Blood Meridian

Blood Meridian Chapter 19 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Glanton, the Judge, and two other gang members sit drinking tea with Doctor Lincoln, who runs the ferry on the Colorado River. Glanton warns the doctor that the Yuma Indians cannot be trusted. The Judge persuades the doctor to take precautions against an attack: to this end, Lincoln grants the gang permission to fortify the hill near the ferry, as well as to prepare the howitzer cannon he owns to be fired.
Glanton manipulates Lincoln into giving the gang power over the ferry. In turn, Glanton plans on consolidating this power by defending the ferry from an Indian attack that he, Glanton himself, coordinated. This betrayal is the first in a chapter full of betrayals, violations of partisanship.
Themes
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Two days later, the Yuma Indians attack the ferry crossing. Davy Brown and Webster stand on the hill with the howitzer and fire at them, killing some dozen Indians. Then Glanton and his men ride upon them and attack; the Indians are outraged by the betrayal. Many in the Yuma company are killed, forcing them to retreat. After the battle, the gang members scalp the dead.
The gang puts Glanton’s plan to take control of the ferry into motion. It takes both Brown and Webster to operate the howitzer here, but later the Judge carries it under one arm, illustrating his almost supernatural strength. Scalping the dead is almost gratuitous—who will the gang sell the scalps to?
Themes
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Glanton takes charge of the ferry, charging people not one dollar to cross as Lincoln did, but four dollars. Not long after, the gang members just begin to outright rob their passengers. Doctor Lincoln remonstrates, but the gang pays him off. Eventually, as the outrages multiply, the Doctor just locks himself in his quarters.
Glanton is back on his fated course, purposeful again now that he can exert his terrible will over the vulnerable and turn a profit. Like Trias before him, Lincoln retires from the scalp hunters’ company, realizing that he too has made a deal with the devil.
Themes
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Not wanting to barter with Glanton, a company of U.S. soldiers led by General Patterson builds their own ferry downriver. Once the soldiers move on, the Yumas begin to operate this ferry, represented by a man named Callaghan. Within days, this rival ferry is burned, probably by Glanton’s gang, and Callaghan is murdered, to float down the river to the sea.
It is intolerable to Glanton and his fellows that their will should be opposed in any way, and also that travelers should have a choice as to which ferry they cross the river on. It would seem that the gang imposes its will, as usual, through brutality.
Themes
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On Easter of that year, Toadvine and the kid and another gang member, Billy Carr, are going upstream to cut willow poles when they come across an encampment of Sonorans. In their midst is a scaffold from which hangs an effigy of Judas, which the Sonorans set on fire. The Sonorans offer the kid a drink, but he declines and hurries on.
Judas infamously betrayed Jesus Christ. His presence is fitting in a chapter full of betrayals, like the gang’s betrayal of both the Yumas and Lincoln. As Judas is here set on fire, so too will many of the gang members’ corpses be burnt by this chapter’s end.
Themes
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Time passes. By now, Glanton has enslaved many Sonorans to work at the fortifications by the ferry; the gang is also detaining many Indian and Mexican girls. They have amassed a great deal of wealth, but Glanton doesn’t seem to care. He just amasses his gold and silver and jewels and money and other goods in a “wood and leather trunk in his quarters.”
The gang is now more prosperous and powerful than ever. Glanton doesn’t care about wealth, though; along with his men, he seems to care only about being able to dominate and exploit others, about self-destructively embracing his fate.
Themes
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On April 2, David Brown, Webster, and Toadvine set out for San Diego to obtain supplies. They arrive without incident five days later. After a night of heavy drinking, Brown wakes up alone, with the party’s money tied about his neck. His companions have been jailed. After attempting unsuccessfully to secure their release by speaking with the local alcalde (mayor or magistrate), Brown goes to a local farrier, who also works on guns, and asks the craftsman to saw off the barrels of his beautiful shotgun. The farrier refuses, citing the excellence of the gun’s craftsmanship. Brown threatens the farrier, and the farrier flees.
Dominant though the gang is, its stronghold is not self-sustaining: supplies must be brought in. This forces the gang to send members out of its immediate sphere of influence, which ultimately makes it possible for Brown to betray the gang by defecting, taking their money with him. Most people appreciate the beauty of objects like Brown’s gun; but Brown has no mind for beauty, only utility.
Themes
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The farrier returns with the sergeant of the guard to find Brown hacking at his shotgun himself. The sergeant asks if Brown threatened the farrier, and Brown says that he did not threaten to harm the farrier; he made a promise to do so. When Brown finishes his work, he exits the shop, the farrier nowhere in sight. Brown tells the sergeant that the farrier must have withdrawn his charges.
Lieutenant Couts couldn’t bring charges against Owens’s murderer for lack of a witness. However, even when Brown admits to promising to harm the farrier, the law does not touch him. He has effectively silenced his accuser, and the sergeant is quite likely too scared to attempt an arrest.
Themes
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In the plaza, Brown encounters Toadvine and Webster, newly released. The three begin drinking, first on a beach (none of them have ever seen the ocean before), then at a bar where a fight breaks out and Brown sets a young soldier on fire with his cigar. Brown is imprisoned. The next day, Brown attempts with the many coins in his possession to bribe a soldier named Petit to free him. After two days pass, Petit decides to accept the bribe. As the two ride out of San Diego, Brown shoots him in the back of the head, takes the boy’s ears for his necklace, then rides on.
Brown reveals himself to be an especially cruel and extravagant killer. The soldier aflame recalls the burning effigy of Judas from earlier in this chapter, and anticipates the fire in which the Yumas burn the corpses of their betrayers. Petit is persuaded to set Brown free by the prospect of money, much as the kid was persuaded to join Captain White’s army. But Brown betrays Petit: he is no longer beholden to anyone, not even Glanton.
Themes
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Days later, after Toadvine and Webster return to the ferry and tell Glanton what befell them, Glanton leaves the Judge in charge of the ferry and rides with the five men to San Diego, straight to the alcalde’s house. There, Glanton and his men torture the alcalde and his wife, seeking the money dispatched with Davy Brown as well as Brown himself. Nothing comes of the interrogation. The gang members tie up the magistrate, his wife, along with a local grocer, and abandon them in a seaside hut, then take to the streets for two days “crazed with liquor.”
The gang is divided and also, with Brown missing, falling apart. Although Glanton rides with great purpose in San Diego, he loses all momentum after his futile interrogation of the alcalde. Instead of continuing to search for the money and Brown, Glanton and his men instead collapse into self-destructive drunkenness. It is in part this deadening of the gang’s will which makes the Yumas’ raid on the ferry to come so deadly.
Themes
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Glanton returns to the ferry, despite warnings from refugees he meets on the way, to find a half-naked Mexican girl collared and chained to a post and a filthy Doctor Lincoln pleading with him and jabbering. “That man,” he says pointing to the fortifications on the hill, presumably referring to the Judge. Glanton rides up the hill to find the Judge “like some great balden archimandrite” and black Jackson wearing nothing but free-flowing cloth. Glanton rides on to his own quarters.
Horrors abound when the Judge is in charge, typified by the exploited Mexican girl. The Judge, dressed like a high priest of war, seems even too powerful for Glanton to control now. The family of magicians foretold that Jackson could begin his life anew; but he has chosen the Judge’s path, which for all but the Judge leads to death.
Themes
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Days and nights of drunken debauchery and violence follow. Someone gives the idiot whiskey one night and he dances “with great gravity.” A few mornings later, black Jackson is standing on the ferry and leans down to picks up a coin he finds stuck in the floor, only to take an arrow through the abdomen moments later. He turns and is shot again in chest and groin. A Yuma jumps aboard the boat and clubs black Jackson to death.
The Judge later compares dance to the ritual of warfare, and it would seem that even the idiot has a yearning to participate in just such a ritual; perhaps this explains why the war-loving Judge decides to keep him as a pet, though it may also be that the Judge wishes to master the “innocence” of the idiot. Petit died figuratively reaching for money; such is literally the case with the black Jackson.
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The Yuma Indians invade the fortifications on the hill overlooking the ferry. They kill Doctor Lincoln along with many gang members, including the drunken Gunn, Wilson, and Henderson Smith. The Yuma leader Caballo en Pelo, whom Glanton earlier betrayed, discovers Glanton lying in a big brass bed. Glanton wakes and glares wildly as Caballo en Pelo gets into bed with him and is handed an axe. “Hack away,” Glanton says, and the Yuma splits his head down to the throat.
The gang members are especially vulnerable to attack because they are so drunk. Bloodshed has led to sexual excitement earlier in the novel, as when the Comanches sodomized Captain White’s defeated filibusters—that Caballo en Pelo kills Glanton while the two are in bed together likewise sexualizes violence. Glanton characteristically embraces his fate here.
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The Yumas enter the Judge’s quarters, where they find the idiot, a young girl cowering naked on the floor, and the Judge himself, also naked, with Lincoln’s howitzer tucked under one arm. Over its touchhole the Judge holds a lighted cigar. The Indians scramble to get away from him, and both Judge and idiot eventually escape into a nearby wood.
Unlike the other gang members, the Judge is conspicuously, even extravagantly prepared for the Yumas’ raid—did he not only anticipate but hope for this massacre, the chance to pledge himself anew to warfare for its own sake?
Themes
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That night, the Yuma Indians hold a bonfire where Glanton and Lincoln’s corpses, along with eight others, are burned. The Indians also burn Lincoln’s dog alive, which escapes smoking and blind from the fire only to be flung back in with a shovel. The Indians divide the spoils of their raid, and the narrator observes that they, also, are subject to destiny: in the burning skulls of their enemies one can see “the prefiguration of their own ends.”
McCarthy portrays violent Native American tribes as neither villains nor victims; they are effective killers, often cruel, but then again they are surrounded by effectively murderous and cruel people. As the gang brought on its own destruction, so will the Yuma warriors, who can see their fate in the burning skulls of their enemies. Violence begets always more violence. The survivors of one war are always the victims of another.
Themes
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