Blood Meridian


Cormac McCarthy

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Witness and Mercy Theme Analysis

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.
Witness and Mercy Theme Icon

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 as to kill those who witness their acts of brutality.

However, there are witnesses that the scalp hunters cannot eradicate: the novel and its readers. It is a fitting irony that the Judge, who takes notes and sketches copiously in a ledger book, should himself be but a sketch in a book whom we witness from a jurisdiction higher than his own. (One might argue that the Judge bears witness to the world, nicely sketching it and studying it as he does; but he does not so much bear witness as survey, with the object of domination. The true witness, in contrast, desires no power over what they see, but only to testify to having seen.) In witnessing, the novel also gives life and voice to human suffering which would otherwise be lost to history.

Intimately connected with the act of witnessing are self-judgment and, more importantly, mercy. Though only faintly, the kid, more than any of his fellow scalp hunters, is capable of witnessing what is cruel in his own actions, and of standing in judgment on them. It is perhaps this quality in the kid, this odd innocence, which accounts for his small acts of kindness, as when he accompanies the wounded Sproule through the desert, or spares Dick Shelby’s life in defiance of Glanton’s order. Such acts are small consolation next to the Judge’s vision of eternal, nameless night, but it is all that the novel offers.

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Witness and Mercy ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Witness and Mercy appears in each chapter of Blood Meridian. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
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Witness and Mercy Quotes in Blood Meridian

Below you will find the important quotes in Blood Meridian related to the theme of Witness and Mercy.
Chapter 7 Quotes

The judge smiled. It is not necessary, he said, that the principals here be in possession of the facts concerning their case, for their acts will ultimately accommodate history with or without their understanding. But it is consistent with notions of right principle that these facts…should find a repository in the witness of some third party. Sergeant Aguilar is just such a party and any slight to his office is but a secondary consideration when compared to divergences in that larger protocol exacted by the formal agenda of an absolute destiny. Words are things. The words he is in possession of he cannot be deprived of. Their authority transcends his ignorance of their meaning.

Related Characters: Judge Holden (speaker), The John Jacksons, Sergeant Aguilar
Page Number: 78
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 8 Quotes

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.

Related Characters: The John Jacksons, Ben Tobin
Page Number: 101
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 10 Quotes

For let it go how it will, he said, God speaks in the least of creatures.

Related Characters: Ben Tobin (speaker)
Page Number: 119
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 12 Quotes

The trailing of the argonauts terminated in ashes and…the expriest asked if some might not see the hand of a cynical god conducting with what austerity and what mock surprise so lethal a congruence. The posting of witnesses by a third and other path altogether might also be called in evidence as appearing to beggar chance, yet the judge…said that in this was expressed the very nature of the witness and that his proximity was no third thing but rather the prime, for what could be said to occur unobserved?

Related Characters: Judge Holden, Ben Tobin
Page Number: 147
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 14 Quotes

Only nature can enslave man and only when the existence of each last entity is routed out and made to stand naked before him will he be properly suzerain of the earth.

Related Characters: Judge Holden (speaker)
Page Number: 195
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 16 Quotes

The judge emerged from the darkness. Evening, Lieutenant, he said. Are these men the witnesses?
Couts looked at his corporal. No, he said. They aint witnesses. Hell, Captain. You all were seen to enter the premises and seen to leave after the shot was fired. Are you going to deny that you and your men took your dinner there?
Deny ever goddamned word of it, said Glanton.

Related Characters: Judge Holden (speaker), John Joel Glanton (speaker), Lieutenant Couts (speaker)
Page Number: 233
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 18 Quotes

The Borginnis woman waded out with her dress ballooning about her and took him deeper and swirled him about grown man that he was in her great stout arms. She held him up, she crooned to him. Her pale hair floated on the water.

Related Characters: The idiot, Sarah Borginnis
Related Symbols: Bathing
Page Number: 254
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 21 Quotes

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.

Related Characters: Judge Holden (speaker), The kid
Page Number: 293
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 23 Quotes

The judge watched him. Was it always your idea, he said, that if you did not speak you would not be recognized?
You seen me.
The judge ignored this. I recognized when I first saw you and yet you were a disappointment to me. Then and now. Even so at the last I find you here with me.
I aint with you.

Related Characters: The kid (speaker), Judge Holden (speaker)
Page Number: 319
Explanation and Analysis:
Epilogue Quotes

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.

Related Characters: The Digger
Page Number: 329
Explanation and Analysis: