Judge Holden’s Notion of “War is god”.. A Break from Violence?

Cormac McCarthy’s writing style and content, although fascinating to a range of readers, requires extremely conscious and careful reading because everything in his text seems to have a purpose, or does it? Is McCarthy’s wide range of vocabulary included to vaunt excessively about his knowledge, or does each reference have a purpose contributing to the text as a whole?

Good old Cormac McCarthy set up a trap, and I was definitely caught right in it after reading chapters 14-17 of Blood Meridian. Let’s think back to the first blog post on Blood Meridian Lindsey posted titled “Blood, Gore and Death in Blood Meridian”, I think we can all agree that blood, gore and death dominated our first impression of the book. Is there a purpose for all of the violence, what were the characters’ intent in committing these acts? Here lies the trap that McCarthy developed, he trapped the Kid in violence, and trapped the reader into becoming accustomed to reading about violence.

One of my first assumptions was that McCarthy incorporated this to show that the kid was so immersed in violence, or at least violent thoughts from a young age that he became “numb” to it, as Kristina stated in the earlier post. Well now that we’re three-quarters through the book I can say violence has been a pretty loyal companion to Blood Meridian’s story line since the beginning, but has its consistency made it just part of the story, do we still find ourselves also becoming numb to the violence as well? Chapter 17, although it had a few pretty nasty descriptions of dead animals and a “mummied corpse hung from a crosstree” (McCarthy, 258) was pretty calm and lacking of violence compared to other chapters, such as the description when “the judge took.. a round rock weighing… a hundred pounds and crushed the horse’s skull with a single blow. Blood shot out of its ears it slammed to the ground so hard that one of the forelegs broke under it with a dull snap” (229). I literally flipped to a random page to find this description. It’s just so horribly graphic, yet in chapter 17, the reader gets a slight break from that. I was curious to see what some thought readers of that.

After a not so thorough google search I stumbled upon a bloggers reaction to chapter 17, in which he exclaimed that he thought chapter 17 “was a filler chapter. In reality, nothing happened. All that happens in this chapter is the Judge goes on one of his rants again..” (http://readbloodmeridian.blogspot.com/2010/05/blood-meridian-chapter-17.html). It was pretty clear to me that this guy didn’t embrace his AP English class, but he seemed relatively convinced that the judge solely represented evil and that anything he claims is just reiterating this. What struck me the most was that the author of the blog claimed that Cormac McCarthy inserted chapter 17 as a “filler chapter”, when I actually find it to be one of the most important and revealing chapters in the novel thus far because it reveals Judge Holden’s notion that “War is god”. In chapter 17, Judge Holden philosophizes about “the truth about the world” (256). He claims that “existence has its own order and that no man’s mind can compass that mind itself being but a fact among others” (256). What does he mean by this? He also continues by stating that “it makes no difference what men think of war… war endures.. it endures because young men love it and old men love it in them” (259,260). I find these ideas to be very important insights on how Judge Holden’s view of human nature.

Do you think this lack of violence in chapter 17 (compared to other chapters) is so uncharacteristic that it actually slows the story down? What do you think is so significant about Judge Holden’s notion that “war is god”? What does that mean, how does this further shape his character and demonstrate what McCarthy is trying to convey though the text as a whole?

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6 Responses to Judge Holden’s Notion of “War is god”.. A Break from Violence?

  1. Annalise Burnett says:

    I don’t think that the lack of violence in Chapter 17 slows down the story line, but instead enhances it. The earlier chapters almost begin to run together, as we read how the crew travels to city after city, doing the same villainous acts every time. Though always gruesome and disturbing, it starts to get old after awhile. I think the break from brute violence and presentation of an explanation for the war is refreshing, and I found Chapter 17 to be the most interesting. I thought it was intriguing that once again the judge throws out some controversial statements such as, “war is the truest form of divination,” and subsequently proceeds to dumbfound his listeners by his sharp tongue and leave them unable to retort his declarations. It makes me question if the judge is succeeding in convincing the crew of his out-there proclamations simply by speaking cleverly and not allowing anyone to present an intelligent and supportable counter argument.

  2. Cristina says:

    In this chapter, my intrigue of the judge deepened. After talking in class about similarities between him and the devil, such as the fire or the book, I have been thinking about his character differently while reading. I think that this break in the violence is a necessary part of the book and helps us to reflect on what we have seen and how I at least became desensitized to the violence and pretty much expected it. To say that this was a trick by McCarthy is an interesting observation. I think that Chapter 17 is a critical chapter and deserves more thought than was given to it by that mentioned blog that said it was a “filler chapter”.

  3. Clare Welch says:

    I think that chapter 17 is anything but a filler chapter. If anything, this chapter serves to enlighten the reader as to what McCarthy is trying to say about the violence. Over the course of this book, I have, like many of you, pondered the role of the judge in relation to the other characters, to the world as a whole, and to the situation. To me, the judge in this chapter speaks how McCarthy views human nature. By expounding that “War is God,” the judge suggests that the true supreme being to whom all of mankind bows down is blood and death and gore. Maybe this is why McCarthy lays this trap for the reader, to place in our minds the idea that violence is an inherent part of life. the judge neatly summarizes this philosophy and takes it upon himself to embody that violence which is inherent to man. Since we have considered the judge as the devil before, this idea would fit into that archetype because the devil revels in death and violence much like the judge. If McCarthy is trying to say something about the violent nature of man, why does he do it in this way? What is he trying to tell the reader? Is he trying to invoke change, or is he merely lamenting the ugly truth of humanity?

  4. Kaitlin says:

    Although I do see the correlation between the Judge and the devil, I remember something Professor Boes told us in class one day: don’t get caught up in thinking of the Judge as the devil. That there is a deeper interpretation that we can find.

    I think that this can be seen, at least in part, through the quote “War is god” that everybody seems to be mentioning. It seems to me that if we were to think of the Judge as the devil, he would be against war because he is against God. I’m still not positive on what this means for who the Judge really is, but it’s an idea. Perhaps I’m taking this too literally? Thoughts?

    As another note, I’d like to present a quote by the Judge that I found interesting, and wasn’t quite sure what to make of it. At the end of that scene, he is talking to the ex-priest and says that “Men of god and men of war have strange affinities.” Why do you think he says that? How are men of god and men of war alike, when traditionally they are present on opposite sides of the spectrum?

  5. Allie Klein says:

    Kaitlin, I noticed that quote too! And literally the first thing I thought of was our discussion of Heimat on Tuesday… though they are so different the fact that these works have similar undertones is crazy! I related this to the idea that the Judge promotes earlier in the scene, that of war being a trade and that “all other trades are contained in that of war.” (In a way, thats scarily true– in Blood Meridian AND modern day life.)

  6. Charlie says:

    Hello everyone. I’m not sure if anyone will read this, but if someone is writing an essay on Blood Meridian and if that person has checked out No more heroes :
    narrative perspective and morality in Cormac McCarthy
    by Lydia R. Cooper, I would really appreciate it if I could take a look at that. Thanks.

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