The Judge Smiled

***NOTE: This post was written by Annalise, but for some reason I don’t have posting access on the blog so I am posting under Lily’s username*****

Despite the fact that in these chapters of Blood Meridian we receive a brief reprieve from the otherwise constant violence that graced almost every page of the first section, it is by no means eliminated from chapters 7-12.  We still are experiencing the same shocking moments of scalper violence, from the old woman in chapter 7, to the innocent babies and children in chapter 12.  As McCarthy continues in this manner to expose us as readers to the reality of the violence during this time, the focus turns and we begin to gain more insight into the characters’ unique personalities as well as their emotions and thoughts as they travel with the company.

The Kid is no longer appears to be the protagonist.  Instead, we learn much more about the judge in this section.  Recall our first encounter with him from chapter 1, when he very publicly and dramatically disrupts mass to falsely accuse the reverend of being an imposter.  We now see this dramatic, egotistical persona quickly develop as he emerges clearly as the company’s leader, instilling both fear and awe in the members of the company.  Being the only Spanish speaker in the crew, he controls all forms of communication, and tends to leave the others in the dark, such as when the band of entertainers is telling fortunes.  When probed about the meaning of the woman’s haunting chants, “The judge smiled” (McCarthy 97).  In fact, it’s something he tends to do a lot, just smile.  It is his coy way of saying “I’m better than you.”  When riddling Webster about having his portrait drawn, “The judge smiled” (147).  When telling his confounding story about the harnessmaker, “the judge looked up and smiled” (151).  And even when held at gunpoint by Toadvine after killing the child he played with, “The judge smiled” (171).  This phrase occurs again and again throughout the novel, always just as the judge is hiding something, tricking someone, or exerting his superiority.

But who is the judge?  Who is this man who has so slyly captured the devotion of the crew?  It is as if he is supernatural.  “Every man in the company claims to have encountered that sootysouled rascal in some other place” (130).  “He can write with both hands at a time” (140).  “So like an icon was he in his sitting” (153).  The expriest praises his actions on the volcano, leaving with the men “behind him like the disciples of a new faith” (136).  What is it about the judge that holds all these men in rapture?  What is his purpose in travelling with the company collecting scalps?  Does he have some sort of ulterior motive?  He tells the crew that his motive in making sketches and notes in his book is “to expunge them from the memory of man” (147).  Why is the judge playing God?

I question if it is not the judge himself who is the driving force behind the mindless violence of the crew.  He seems detached, even maniacal at times.  He obliterates the Indians on the volcano.  He suggests the way to raise a child is to throw it into a pack of wild dogs, to make it escape wild lions, and to have it run naked through the desert.  He saves a child from the ruins of the town that they slaughter, loves and cares for it, then suddenly murders it just like all the others.  Is the judge crazy?  Is he the one fueling the psychopathic nature of the killings?  Could he be the explanation for these actions that seem so indecently inhuman?

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4 Responses to The Judge Smiled

  1. Kevin says:

    I almost feel like the judge is the personification of all the insane, senseless violence in this book. He’s wild, uncontrollable, unpredictable, and seemingly quite twisted. All the violence and gruesomeness in this novel, from dead babies on a tree to random murders to wild battles with Indians, can be described with a similar set of adjectives.

    Perhaps his name has something to do with this. I think we have all made a sort of moral judgement about the action in this book – that much of what is depicted is sick, twisted, and wrong. His name makes me think of this idea of moral judgement. Although he is certainly not worthy of judging anyone else based on his insane actions, the judge certainly seems to be the epitome of our judgments.

  2. Cristina says:

    Along with Kevin, I think the judge is psychotic to some degree. His position of his judge makes this situation almost ironic because they are supposed to be a role model for the town and have the power to decide other people’s fates. Did McCarthy purposely make the judge, who we would assume to be the most logical, the crazy one?

  3. Charlie says:

    I think that the judge enjoys a kind of enlightened insanity. Despite his many talents, he has committed himself to a dangerous life of scalp hunting rather than assuming some stately position where he can work in comfort. The judge certainly recognizes his superiority to the others, whom he frequently outsmarts and befuddles with his words, yet he is just as much of a cold-blooded murderer at heart. This he shows when he kills the Indian boy after keeping him alive for a short while. Yet the motives of the judge are not easily defined, and I agree with Annalise that there is something supernatural about this man who fosters a sinister intelligence. He is both a geologist and a scalper, a savior of men at the volcano and the destroyer of men all at once. He also crafts puzzling stories that fit the structure of parables, such as the one that begins on page 148, but the message is not at all reassuring, seeming instead to incriminate and damn mankind to a legacy of self-slaughter. Overall, the judge possesses remarkable skills which only seem to be directly toward the destruction of some person or another. In a way, he is like McCarthy, using his talents to reveal the evil of humanity.

  4. Ivana Surjancev says:

    During our group discussion a few days ago, Erin, Lily, and I came up with a theory the the Judge may be an image of the Kid in the future. The way they are characterized in the book seems to have many parallels. For instance, the Kid and the Judge are the only nameless characters referred to throughout most of the book. Also, as Annalise pointed out in her post, this section of the book focused more around the Judge than the Kid. Having the focus transition from the Kid earlier on in the book to the Judge may be tied together with the passage of time as the Kid is “transforming” into the Judge. Also, the Judge is constantly referred to as having child-like characteristics, another quality that makes the audience think of the Kid.

    Again, this is just a theory, but our main reason for believing it was due to the change in depictions of violence between the first section of the book to the second section. As has already been established, the first part of the book had a lot of detailed scenes of violence, emphasizing perhaps how a kid (to whom any violent scene is a new experience) may perceive or remember them. On the other hand, the second section of the book seems to emphasize violence less. For example, “when he [Toadvine] came back ten minutes later leading his horse the child was dead and the judge had scalped it” (Blood Meridian 170). Although McCarthy could have easily depicted the whole violent scene of the scalping, he chose not to. This lack of violent description could be the Judge’s perception, in which he is already numb and used to all of the violence he has committed. For this reason exactly he wouldn’t remember this violent act with as much detail as the Kid.

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