Blood Meridian

Blood Meridian Chapter 17 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
At dusk, the gang rides out of Tucson. With them are five new recruits, Cloyce and the idiot, and also the barrel of whiskey stolen the night before, which Glanton promised to Mangas Colorado. The barrel has been drained, refashioned, and now holds only three quarts or so of liquor. Mangas and some Apaches ride out to meet the gang, and the whiskey is exchanged for gold and silver. Mangas seems dissatisfied with the trade, but Davy Brown assures a new recruit that the Apaches won’t follow in the night.
The gang never loses an opportunity to exploit people, here Mangas Colorado and his men. Although Brown’s confidence that the Apaches won’t follow the gang goes unexplained, it may be because he assumes that the Apaches— who have historically been regarded as having difficulty with the use of alcohol—will get so drunk on the whiskey that they won’t be able to follow.
Themes
Warfare and Domination Theme Icon
Racism and Partisanship Theme Icon
The gang rides west, past little towns and through a saguaro forest. They camp; Glanton stares thoughtfully into the fire. The narrator describes him as a man full of resources, equal to all challenges, even death. He does not weigh consequences, and even though he accepts that we cannot escape fate, he nonetheless claims agency and would drive the sun to its final darkness as if he ordered it at the beginning of time. Meanwhile, the Judge sits scribbling in his ledger, watching the idiot tirelessly.
The central characterization of Glanton in the novel. He is something of a great man whose viciousness is consequently all the more tragic. He is obsessed with fate, and seems to have intimations that he will die violently; his desire to control this fate results in self-destructive tendencies, hence the metaphor centering on the sun. Meanwhile, the Judge who wants to master everything with his mind is entranced by the mindless “idiot.”
Themes
Warfare and Domination Theme Icon
Fate Theme Icon
Two days later, the gang encounters a legion of one hundred Sonoran troops led by Colonel Garcia. They are seeking a band of Apaches led by a man named Pablo. Glanton exchanges rudimentary civilities with Garcia but rides on, the gang in tow. The narrator says that it’s as though the place to the south from which Glanton has come and the place east to which he’s riding don’t have existence for him.
Even though the gang was almost wiped out by the Sonorans serving under Elias, Glanton acts as though that never happened. As obsessed with fate as he is, Glanton also lives relentlessly in the present, without any sense of guilt or regret.
Themes
Racism and Partisanship Theme Icon
The next night, the gang is sitting around the fire, the Judge off on some mission. Someone asks Tobin if there used to be two moons in the sky, and he says it’s possible. He supposes that God, disturbed by the lunacy on the earth, could have extinguished the second moon, and left the first only because He could think of no other way to make it possible for birds to fly at night.
Tobin’s response to the question about two moons is based on a historically widespread astrological belief that the moon makes people insane. Tobin’s God, it would seem, thinks it more important that birds be free to fly at night than for people to be rid altogether of their insanity.
Themes
Warfare and Domination Theme Icon
Fate Theme Icon
Religion and Ritual Theme Icon
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Someone else asks if there are humans or like creatures on other planets. The Judge has returned to the fire and answers in the negative. He says that the universe is infinitely various, and that the order we see in the universe is imposed by our own minds, not inherent in the thing itself. Davy Brown spits into the fire and dismisses this as crazy talk.
Even though the Judge claims to desire a full knowledge of nature, here he suggests that that knowledge would be impossible to acquire given nature’s infinite variety. At the same time, the Judge’s belief in chaos as the natural state of the universe aligns with his own supreme attachment to the chaos that is war.
Themes
Warfare and Domination Theme Icon
The Judge smiles and kneels beside Davy Brown with a coin in his hand. “Where is the coin,” he asks. The Judge throws the coin and it circles the campfire, being perhaps attached to horsehair, before returning to the Judge’s hand. He likens this to the orbiting of the moon and the fated lives of men. He then throws the coin again and it vanishes into the night, before returning after some time to his hand. Some of the men think that it’s merely a trick, and the Judge himself says that all coins are false coins.
The coin trick relates to the Judge’s remark that we impose order on the universe with our own minds. The coin spins around the fire and it seems like it must be connected to horsehair. But perhaps the mind just assumes the coin must be tethered, for the Judge then throws the coin far into the night only for it almost magically to return, an act which the mind struggles to understand as an ordered event. This trick seems to prove that the universe is far more chaotic and mysterious than Brown, say, would like to believe.
Themes
Warfare and Domination Theme Icon
Fate Theme Icon
The next day the gang is again on the move. Glanton’s dog (the one he tamed with jerky in Ch. 11) falls to the back of the column, and it doesn’t come when Glanton calls. Glanton drops back, finds the dog, hits it viciously and drives it before him.
Though Glanton likes to believe he’s tamed his dog, the dog resists him, doesn’t return to him like a coin tethered to horsehair. This lack of order upsets Glanton, who violently asserts his will.
Themes
Warfare and Domination Theme Icon
Soon after, the gang rides past dead mules and ruined wagons, dead cattle and horses. They ride over a dry lake, and on past a crucified Apache. In this landscape, the narrator observes, men and rocks share a strange kinship.
The narrator’s comment that men and rocks share kinship suggests that human beings cannot assert their wills over inanimate matter, for perhaps they are but inanimate matter themselves, with will and consciousness mere illusions.
Themes
Warfare and Domination Theme Icon
While the gang camps one night, the Judge discourses on warfare. He says that what people think about war doesn’t matter, because war was always and will always be here. He calls war the ultimate trade, and says that it contains all other trades. War endures, he says, “because young men love it and old men love it in them.” He also says that men are born for nothing but games, and that war is the ultimate game because it involves the highest stakes. He concludes that, insofar as war is a battle of human wills within the will of the universe (that is, fate), war forces existence into a unity: “War is God.”
The Judge’s climactic lecture. Here he implies that his highest aim is not to be a “suzerain” as he claimed earlier, but rather to play the game of war without end. This would in turn suggest that he only uses notions of omniscience and absolute dominion as pretenses to engage in warfare. When a conflict of wills arises, the Judge says, war resolves it, and this resolution reveals fate, the will of God.
Themes
Warfare and Domination Theme Icon
Fate Theme Icon
Religion and Ritual Theme Icon
Davy Brown studies Judge Holden and dismisses him as crazy. Another gang member, Doc Irving, says that might doesn’t make right. The Judge responds that the weak invented morality to disenfranchise the strong, and observes that history subverts morality at every turn. He also observes that we can never test the quality of our moral judgments.
Though some of the gang members challenge the Judge, it seems mere hypocrisy, because, as much as the Judge himself, they lead the fatal, chaotic life of war. The Judge goes on to discredit morality as a standard of judgment for human conduct.
Themes
Warfare and Domination Theme Icon
The Judge asks Tobin what he thinks. “The priest does not say,” Tobin replies. The Judge counters that the priest has already said by quitting the priesthood and becoming a warrior. Tobin says that he was never actually a priest, only a novitiate. The Judge observes that “men of god and men of war have strange affinities.” Tobin tells the Judge that he won’t contradict him and that the Judge should not ask that he do so; but the Judge responds that everything he could ask for the ex-priest has already given.
The Judge attempts to bolster his argument that war is the ultimate trade and also expose the hypocrisy of his fellows by pointing out that no less than a former priest, who once observed a religion centered on mercy, has turned to warfare. Tobin, for his part, tries to protect the integrity of Christianity by disqualifying himself as a representative spiritual authority.
Themes
Warfare and Domination Theme Icon
Religion and Ritual Theme Icon
On the next day, the gang crosses a lakebed of lava and some granite hills. The next they find water, and the Judge finds a mysterious bone. Consequently, he gives a lecture on paleontology to some new recruits, answering their questions thoroughly. Nearby, the idiot is tethered near a campfire, where he sits with hands outheld as if yearning for the flames. The Judge drops the bone and tells those listening to him that, though they want to be told some mystery, “the mystery is that there is no mystery.” When the Judge raises and moves away, Tobin says that the Judge is himself a mystery.
The Judge, that great lecturer, here devalues his immense erudition; for if there is no mystery, as he says, what can all of his penetration into the mystery of nature amount to? He seems bored with his knowledge, perhaps moved by his own speech on warfare from the night before, which would hold that knowledge not useful in warfare is not worth having at all.
Themes
Warfare and Domination Theme Icon
After three more days of riding, the gang reaches the Colorado River. There they find a wagon train ravaged by cholera. Scouring through the wreckage are Yuma Indians, some ferrying livestock across the river. Glanton speaks to an old man, who tells him that his party aims to cross the river via a ferryboat, which charges a dollar per person. The ferry arrives, piloted by a doctor named Lincoln, whom Glanton introduces to the gang.
The ferry crossing presents the first opportunity for the gang to assert their dominion and generate a profit since being pursued by General Elias through the desert.
Themes
Warfare and Domination Theme Icon
Later, Glanton, the Judge, and five men ride downriver to where the Yuma Indians are encamped. They are met by the group’s one-eyed leader, Caballo en Pelo, a lesser chief called Pascual, and another Indian named Pablo (presumably the leader of the band Colonel Garcia and his Sonoran soldiers were hunting). Davy Brown spits and Glanton calls the bunch “crazylookin,” but the Judge thinks that the Indians are more useful than they appear.
Having just arrived at the ferry crossing, Glanton quickly tests the waters, as it were, investigating what the local power dynamics are so that he and the gang can better exploit them to advantage. The Judge has especial insight into how the Yumas could be useful for the gang’s purposes.
Themes
Warfare and Domination Theme Icon
Racism and Partisanship Theme Icon