the men) their purpose. Although we cannot see the order the men descend from – one of anarchic warfare and ritual violence – because it is "remote," the will of this order must be executed, for it is "imperative."

Simply put, then, the men ride as though they are fated by a higher power to commit acts of violence, with the implication that men ride to commit such acts because men are inherently violent and always have been.

The trailing of the argonauts terminated in ashes and…the expriest asked if some might not see the hand of a cynical god conducting with what austerity and what mock surprise so lethal a congruence. The posting of witnesses by a third and other path altogether might also be called in evidence as appearing to beggar chance, yet the judge…said that in this was expressed the very nature of the witness and that his proximity was no third thing but rather the prime, for what could be said to occur unobserved?

Related Characters: Judge Holden , Ben Tobin
Page Number: 147
Explanation and Analysis:

Shortly before slaughtering the Gileños, the gang comes upon five wagons burning in the desert, surrounded by mutilated corpses. "Argonauts" refers to the mythical band of Greek heroes led by Jason who successfully recovered the Golden Fleece after overcoming many trials and monsters; this is an ironic allusion here, given that Jason's Argonauts were heroic, god-like men, whereas "the argonauts" in McCarthy's text are merely the anonymous dead.

Tobin sees the mutilated dead and wreckage, and he speculates that god must be "cynical" and even malignant. After all, what other kind of god would bring together killer and victim, despite all odds, to one little place amid an immense desert? The "congruence," or meeting of the two parties, was "fatal" in the sense of "deadly" and "fated." Moreover, Tobin says, the very fact that there are people to witness the resulting carnage further suggests that what happens is not coincidental, that is, it "beggar[s] chance," and therefore must have been determined by fate.

The Judge's response implies that before anything can be said to exist, it must first be witnessed or observed. Witness, then, is "the prime," or the thing that comes first, before an event can be said to have taken place. The Judge himself wants to witness everything so that its existence depends on him, yet he himself would go unobserved so as to remain free. Of course, though, the Judge is observed – by the novel's readers.

Chapter 13 Quotes

Above all else they appeared wholly at venture, primal, provisional, devoid of order. Like beings provoked out of the absolute rock and set nameless and at no remove from their own loomings to wander ravenous and doomed and mute as gorgons shambling the brutal wastes of Gondwanaland in a time before nomenclature was and each was all.

Page Number: 168
Explanation and Analysis:

Glanton's gang has exchanged their first batch of scalps for gold in Chihuahua and they've just ridden out of Coyame, a little Mexican village. They're now seeking signs of the Apaches along the Texas border. This quote describes the men as they ride.

Although the gang members have a mission – to kill Apaches on behalf of the Mexican government – they ironically appear "at venture," that is, as if they were just where they are at random. These men have no respect for the promises they make to other people, nor do they respect the social order. The men are so "devoid of order" they more closely resemble "absolute rock" than human beings –in this, they are like the mythological monsters that appeared in the chaos out of which the world began. Indeed, the narrator calls them "gorgons," or monsters in Greek mythology with snakes for hair and who turn anyone who beholds them to stone.

The men are "at no remove from their own looming," that is, they are incapable of intellectually distancing themselves from, and self-consciously reflected on, what they are and what they do.

One of the arguments this passage is making is that mindless violence is universal. It existed in "Gondwanaland," one of the supercontinents that existed on earth millions of years ago, and as then, so now. People think we live in an ordered world, but this passage suggests that language-less chaos, where "each was all," exists everywhere, even to this day.

They entered the city haggard and filthy and reeking with the blood of the citizenry for whose protection they had contracted. The scalps of the slain villagers were strung from the windows of the governor’s house and the partisans were paid out of the all but exhausted coffers and the Sociedad was disbanded and the bounty rescinded. Within a week of their quitting the city there would be a price of eight thousand pesos posted for Glanton’s head.

Related Characters: John Joel Glanton
Page Number: 181
Explanation and Analysis:

Glanton's gang returns to Chihuahua City in triumph the first time, because they bear with them many Indian scalps. The second time they return, however, they bring with them the scalps not of the Indians they were contracted to kill, but the scalps of Mexican citizens, the very people the gang was hired to protect. The government in Chihuahua does not yet know this, however, and so it pays Glanton's men for "the scalps of the slain villagers" – which is what the gang was counting on. 

McCarthy's description of the gang's second return to the city is at once anticlimactic and grisly. The gang is no longer greeted with fanfare, it would seem, after they so abused Chihuahua's hospitality the last time. They are paid from the public funds, or "coffers," and that's it. "The bounty rescinded" means that the government of Chihuahua ended its offer to pay for Indian scalps.

The gang's betrayal of the Mexicans is nowhere more hideously represented than in the detail that slain Mexicans' scalps "were stung from the windows of the governor's house." This goes beyond irony – the governor's house decorated with the skin of those he's supposed to govern – into abject horror.

The government of Chihuahua must eventually discover Glanton's betrayal, for a week after he and his men ride out, the governor offers money to whomever kills Glanton. The hunters have become the hunted.

Chapter 14 Quotes

Only nature can enslave man and only when the existence of each last entity is routed out and made to stand naked before him will he be properly suzerain of the earth.

Related Characters: Judge Holden (speaker)
Page Number: 195
Explanation and Analysis:

While riding with the gang through a jungle toward Sonora, the Judge shoots birds to stuff and study. He also collects leaves, sketching them in his notebook at camp at night. Toadvine asks him why he does so, and the Judge responds with the quote given here.

The Judge thinks of nature as a great brutal force, a vicious cycle of birth and death, the stern necessity of surviving in the face of terrible hardship. It is because nature can overpower us that it "can enslave man." The Judge, however, refuses to be the slave of nature. He wants to "rout out," or find and expose, all of the different "entities" or things in nature: every animal, plant, mineral, and phenomenon. As he sees it, only when we have all the facts can we be "properly suzerain of the earth," – that is, the absolute ruler of the earth. This is an allusion to the Bible, where God says, "Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth" (Genesis 1:26).  

The Judge's vision of nature derives from the Enlightenment, a historical period in which reason, science, and technology came to be valued over all other domains of human knowledge. The Judge is confident that science can unravel entirely the mystery of nature, to the extent that human beings can control nature as they see fit. But whereas many Enlightenment thinkers thought that reason and science would lead to freer human societies, the Judge wants to understand nature only to use it in perpetuating warfare and in killing more effectively.    

The man who sets himself the task of singling out the thread of order from the tapestry will by the decision alone have taken charge of the world and it is only by such taking charge that he will effect a way to dictate the terms of his own fate.

Related Characters: Judge Holden (speaker)
Page Number: 196
Explanation and Analysis:

This quote comes from the same conversation between the Judge and Toadvine as the quote above. The Judge is contrasting the superstitious man who thinks the world's mystery is forever hidden to the scientific man who finds order in the world.

In the Judge's metaphor, the world is a "tapestry," or an image woven out of colored threads, and the scientific man is he who finds "the thread of order." This sounds compelling at first, but we might respond that a tapestry is a work of art, something that has order built into it, while the natural world is the very opposite of a work of art. To single out a thread in a tapestry is to miss the whole of which that thread is part. To put it bluntly, the things the Judge compares here – the tapestry and nature – are not really comparable.

However, the Judge himself seems to know this. Later, in Chapter 17, he will say that there is no mystery or order in the world save for what we put there, and that order is "like a string in a maze." This doesn't seem to reflect a change in the Judge's philosophy, but is like a more advanced presentation of the same topic, just as a math student learns calculus only after learning algebra. The Judge is giving the gang a devil's education, and they need to believe they can find order before they can believe that our own minds make order. The logical conclusion of the education offered by the Judge is nihilism and total war.

Chapter 16 Quotes

The judge emerged from the darkness. Evening, Lieutenant, he said. Are these men the witnesses?
Couts looked at his corporal. No, he said. They aint witnesses. Hell, Captain. You all were seen to enter the premises and seen to leave after the shot was fired. Are you going to deny that you and your men took your dinner there?
Deny ever goddamned word of it, said Glanton.

Related Characters: Judge Holden (speaker), John Joel Glanton (speaker), Lieutenant Couts (speaker)
Page Number: 233
Explanation and Analysis:

While eating with the gang in Tucson, the black Jackson murders the racist proprietor of the place, a man named Owens. Lieutenant Couts confronts the gang and announces that he needs to arrest Jackson. However, the Judge complicates what should be a rather clear-cut case by pointing out that nobody actually witnessed the shooting (or at least nobody outside the gang...).

The fact that the Judge emerges "from the darkness" has a faint symbolic charge here. The Judge himself avoids being seen, because when one goes unobserved, one can act freely without consequences. He is also someone who muddies and darkens what should be clear. Couts appeals to a very commonsense understanding of Owens's murder: the gang went into his premises with no one else there, a shot was heard, and the gang was seen to leave. But the Judge, and under his influence Glanton, explode this commonsense understanding by appealing to extreme skepticism. Without witnesses, they suggest, no one can really know what actually happened in Owens's place. By undermining the plain sense of things like this, the Judge gets the gang off of many hooks.

The novel, though, as a whole seems sympathetic to Couts's point of view; after all, it bears witness to the fact that Jackson killed Owens. 

Chapter 17 Quotes

War is the truest form of divination. It is the testing of one’s will and the will of another within the larger will which because it binds them is therefore forced to select. War is the ultimate game because war is at last a forcing of the unity of existence. War is god.

Related Characters: Judge Holden (speaker)
Page Number: 247
Explanation and Analysis:

One night, as they try to escape from from Colonel Garcia and his troops, the gang makes camp and the Judge discourses at length on the nature of warfare. He says that war always has and always will exist because people love it. He also says, in the quote at hand, that war is the truest way of seeing into the future and the unknown ("divination" is defined as "foretelling of future events or discovery of what is hidden by supernatural means").

How is war a form of divination, according to the Judge? When two parties fight, one has to win and one has to lose. We might think that this is just a test of brute strength and strategy, without anything to do with fate. But the Judge thinks otherwise. Specifically, he thinks that the victor in warfare is determined precisely by "the larger will" of fate, which brings warriors together and then decides who lives and who dies. By resolving the contradiction of conflicting wills (i.e. having one army defeat another), war forces unity into existence, and in this sense war is god. If this sounds like metaphysical nonsense, loaded with tenuous assumptions and logical gaps, that's because it is – McCarthy is testing his reader's critical power here, and inviting us to find the holes in the Judge's powerful rhetoric.

Also note that the Judge implies here he wants to be at war forever, in an endless night of battle – not, as he says earlier, to be the lord of the earth. He uses ideas of omniscience and absolute rulership as pretenses to help bring into reality his real, more insane vision of constant, total war. 

Chapter 18 Quotes

The Borginnis woman waded out with her dress ballooning about her and took him deeper and swirled him about grown man that he was in her great stout arms. She held him up, she crooned to him. Her pale hair floated on the water.

Related Characters: The idiot , Sarah Borginnis
Related Symbols: Bathing
Page Number: 254
Explanation and Analysis:

In Tucson, the gang agrees to escort Cloyce Bell and his brother James Robert, referred to throughout the novel as the idiot because of his severe disability, to California. The idiot travels in a filthy cage. One morning, on the banks of a river, a group of women sees the idiot, and they resolve to clean him and burn his cage. Sarah Borginnis is one of these women.

Women are a rare sight in the novel; they are usually mourners or prostitutes, and are very seldom named. As such, Sarah stands out. She achieves high moral dignity when she rebukes Cloyce for mistreating his brother, and with strength of character she takes charge of James Robert's care. McCarthy is careful in his diction to point both to Sarah's power and her tenderness. She has "great stout arms," but these arms don't do violence, like the Judge's massive arms, but rather they cradle. Her dress delicately balloons on the water. She has delicately "pale hair." Sarah is also something of a maternal figure – she even tucks James Robert in to bed later – and as such she acts as a strong foil to both the war-monger judge and to Mother Nature, who is painted as alien and bloodthirsty in the novel.

The bathing of the idiot is also, symbolically, a baptism. This is a physical and a spiritual cleansing, and for one brief moment in this novel strewn with abominations we see what a good society might look like: selfless, with a respect for human dignity and liberty.

Chapter 19 Quotes

All else was heaped on the flames and while the sun rose and glistened on their [the Yuma Indians’] gaudy faces they sat upon the ground each with his new goods before him and watched the fire and smoked their pipes as might some painted troupe of mimefolk recruiting themselves in such a wayplace far from the towns and the rabble hooting at them across the smoking footlamps, contemplating towns to come and the poor fanfare of trumpet and drum and the rude boards upon which their destinies were inscribed for these people were no less bound and indentured and they watched like the prefiguration of their own ends the carbonized skulls of their enemies incandescing before them bright as blood among the coals.

Page Number: 268-269
Explanation and Analysis:

Glanton's gang conspires with a band of Yuma Indians to seize Dr. Lincoln's ferry on the Colorado River, but Glanton swiftly betrays his Indian allies. In revenge, the Yumas launch a surprise attack on Glanton's gang, which results in the gang's decimation. The Yumas celebrate with a bonfire fueled by their enemies' corpses.

The violence of the Yumas' attack is starkly contrasted with the calm of the morning after, full of domestic touches: the fire itself, the pipes, the comparison of the Indians to "mimefolk," or mimes who earn their living through public performances. Were it not for the faces "gaudy" with blood and the burning, "carbonized skulls," this scene might strike us as downright picturesque. Mayhem and carnage are business as usual in the borderlands McCarthy depicts, a part of the daily routine. Of course, this makes the violence all the more shocking for us.

The comparison of the Indians to the mimes accomplishes a few things. It transforms a group of violent men to peaceful performers. This is an eerie transformation, because it is so at odds with the massacre we've just witnessed these people commit. Second, it suggests that what these men did was part of a script, as though in accordance with fate, to which the narrator says the Indians are as much slaves as anybody else is. Indeed, the burning skulls are a "prefiguration," or an image foretelling the violent deaths of the Indians themselves. Finally, the comparison suggests how surreal this violence is, and how swiftly its traces will disappear, like a performance ending. 

Chapter 21 Quotes

There’s a flawed place in the fabric of your heart. Do you think I could not know? You alone were mutinous. You alone reserved in your soul some corner of clemency for the heathen.

Related Characters: Judge Holden (speaker), The kid
Page Number: 293
Explanation and Analysis:

After the surviving gang members flee from the Yuma Indians into the desert, the quiet antagonism between the Kid and the Judge becomes explicit. The Judge hunts the Kid; the Kid hides from the Judge. While searching for his quarry, the Judge cries out that the Kid was "mutinous," or rebellious, against the gang by having "clemency," or mercy in his heart, for the "heathen," or the Indians and Mexicans the gang hunted.

The Kid is mutinous in the sense that, in his meager mercy, he could not commit himself wholly to the gang’s rampantly destructive cause, could not give himself to war the way the Judge himself does and, perhaps, the way the judge thought the Kid might be able to. The Judge was hoping that the Kid might be a spiritual son to him, a god of war, but the Kid's mercy prevents this. That he couldn't absolutely support the gang in its mass murdering is for us, the reader, the only unflawed aspect of the Kid's heart. This shows how perverted the Judge's judgment of human character can be, as he condemns the Kid for the one thing for which the reader can (slightly) admire him.

Chapter 22 Quotes

It is this false moneyer with his gravers and burins who seeks favor with the judge and he is at contriving from cold slag brute in the crucible a face that will pass, an image that will render this residual specie current in the markets where men barter. Of this is the judge judge and the night does not end.

Related Characters: Judge Holden
Page Number: 303
Explanation and Analysis:

After being released from jail in San Diego, the Kid finds a surgeon to remove the arrow lodged in his leg. Under the influence of the surgeon's ether, a kind of painkiller, the Kid in his delirium has a dream of the Judge in which a "moneyer," or person who mints money, forges coins with the Judge's image on them, all of which the Judge determines to be inadequate. This moneyer uses "gravers and burins," chisel-like tools for engraving in metal, and a "crucible," a container for melting metals down.

This passage is the first in which we get any idea of what, exactly, Judge Holden is a judge of. The fact that it comes in a dream suggests on the one hand that we can never really know – but also that this account of the Judge is in some way inspired, or closer to the truth than any waking account could be.

Generally, the face of a ruler is impressed into a coin. Earlier the Judge claims that he desires to be a supreme ruler, and yet in this dream he never approves of the moneyer's representation of him. It is as though the Judge’s true aim is not to be a ruler after all, for this would mean the end of the eternal night of warfare, a shift from warfare into rulership via economic power, suitable for the "markets where men barter." The Judge wants no part of that shift. Further, The Judge does not want to be understood and seen, he does not want to be witnessed, for he can more effectively remain completely free to wage war when shrouded in mystery and darkness.

Chapter 23 Quotes

The judge watched him. Was it always your idea, he said, that if you did not speak you would not be recognized?
You seen me.
The judge ignored this. I recognized when I first saw you and yet you were a disappointment to me. Then and now. Even so at the last I find you here with me.
I aint with you.

Related Characters: The kid (speaker), Judge Holden (speaker)
Page Number: 319
Explanation and Analysis:

The Kid grows up and becomes the Man. In Fort Griffin, he goes into a local saloon where he meets, after all these years and for the last time, the Judge. The Judge approaches the Man, and it is during their conversation that we find the exchange quoted here.

The Kid is silent in the face of the Judge's questions. He knows that the Judge can out-talk anyone, and that silence is the only viable form of resistance to his powerful rhetoric.The Judge, after all, wants everything to stand naked before him; he wants to understand in order to control. The Kid defies him by concealing his mind in silence, rendering himself unknowable.

The Judge claims to have always recognized the Kid as "a disappointment," someone who could not entirely serve the god of war. The Kid again defies the Judge. "I aint with you" means something like, "I don't want to have anything to do with you, we're not in any way related, and I don't support your cause." This is the ultimate declaration of the Kid's independence from the Judge's party of war, and it echoes his claim earlier in the novel that he is in no way kin to the mad Captain White.

He dances in light and in shadow and he is a great favorite. He never sleeps, the judge. He is dancing, dancing. He says that he will never die.

Related Characters: Judge Holden
Related Symbols: The Dance
Page Number: 327
Explanation and Analysis:

After the Judge presumably murders the Kid in the Fort Griffin saloon's outhouse, he deftly takes to the dance floor. The dance is a symbol in the novel for warfare as a ritual that enables individuals to transcend their own feelings of emptiness and despair. The Judge, of course, is as great a dancer as he is a killer, and he is also "a great favorite" of the people watching him dance, which is ironic because he wants to see their world plunged into perpetual warfare. Perhaps, though, people do subconsciously desire either the "glory" or brutality of war or even their own deaths, as Freud theorized, which would help explain the Judge's mass appeal.

Throughout the novel, it is implied that the Judge isn't quite mortal, or even human; there is something malignantly supernatural about him. This implication finds some confirmation here when the Judge announces that he never sleeps and will never die. If we believe the Judge, we might think that he is indeed an immortal, a god of war like the Greek Ares or Roman Mars. However, we might instead take the Judge to be merely a man who embodies the spirit of warfare, such that his claim never to sleep and never to die is really a claim that war will always exist. McCarthy never conclusively resolves the question of the Judge's mortality for us.

Epilogue Quotes

In the dawn there is a man progressing over the plain by means of holes which he is making in the ground. He uses an implement with two handles and he chucks it into the hole and he enkindles the stone in the hole with his steel hole by hole striking the fire out of the rock which God has put there.

Related Characters: The Digger
Page Number: 329
Explanation and Analysis:

The novel's epilogue is a mystery, even to scholars. Who is the "man progressing over the plain"? Does he come in the name of the machine of death which the Judge hopes to build, or is he an anonymous hero bringing life out of death, living fire from dead stone? And what is he doing, literally, with his two-handled implement? Building a fence, perhaps, or laying a railroad track? Perhaps he is helping to settle the Wild West, with the effect that crimes like the Judge's can no longer go unobserved. Perhaps he is an agent of industry, someone whose work will make America more effective in waging its wars abroad. 

We suspect that the digger is heroic, and maybe even a metaphor for the historical novelist like McCarthy who cuts into history so that he can turn dead records into a luminous work of art. We should also point out that some critics think the "implement with two handles" is an allusion to Milton's poem "Lycidas," in which someone with a vague "two-handed engine" stands ready to strike down the corruption of the world.

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