Everywhere I look, people argue that the Judge, from McCarthy’s Blood Meridian, is a figurative representation of Satan or a demonic being or something similar, come up from the depths of hell to cause chaos. I disagree. I mean you’re probably right, But I’m going to argue differently, or at least point out some things that might support this meaningless argument. But first, you’re going to have to forgive me, for I have misplaced my copy of Blood Meridian and therefore will not and cannot cite the references/quotations I use.
Well anyways, back on topic.
I believe the Judge actually represents personified Death. Throughout the ages, death has come to us as a character in many forms (the grim reaper being the most popular). In fact, in Milton’s Paradise Lost, which this book (Blood Meridian) used as inspiration supposedly, the character of Death plays a large role. This character, Death, is actually Satan’s child along with his twin sister Sin. Death is known for taking pleasure in human pain and also in inflicting pain. This is very similar to the way the Judge is always in high spirits: laughing and smiling up a storm throughout the novel whenever some thoughtless acts of evil take place. He loves his violence.
Next, I’d like to point out the fact that he is called the “Judge.” At one point in the novel, the kid asks why the Judge is called the Judge, but no answer is given. It’s obvious isn’t it? He is the Judge, the determiner of whether one lives or dies - and like a real judge does, he gets to decide whether or not someone gets to be confined to a life in prison (hell) or gets to walk scot-free (heaven). Satan does not get to decide whether someone goes to heaven or hell. That is God’s job right? And I’m pretty sure the Judge is not a representation of God although, the Judge does say that “War is God” and wherever war goes, Death (the Judge) follows.
The fact that religion is, for the most part, absent in this book (and when it is mentioned it is shot down… both literally and metaphorically) leads us to believe that there is no Devil and God out there at all. And that means that there is no such thing as an afterlife as well. If this is the case, then the Judge cannot be Satan, for if there is a Satan, then there has to be a God. And Judging by the fact that there are no redeeming qualities to this novel, then God can definitely not exist in this text. Like I said, the few references of religion in the novel are all "shot" down. The Judge, in his introductory scene, decides that it is necessary for the priest to die by man’s hand. There is also the ex-priest Tobin. I would consider the fact that he is an “ex-priest” a reference to religion, but obviously not a pleasant one. He’s an “ex”-priest for Christ’s sake! If he’s not at least lost his faith in God, (which I’d assume he has) then he’s at least lost his faith in humanity… and everything else for that matter.
Another thing I’d like to point out, is that we never actually see the Judge (Death) kill anyone. We can assume that he kills people, but we never actually read of him doing it. In the scene with the puppies, he throws them in the water, but it is either the water that drowns them or the bystander that shoots them. When the little Native American boy that is riding on the Judge’s horse with him dies, it doesn’t show the judge killing him. The book changes scenes and when it comes back to the judge, it says that the boy just happens to be dead. Also, the ending scene with the kid (our “protagonist”)… We don’t actually get words saying, “and the Judge shot him stone dead…” now do we? There is also the scene that I mentioned earlier, where at the very beginning of the novel the Judge plays that dirty trick and gets the preacher killed. The judge doesn’t actually do the killing. It is man who kills him. It seems that the Judge is only around when people die… perhaps he’s just there to collect souls (scalps). Perhaps he isn’t there at all… He does seem kind of ghost-like and all. Especially considering the fact that he is whiter than can be and he has no hair on his body. He also likes to get naked and walk around in the moonlight. And let’s not forget when he just happens to show up out of nowhere in the middle of the desert to receive the warring party and lead them all to their demises as well as take a bunch of other lives along the way.
One last thing... Remember when Tobin is telling the kid all he knows about the Judge? Well if you don’t, I’ll remind you. The ex-priest Tobin specifically notes the Judge’s talents as a dancer, and as the most extraordinary fiddler player he has ever seen. He also says that it is the Judge who is the only man that can out-dance the Devil himself. Well no human can dance with the Devil and live right? So that should mean that it is only Death who can dance with the Devil for he is already dead. Tobin also tells the kid that the Judge is said to have met and known every single man in the group at one time or another. How could this be? It is because the Judge is Death.
Oh yeah, chew on this quote that ends the novel: “He never sleeps, the judge. He is dancing, dancing. He says that he will never die.” I’m pretty sure Death never sleeps and is already dead… that is if he ever had lived to begin with.
Blood Meridian is not an easy read, and it certainly is not a pleasant one, but I enjoy it all the same as when I first read it… Perhaps more this time around. Its truth is universal, and as near to us today as ever. Would you not agree? And on some level, we have or will all encounter Mr. Judge Holden at some point in our lives just as every character in the novel had: that being Death. We are all dancers, hoping that we will never die, therefore defying Death, but we can never out-dance Death himself. For in this world… shoot, in this universe, (that same universe in which the Judge describes as being “no narrow thing”) it all has to come to an end and in that end, everything crumbles into dust.
Like the Judge says in one of his infamous speeches, “The way of the world is to bloom and flower and die…”
(P.S. Not sure if any of this made sense, similar to the rest of my posts, but hey… I’m sure we can all agree that this book didn’t make a whole lot of sense either so what’s the problem?)
If you haven’t read Robert Browning’s epic poem, “Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came”, then I recommend you do… Especially if you enjoy the grotesque and despicable nature of Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian like I am right now (my third reading of this unique post-modern text). If you would like to read it (its fairly short and easy to read) - Here's a link. And if you haven’t read Blood Meridian then I recommend giving it a try and stomaching what it has to offer.
Well anyways, let’s get to the point… shall we? I believe that Cormac McCarthy had drawn inspiration from Browning’s “Childe Roland” to write up the horrific masterpiece known as Blood Meridian (or The Evening Redness in the West). I’m absolutely in love with both of these texts. “Childe Roland” was written in the latter half of the 19th century and portrays a dreadful world set deep in the future. The other, Blood Meridian, was written in the late 20th century and the terrifying and cruel world the novel is set in, is back in the latter half of the 19th century. Literally the texts are swapping their dates with one another…
Childe Roland, the main character of Browning’s poem, is an old soldier who has nothing left to live for. All he desires to do now is walk the long and weary road to reach the “Dark Tower” which I believe represents death. The land surrounding him is a wasteland where every living thing that is left is evil or at least is supposedly evil. This is very similar to the landscape presented to us in Blood Meridian.
Like I said a second ago, Roland is an old soldier. What I mean by this is that he is actually no longer a soldier at all. The war(s) he fought in is/are over and all his mates that fought at his side are dead. Perhaps this is what the future holds for Blood Meridian’s “the kid.”
The kid could be considered a soldier. The first warring party he joins is slaughtered. Then he joins another, and it seems that he is always headed down a road that leads to nothing but death… for him and all those that travel the road as well. What is actually very interesting to myself, is that throughout the text of Blood Meridian, the phrase “rode on” is said over and over again. Here is a list of just some of the pages that the phrase is said on: (76), (94), (95), (109), (118), (119), (134), (“We went on.” (137)), and (“We climbed on.” (137)). It is an interesting phrase and if I may say so myself, I believe it to have some symbolic meaning to it. Road vs rode and rode on as in they rode on a horse, but also the idea that one goes on even if they don't want to but have no other choice. They push forward.
In the novel Blood Meridian, McCarthy uses a boat-load of horses and horse imagery… particularly in chapter 9. Horses do seem to die a lot – those poor, innocent creatures that man taints with their maliciousness. In “Childe Roland”, the passage below shows a horse as well, not quite as gruesome as Cormac’s own descriptions, but gruesome all the same:
As for the grass, it grew as scant as hair
- Robert Browning's "Childe Roland" (Lines 73-84)
We can see here how Browning uses imagery to just tug at our heartstrings and make us hate the world we are reading about.
I could just go on and on with ways as to relate these two very similar texts, but I’m tired now and I want to go home... And this post is long and pointless enough. If you have any thoughts, please don't hesitate to share. I will most likely be posting more on McCarthy's Blood Meridian when I finish it.
Browning, Robert. "Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came." The Norton Anthology of English Literature. 9th ed. New York, NY: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc. 2013. 2131-2137. Print.
McCarthy, Cormac. Blood Meridian, or The Evening Redness in the West. New York, NY: Random House, Inc. 1985. Print.
"To Autumn" (1819) by John Keats
Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
In John Keats’s “To Autumn,” the idea that all good things come to an end is very apparent, but a hint of optimism towards this inevitable end is noticeable as well. Life has an expiration date, but with that expiration, comes rejuvenation: after death, comes life. In this short post, I will explore Keats’s personified Autumn and all the imagery that is presented within it through the use of the binary, “Expiration vs Rejuvenation.”
It is in the title that we immediately can see how the season of Autumn is personified. Keats has written a poem “To Autumn,” as if Autumn is going to read it. He then goes on to describe Autumn and how she fulfills her role in the seasonal cycle, but because he is personifying Autumn, therefore giving Autumn life, the seasonal cycle could be a representation of the cycle of life itself. We are born (Spring), we grow (Summer), we reproduce (Autumn), we die (Winter), and those that we have created continue the cycle (Spring again). Autumn is the phase where the young have grown up and the seeds of life will be gathered and stored, only to be planted in Autumn’s opposite: the season of Spring.
I couldn’t help but notice the use of aging imagery in Keats’s “To Autumn.” He not only calls the sun mature, but also mentions how the day dies and when the day dies, the sun goes down. The light of the sun may fade out, but tomorrow it will rise up again to start the day anew. Another instance where Keats shows the theme of maturity is in the last stanza, where he mentions the “full-grown lambs” (30). It is interesting that he calls them lambs, because a full grown lamb is actually known as a sheep. I believe he does this to express the process of aging. As many may not know, it takes a lamb 10-12 months to become a full grown sheep. That is approximately a full year. Since it is autumn and these lambs are fully-grown, then perhaps these sheep were only born last spring. The last instance that I’d like to mention where Keats uses aging imagery is in the first stanza. He says that it is autumn who “bend[s] with apples the moss’d cottage-trees, / and fill[s] all fruit with ripeness to the core” (5-6). Here I believe he is comparing a tree who is bending from the weight of these ripe apples to, perhaps, a hard-worker, whose back is troubled by the heavy burdens of a long-lived life. The tree holds ripened fruit and the aged worker holds developed experience. Or perhaps it represents a mother, who is worn-out from the children she has given birth to. A tree’s apples (if not picked) will fall from the tree only to deposit their seed into the earth so that a new tree will grow in the spring.
I believe that Keats is showing us that Autumn is the season in which we realize that the year is nearing its end. Winter is coming and it is cold and lonely and there’s not much life to be seen. If Autumn is to represent the life cycle, then it is also the time in our own lives in which we realize that our expiration date is not long off. We will soon be cold and lonely and not much life will be left in us as we come nearer and nearer to the day of our departure. But autumn is also the time that we realize that this mortality is not something to be saddened by, for it has shown us how truly beautiful this cycle can be: for when winter comes, spring will only follow.
Keats, J. “To Autumn.” The Romantics and Their Contemporaries. 5th ed. Vol. 2A. Eds. David Damrosch and Kevin J. H. Dettmar. Boston: Pearson, 2012. 1013-14. Print.