Blood Meridian

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Warfare and Domination Theme Analysis

Themes and Colors
Warfare and Domination Theme Icon
Witness and Mercy Theme Icon
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Religion and Ritual Theme Icon
Racism and Partisanship Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Blood Meridian, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Warfare and Domination Theme Icon

Blood Meridian is a tragic procession of bloody violent acts, from barroom brawls to great and terrible massacres on the plains; even the landscapes of the novel—barren, alien, indifferent—seem to be at war with the forms of life that traverse them.

The central theoretician and advocate for warfare in the novel is Judge Holden, who hails war itself as the ultimate trade, and humankind as its ultimate practitioner. The Judge says very simply that war endures because young men love it and old men love it in them, a claim borne out by the kid’s almost native taste for mindless violence and by the eagerness of so many men to join Glanton’s gang of scalp hunters as they spread carnage and terror throughout the borderlands of the United States and Mexico. In his most grandiose lecture, the Judge goes on to make an even larger claim. War is essentially a battle of wills, he says, and the outcome is determined by a “larger will,” namely fate. In the sense that it determines the course of the universe, “war is God” in the Judge’s formulation.

What’s more, all true servants of war become gods themselves with dominion over the earth. So it is that Glanton holds dominion over his gang, or the Judge holds dominion over almost everything he encounters, from the bat guano he converts into gunpowder to the children he violates and murders to the idiot whom he puts on a leash. Indeed, throughout their expeditions, the scalp hunters are not so much interested in turning a profit—they squander their money wantonly on debauchery—so much as in dominating the lives of those around them, whether they’re demanding drink or running a ferry as though it were a medieval fiefdom. All those who fail to truly serve war fall out of such dominion and into oblivion, the Judge says, and by the end of the novel, it would seem that only he is destined to live forever, dancing the dance of war.

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Warfare and Domination Quotes in Blood Meridian

Below you will find the important quotes in Blood Meridian related to the theme of Warfare and Domination.
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.

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 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.

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 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 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 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

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.