Blood Meridian

Blood Meridian Chapter 11 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
The gang continues their journey into the mountains. At dusk, a bear rises out of the vegetation and, despite being shot by Glanton, manages to carry off in its jaws one of the Delawares. For three days the other Delawares trail the bear through the forest, but to no avail. They reunite with the gang, and between themselves the scalp hunters divvy up the dead man’s property.
After Tobin tells his story about how the Judge exploited nature, nature, in the figure of the bear, proves capable of fighting back. The gang is unceremonious and practical in respect to the death of its members, dividing up the dead man’s property without hesitation.
Themes
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The gang rides onward through hostile terrain, down through a deep gorge. There they find pieces of pottery and Spanish helmets. They make camp among ancient ruins, which the Judge explores, sketching the small artifacts he find till dark. All the next day he continues to sketch, with characteristic excellence, artifacts into his ledger. After sketching the foot piece of a suit of armor originally from Toledo, Spain, the Judge crumples the foot piece into a ball and casts it into the campfire. He sits back, satisfied.
As much as the Judge prizes knowledge for the edge it gives him in combat, he seems d determined to horde knowledge for himself. After “mastering” the foot piece by sketching it, he destroys the original so that none else can acquire and exploit a knowledge equal to his own. He also seems to take satisfaction in having the power to destroy ancient, artifacts. He wants not so much to know the world as to master it, and to be the sole master of it.
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Webster asks the Judge what he intends to do with his sketches. The Judge says that he will expunge them from human memory. Webster then requests that the Judge never draw him, for he wouldn’t want his image shown to strangers; the Judge responds that each man is already housed in the minds of the men who know him. Webster insists that he doesn’t want to be sketched, but the other men begin to heckle him for his vanity—who would want to see an image of Webster anyway?
The Judge sketches so that he can understand the world around him; it is only when he understands the world fully that he may destroy those things in it of which he does not approve. The Judge sympathizes with Webster’s desire not to be represented, comprehended, witnessed in the minds of others, perhaps because he views such comprehension as an act of dominion.
Themes
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The Judge rises to Webster’s defense. He tells of an old Hueco Indian whom he drew, who became very fearful that an enemy might deface his portrait. The Judge and the Hueco ended up burying the image in the mountains. Webster says that the Hueco is just ignorant and that their cases aren’t at all similar, upon which the Judge reaches for his ledger and asks then if Webster has no objection to being sketched after all. Webster again declines.
Webster has good reason to be afraid of being sketched by the Judge, though he may not know it. After all, it was by presenting a defaced sketch, so to speak, of the Reverend Green that the Judge brought about that man’s persecution in Chapter 1. Besides, demonstrably understanding an object makes it easier to manipulate that object.
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The men then discuss the Indians who long ago inhabited the ruins they’re presently camped in; the Judge tells another story, about a man who owned a harness shop along a road with few travelers. To make extra money, the man would disguise himself as an Indian and beg travelers for money. However, one traveler recognized that the harness maker was actually white and made him feel ashamed, so the harness maker invited the traveler back to his house, where his family—a wife and two children—lived.
The harness maker makes his living by misrepresenting himself, by defacing his own sketch in the world’s ledger, which none but the traveler discerns for lack of an image of the original. The harness maker is ashamed that the traveler sees who he really is, a fraud. Perhaps Webster, like the harness maker, doesn’t want the Judge to have an image of him, lest that image compromise his freedom.
Themes
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The Judge goes on to say that the harness maker’s family members all regarded him as mad and were waiting to escape from him. This accounts for why they were so welcoming of their guest. During dinner, the harness maker tried to wheedle money from the traveler. The traveler gave the old man two coins, but the old man then asked for even more, upon which the traveler told him that he’s a loss to God and humankind alike.
Exposed, the harness maker can no longer make an easy living through his deception. He will be forced to enter the world of economic markets and commerce. He tries to wheedle money from the traveler to stave off this fate, but the traveler implies that someone who so refuses to enter the world of honest exchange is a waste, ungodly and antisocial.
Themes
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Around this time, a black man came down the road drawing a funeral hearse, the Judge says, then scans his audience for a moment before resuming the tale. The harness maker’s son says that the black man is equal to everyone else and asks that a place be made for him at the dinner table. But by this time, the black man had passed from sight.
The son stands up for the equality of all people, regardless of race. He might be moved to say this by the traveler, whose argument suggests that the only way to be of value is to participate in honest exchange, and one can’t do so if marginalized like blacks are.
Themes
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The old harness maker repented upon hearing this and agreed with his son. The traveler announced that it was time for him to depart; the harness maker’s wife wept and their daughter clung to the stranger. The harness maker walked the traveler to a crossroads, almost parted ways with him, but called back to walk with him further. Deep in the woods, in the dark, the harness maker picked up a rock with which he beat the traveler to death before stealing his effects and burying him.
Earlier, the Judge tells Webster that once we are witnessed our image becomes arrested, so to speak, in the minds of others. The harness maker perhaps desires to evade this fate, to be free to be whomever he wants. This explains why he kills the traveler, who has witnessed him, thereby chaining the harness maker to his authentic image.
Themes
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The old man tore his own clothes and bloodied himself before returning home, so that he could deceive his family into believing that he and the traveler were set upon by robbers and the traveler murdered by them. Years later, on his deathbed, the harness maker told his son the truth; the son offered forgiveness, and the father accepted.
After murdering the traveler, the harness maker is free to recreate himself through deceptions—here, as an innocent victim—and there are no witnesses to say otherwise. However, before dying the old man gives his son his true image.
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But the son was not sorry, but rather jealous of the dead traveler, whose bones he disinterred and scattered. He himself wandered west and became a murderer. The old woman, however, thought that wild animals had disturbed the grave. She restored as many bones to the grave as she could find and told people that it was actually her son’s grave, which, the Judge concludes, perhaps by that time was so.
The son is jealous of the traveler because he alone held in his mind an authentic image of his, the son’s, fraudulent, murderous father. The son’s role model was a false idealization, and the son, despairing and empty, turns to a life of violence.
Themes
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Many of the men dispute the facts of the Judge’s story, but the Judge says there’s more to the story. He says that the murdered traveler had a pregnant wife waiting for him who bore the traveler’s son. The Judge concludes that this son is in a bad way, because his father will always be an idol of perfection to which the son can never attain because the son will never have any memory of his father making mistakes or errors.
The men’s many versions of the story illustrate just how readily representations can be corrupted and defaced, just as the son’s mental representation of his father was. The rest of the story the Judge tells suggests that the father-son relationship, regardless of the father’s virtues or vices, dooms sons to be forever wayward and lost.
Themes
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The Judge then explains that the Indians who lived in the ruins the gang is camping in were the Anasazi, who were fine builders and inventors and sought to altar the structure of the universe by building in stone. The achievements of the Anasazi stand in judgment on all the lesser works of future ages.
The Judge implicitly extends his account of the father-son relationship to the relationship between great civilizations like that of the Anasazi and those lesser civilizations that follow them. As sons are lost, so too the lesser civilizations.
Themes
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Tobin observes that both the son of the murderous father and of the ideal father came to ruin, and asks the Judge how one should raise a child, then. The Judge earnestly proposes that a child should be put in a pit with wild dogs at a young age, solve deadly puzzles, and run naked in the desert. As wolves cull themselves, so should human beings. At the end of the Judge’s speech, the men whisper in his presence as though afraid of waking something dangerous.
The Judge’s radical proposal for education implies that fathers, mothers and teachers should be dispensed with altogether. Instead, children should father themselves by overcoming extreme hazards, or else die trying. Note that the kid practically raised himself by traveling, brawling, and soldiering. He seems like the Judge’s ideal son.
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The next day, while the gang rides, a mule falls down a canyon wall to its death. The men ride on, crossing mesas in the following days, past where Indians cooked mescal, past enormous flowers where bats feed. They camp, and the next day ride through a tattered village where Glanton finds a dog which he tames with a piece of jerky. The gang takes the trail out of the village, with scouts riding ahead. Days later, the scouts return and report seeing fires fifty miles to the south, the first sign of Indians they’ve seen in many days.
The chapter opens with an animal killing a human; it closes with a natural hazard killing an animal. The world is brutal, and only the fit have a chance of surviving (that’s what the Judge might say, anyway). As the Judge tamed bat feces and urine into useful gunpowder, so Glanton tames the dog with meat, thereby claiming dominion over it. The fires foreshadow the bloodshed to come.
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