The human animal has stalked the earth for millennia, feeding on knowledge and growing in cunning. It has refined its methods of survival to spectacular heights. Yet, an incurable illness resides within its being. Clothed in the veneer of civilization, the human animal fails to overcome its violent nature. Like the scorpion ferrying the frog, it must obey a deeper rule. Never at peace, the species has sought new and more scintillating experience. Its big brain is in search of more; more power, more territory, more recognition, more. Regardless of the facade, its motivation wells from a deep insatiable instinct to reign. The human animal must conquer, defeat and control. Negotiation is loss of power and the thirst for power is at the core of the creature.
Does this portrayal seem cynical? Perhaps not to author Cormac McCarthy, as he penned his book "Blood Meridian." The depravity of human nature revels in disregarded violence within its pages. The characters slog through blood as if it were mud after a rain, and collect souvenirs of human body parts, animal flesh, and images too horrible to erase in a day. McCarthy introduces his main character, "the kid," as "pale and thin," "he can neither read nor write and in him broods already a taste for mindless violence" (3). The reader quickly learns that "the kid" is a virtual orphan -- his mother dead in childbirth and his father a drunk. His prospects slight, "the kid" runs away from home at the age of 14. He is without a plan, or notion of one, yet his tastes lead him from one violent situation into another, to which he responds without purpose or conscience. "The Kid" is a vacuum, an empty animal loosed upon the world without caution or warning.
The reader observes the indifference of life toward the living and dead as "The Kid" encounters primordial men who would beat him to death, only to befriend him. "The Kid" describes the movement of his life simply when he says, "I been everywhere. This is just one more place" (331). Indeed, the reader survives hideous carnage with "the Kid" only to encounter crazed creatures that live in the dark, harboring memories of meaning and coveting dried hearts. When Glanton recruits "the Kid," it is the reader who falls prey to the offer of comfort and food, without the realization of atrocities to come. One is briefly appeased until one discovers that Blanton and his followers are scalp-hunters. Even more disturbing is the lack of response from "the Kid." His main concern is staying alive. He is sociopathic in his nonchalance. Of course, the reader must understand that life is cheap, and that the romantic lie of "old west" and the reality of frontier life are two entirely different beasts. Did anyone ever really believe that the only difference between the bad guys and the good guys was the color of their hats?
Fate follows "the Kid" in the person of "the Judge." It is a fitting title for a harbinger of doom. Compelled by morbid curiosity, the reader observes with disbelief that the Judge is more twisted that Blanton. The Kid" is witness and captive as life reveals its merciless apathy towards bushes fruited with bodies of babies and churches stacked with bloated believers. One hopes for redemption, yet barely believes that "the Kid" deserves it, or would even care if he receives it. In the end, the Judge answers any hope of salvation by proving that he is the more depraved. Evil is too strong, even for indifferent.
Where does that leave the reader? What interpretation does one come away with? Decency does not overcome the primary theme, the persistence of violence in human nature. There is no decency. In the guise of justice, the prize is bloody hair. The Mexican scalp hunters and bands of sideshow Indians rival the Americans in their quest for bloodlust. The characters are predatory and there is no nostalgia for the "good ole days" in this novel. The sheriff does not ride into the sunset with the bad guys in tow, nor do the native people trade gold for glass beads. One truly encounters "death hilarious" through the unrelenting carnage juxtaposed with strange comedies. "A legion of horribles, hundreds in number, half naked or…