Blood Meridian, or the Evening Redness in the West | Critical Review by Bill Baines

This literature criticism consists of approximately 3 pages of analysis & critique of Blood Meridian, or the Evening Redness in the West.
This section contains 635 words
(approx. 3 pages at 300 words per page)
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Critical Review by Bill Baines

SOURCE: A review of Blood Meridian, in Western American Literature, Vol. XXI, No. 1, Spring, 1986, pp. 59-60.

In the following review, Baines comments briefly on the "cruelty," "inhumanity," and "gore" present in Blood Meridian.

Set in the Southwest of the mid-nineteenth century, Blood Meridian does not invite confusion with any romantic notion of the West prevalent in that century or this. Cormac McCarthy reconstructs that West as a Daliesque stage upon which characters and forces often resonant of Shakespeare and the Bible act out their roles. Loosely based upon, or more accurately, around the Yuma Crossing Massacre of 23 April, 1850, and some of its principals, the book rises from its beginning above the mean particulars of history to universal certainties and uncertainties, the stuff of serious fiction.

McCarthy's book focuses on cruelty, perhaps man's most apparent quality in the world the author creates. The book's inhumanity is not—as is often the case in Westerns—the cruelty of white to Indian or Indian to white, but the cruelty of human to human perennial to literature and to other affairs of mankind. Underlying that and often reinforcing it is the apparent callousness of fate, indifferently and inexorably putting each person in the place or time to die in whatever predestined cruel or ridiculous manner.

As befits such matters, McCarthy's strong and often apunctuative style blends neologism and archaism in a syntax sometimes drawing on the rhythms of the Bible, sometimes on the resources of Old English, always modern in a Joycean way. Strong images abound ("… Callaghan's body floated anonymously down-river, a vulture standing between the shoulderblades in clerical black, silent rider to the sea," and later, "Downshore the dull surf boomed") and combine with the writer's cadences to give Blood Meridian both poetry and strength.

As the title might indicate, gore, the book's strongest image, dominates. If the reader has ever witnessed or cleaned up the results of a totally successful ambush, he (for most American women haven't) will be prepared for the atrocities man commits upon man in this story; if he has not, the book will slam into him like a Sam Peckinpah film.

The protagonist, a nameless and taciturn young Everyman known only as "the kid," runs away from home at fourteen to the West to keep, as it appears, his appointment with his particular destiny. The book ends in his twenty-eighth year, the time intervening filled with his wandering throughout the West from one scrape, adventure and encounter to more of the same.

It is not, however, the kid who dominates McCarthy's terra damnata, but "Judge" Holden, an enigmatic giant, a genius who proves, Renaissance-like, master of sciences, arts, crafts, war, languages—of the world. At once nihilist, absurdist, rationalist and irrationalist, the powerful judge is limned in heroic proportions, an embodiment of the evil too often inherent in the ways man handles his knowledge. Holden, the most "civilized" and rational character in the book, exhibits many of its greatest cruelties, psychological and physical, ordering, then destroying—like western man—the world without.

The reader learns little of import about the kid that is not filtered through or later interpreted by the judge. As Holden berates his sometime colleague for failure to dedicate himself wholly to war, the latter's dull, animal integrity becomes apparent. Immortality, the freedom to dance, evades him, says Holden, for it is only gained in the flux of combat through relentless cruelty and lack of mercy. Earlier in the story, another character asks about Holden, "What's he a judge of?" When in the final pages the judge thus indicts the kid, the reader learns that he is a judge of the protagonist and ultimately of all mankind.

A powerful yet dreamlike book, Blood Meridian will not appeal to the reader who either sees or seeks the nice and the pleasant in man and his world.

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This section contains 635 words
(approx. 3 pages at 300 words per page)
Buy the Critical Review by Bill Baines
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