Blood Meridian


Cormac McCarthy

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Themes and Colors
Warfare and Domination Theme Icon
Witness and Mercy Theme Icon
Fate Theme Icon
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

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…

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Witness and Mercy

The Judge affirms to Tobin that nothing can exist without a witness, and later, when the black Jackson murders Owens in Tucson, the Judge secures Jackson’s freedom by explaining that without a witness willing to come forward, there are no grounds for arrest; it is as if no crime has been committed at all. The scalp hunters exploit this principle: to protect their true image as ruthless indiscriminate traitorous murderers, they often go so far…

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The narrator of Blood Meridian says that people involved in hazardous enterprises like warfare often become preoccupied with the idea of fate, which is certainly the case in the novel. The kid encounters several prophets on his journey, all of whom rightly foretell doom and destruction. More uncannily, when Glanton is having his fortune told early on he draws a card from a Tarot deck depicting a cart without wheels adrift on a dark river…

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Religion and Ritual

In the world of Blood Meridian, Christianity is decaying. Early on the kid sleeps in an abandoned church littered with feces and shot up by American soldiers, and the gang encounters many such ruins on their travels, including a church in which the kid and Sproule discover forty human corpses, slain and scalped by the Apaches. Traditional Christian doctrine is also in tatters in the novel, and the idea of a benevolent God would…

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Racism and Partisanship

Many killers in the novel justify their violence in large part by demonizing their enemy, and this demonization is very often race-based. The racist and therefore all the more aptly named Captain White, for example, justifies his invasion of Mexico by denouncing the Mexican people as “barbarians.” Glanton and his men refer derogatorily to the Indians they hunt and whom they are hunted by as “savages” and “heathens.” The white John Jackson antagonizes the…

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