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?)