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 black John Jackson solely because he is black. However, the novel explodes these race-based, us-vs.-them distinctions with its irony. Captain White’s true motive for invading Mexico seems to be barbaric pillaging and plundering for profit, and Governor Trias of Mexico proves to be a far more civilized man than White. Glanton’s gang is just as savage a pack of murderers as the Indians they hunt for profit. And, as their sharing of a name would suggest, the two John Jacksons might as well be identical to one another.
Given that the differences between races, between the savage and the civilized in the novel, are so arbitrary and flimsy, how do characters determine which causes to support? How do they figure out which party to join? The novel suggests that partisanship is really established by a combination of opportunism and pragmatism: how can I get what I want now. It’s because he’s promised the spoils of war that the kid joins up with Captain White, and it’s because doing so secures his freedom that he later joins up with Captain Glanton. To maximize the number of scalps they take, Glanton’s gang betrays their alliance with Mexico by beginning to prey on the Mexican citizenry. The gang hunts the Apaches one week, only to sell them whiskey the next. It is ultimately this haphazard and changeable mode of making and breaking party ties that leads to the gang’s destruction at the hands of the Yuma Indians.
Yet while the gang plays fast and loose with its alliances, the gang, and especially the Judge, allow no defections. When Grannyrat disappears from the gang’s ranks, for example, the Delawares are dispatched and probably murder him for a deserter. The black Jackson also attempts to desert, it would seem, only to be ridden down on the Judge’s orders and restored to the gang naked (he later becomes one of the Judge’s more committed disciples). Toward the end of the novel, the Judge accuses the kid of having poisoned the gang’s enterprise by reserving “in [his] soul some corner of clemency for the heathen,” which is a capital crime in the Judge’s court, if only because the act of defection and desertion, even spiritual, is sufficient to challenge what the Judge alleges to be war’s unifying power.
Racism and Partisanship ThemeTracker
Racism and Partisanship Quotes in Blood Meridian
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
There’s a flawed place in the fabric of your heart. Do you think I could not know? You alone were mutinous. You alone reserved in your soul some corner of clemency for the heathen.
In the dawn there is a man progressing over the plain by means of holes which he is making in the ground. He uses an implement with two handles and he chucks it into the hole and he enkindles the stone in the hole with his steel hole by hole striking the fire out of the rock which God has put there.