Humanity is no stranger to violence and war, most of human history is chock full of times of violence, be it on a large scale such as war or a smaller scale such as civil disputes. War is deeply rooted in all of human history and it is not too far fetched to assert that violent instincts are ingrained in all humans at this point. Violence has historically been a universal language, meaning that the capability to carry out violence and the act of going to war is understood by all humans, transcending language barriers and cultural differences.
Over the course of Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian Or the Evening Redness in the West, Jon Glanton and his band of scalp hunters journey along the Texas-Mexico border seeking out the Apaches, Comanche, and Yuma, who they have been paid to kill by various parties. During their quest, they “fall upon a band of peaceful Tiguas on the river and slaughter them every soul” (McCarthy 180). After this bleak announcement, the narrator backtracks to represent in more detail the violence the gang commits against these people. The following comment of a gang member highlights the injustice of their actions: “Them sons of bitches ain’t botherin’ nobody” (McCarthy 181). Despite this recognition of the people’s amicable disposition, the gang “rides on” toward the camp. Two short, yet descriptive paragraphs depict the attack of Glanton’s gang on the Tiguas, who are “shot down,” “trampled, and “bludgeoned” to death.
The extent to which Blood Meridian is rooted in reality is surprising; for a novel about vigilantism and scalping people much of it is actually fairly historically accurate. Both the American government and various state governments really did have bounties out for the scalps of not only Aboriginals, but of a variety of Native American tribes. A historical event that boosts the accuracy of the events of the novel is the California Genocide. The first governor of California, Peter Hardeman Burnett, even encouraged the formation of militias to aid in the eradication of native Californians; “He set aside state money to arm local militias against Native Americans. The state, with the help of the U.S. Army, started assembling a massive arsenal. These weapons were then given to local militias, who were tasked with killing native people” (Blakemore, para. 11). The government endorsed vigilantism and took up arms alongside the militias, killing approximately 100,000 natives within the first two years of the Gold Rush alone and another 20,000 over the next twenty years (Blakeman, para. 16). Besides the slaughtering of Native Americans, I can only assume there were vigilantes who committed violent acts completely separate from the aforementioned topic. The days of the Wild West in the mid-1800s was an era of anything goes, and while the characters of the Blood Meridian may be fictional, the world they exist in is anything but imaginary.
Throughout Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian Or the Evening Redness in the West, moments of “or” manifest in various forms, including specific lines and passages within the text, the perspective of the narrator, the formatting and structure of the novel itself and the very title of the entire enterprise. It is the seemingly inconsequential conjunction “or” and its various functions within Blood Meridian that I address in this thesis. The weight, or significance, or importance of “or” begins before the narrative does, with a title that foreshadows what will be a text full of options, alternatives, and varied perspectives. The first half of the title is, “Blood Meridian.” “Blood” is a tangible result of physical violence, and “Meridian” alludes to geographical lines along the earth as well as great prosperity or high flows of energy, therefore the first half of the title implies an abundance of violence, grounded in reality. “The Evening Redness in the West,” on the other hand, paints a lovely image of a sunset. The clashing violent and lovely images offered in the novel’s title, making it difficult for the reader to believe that both will actually be fulfilled. The title becomes much more interesting by the tiny conjunction “or,” as it blocks the normally reliable assumption that the adjectives “violent” and “lovely” are mutually exclusive.
“A rattling drove of arrows passed through the company and men tottered and dropped from their mounts. Horses were rearing and plunging and the mongol hordes swung upon along their flanks and turned and rode full upon them with lances” (McCarthy 55). Early on in the novel, there is a group of Apache natives that attack Captain White’s group. The men immediately understood that the natives were hostile and began to fight back.
“The men as they rode turned black in the sun from the blood on their clothes and their faces and then paled slowly in the rising dust until they assumed once more the color of the land through which they passed” (McCarthy 167). As Glanton’s group rides away, McCarthy notes that the blood on the riders’ clothes, which at this point have been stained a dark red and black color, caused the men to blend in with the red landscape. This is likely a statement that the capability for violence is a basic human trait, as the blood-stained clothes camouflaging the group symbolizes a return to nature or a primal lifestyle. The violence acted out by the group connects them to the land, in a sense.
“It makes no difference what men think of war, said the judge. War endures. As well ask men what they think of stone. War was always here. Before man was, war waited for him. The ultimate trade awaiting its ultimate practitioner. That is the way it was and will be. That way and not some other way.” (McCarthy 259). The judge, who through an analysis of his behavior and actions, can be deduced to be omniscient, claims that war has existed even before the dawn of man. However, humans are the only species to have mastered war and utilize it to its potential, thus being the ultimate practitioner of the sport. No matter what people may like to believe, war and violence are essential parts of humanity and its history and cannot be disposed of.