Some Close Readings from Blood Meridian

To continue from my earlier post on McCarthy’s Blood MeridianI’m gonna point out a couple of my favorite quotes from the early part of Blood Meridian and talk about them for a bit.  I hope you’re into that kind of thing, because I sure as hell am.

“The wrath of God lies sleeping.  It was hid a million years before men were and only men have power to wake it.  Hell aint half full.  Hear me.  Ye carry war of a madman’s making onto a foreign land.  Ye’ll wake more than the dogs.”

This is spoken by a passing Mennonite to the kid and his companion, both now in the employ of Captain White.  The Captain has it in for Mexico, the American Indians, or anyone else, really, who’s not a white Christian American.  So, he decides he wants to march in and take what he wants at the point of a sword, the law be damned.  And then, we have this holy man, halfway between sermon and premonition.  The idea that their God would be on the side of a non-aggressor instead of an army of Protestants is actually pretty novel.  The idea that their God’s will can be called down by people by their own actions isn’t that unheard of (see prayer), but the way this is phrased makes it seem so much more humanistic than the literal language conveys, as “only men have the power to wake it.”  Very cool.

For another look at the relationship between violence and religion, let’s read this bit about the aftermath of a failed battle between Captain White’s company and some local American Indians:

“Dust stanched the wet and naked heads of the scalped who with the fringe of hair below their wounds and tonsured to the bone now lay like maimed and naked monks in the bloodslaked dust and everywhere the dying groaned and gibbered and horses lay screaming.”

Ok, now that’s some damn good language.  Dust “stanched” the wounds.  Sure, that’s pretty much what it IS doing, but it sounds almost medical, like the desert is somehow administering to them, as though it’s claimed them for itself.  The heads aren’t gashed, or bloodied, or torn, but “wet and naked” like a newborn child.  “Tonsured” like monks is a great turn of phrase, and paints the dead as almost peaceful.  When monks are maimed, it tends to be in martyrdom.  There’s rest and reward for dead ecclesiastics.  “Bloodslaked” – as though the desert has drunk its fill of them and is now done.  The dead on this battlefield may even have thought of themselves in this way, being reborn or martyred or accepted as an adequate sacrifice.  But then, we leave the dead and see the dying.  Groaning, gibbering, screaming.  All the dignity of death is stripped away, and we see that these people suffer for nothing.  The wrath of God lies sleeping.  It was hid a million years before men were and only men have power to wake it.


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