Monday, October 11, 2010

McCarthy's Blood Meridian or, The Evening Redness in the West

In Blood Meridian, Cormac McCarthy tells tales of the U.S.-Mexican border that today, is long forgotten. He picks up the story of the forming of the Glanton gang, a group of felons hired by the Mexican government to annihilate the Apaches, for that matter, any remaining American Indian, just after the treaty of Guadalupe-Hildago, 1848 that cemented the U.S.-Mexican border where it is today.

Blood Meridian is a historical novel, bringing to light not just the tumultuous history of U.S.-Mexican relations, but the nebulousness of the border, the ease of crossing back and forth, and the American Indians that lived on and near the border.

The Glanton gang was formed in 1849 and did, as the story tells, traverse the Chihuahua-Texas area, scalp hunting. As brutal an act as scalping is, in the world of the novel, it becomes an almost serene act of violence against the unimaginable violence, brutality and cruelty that occur on nearly every page of the book. Their work was possible only in the complete lawlessness that existed at the time. The violence, horrific in both its high frequency and in its ruthlessness, characterizes the novel, and the border.

Focused on the border at Ciudad Júarez and El Paso, McCarthy foretells the ongoing violence at these border towns. In the novel, just before the Glanton gang begins their scalp hunting foray into Mexico, a Mennonite tells the boy, the only name the main character ever has, that if they cross over the border they will wake “the wrath of god…hid a million years before men were and only men have the power to wake it” (40). After the ambiguous ending (was the boy murdered? What was there to see so terrible in the jakes that couldn’t be spoken on these pages that have described in gruesome detail horrors I didn’t even know man could wreck?), the epilogue describes what seems to be a man making post holes for a fence, and fire comes with each post hole. With him are wanderers searching for bones. These two scenes seem to indicate Ciudad Júarez now, haunted by the brutal and epidemic femicides. It seems to me that the Mennonite’s warning of what the Glanton gang will set into motion the violence that we still know of today. I read the hole-augurer as setting out the border fence, cause for more violence and the unending hell. The wanderers looking for bones brings two images to mind: one of the myriad migrants that don’t make it across and end up dead in the desert, only to be found later and the bodies and bones in the desert around Júarez.

The border has been rife with violence since its inception and will be defined by violence until it is no longer. For me, the importance of the border story that McCarthy tells is important in how it points to the continuation of the story in today’s border violence.