Cormac McCarthy

Blood Meridian

  • This summary of Blood Meridian includes a complete plot overview – spoilers included!
  • We’re considering expanding this synopsis into a full-length study guide to deepen your comprehension of the book and why it's important.
  • Want to see an expanded study guide sooner? Click the Upvote button below.

Blood Meridian Summary

SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides that feature detailed chapter summaries and analysis of major themes, characters, quotes, and essay topics.  This one-page guide includes a plot summary and brief analysis of Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy.

Cormac McCarthy is the American author of numerous books, however none of his works come close to the fame he received for his fifth novel, Blood Meridian or the Evening Redness in the West. When this epic Western hit the shelves in 1985, enthusiasm from readers was stunted. However, over the years it has developed a following, and critics have deemed Blood Meridian as one of the greatest American novels of all time.

The novel begins with our protagonist who is known only as “The Kid.” 14 years old, and a recent runaway from his home in Tennessee, he decides to join the world of violence in the wild west set in the 1840s. The first person he meets in his travels is Judge Holden, a physically huge, bald and mean gang member. In this meeting he sees Holden lying and accusing a priest of rape, provoking the townspeople to attack the preacher.

The kid journeys through Texas, stops at a bar and, after showing off his fighting skills, he joins Captain White and his group of Army irregulars, who are on a crusade to take Mexico and claim it as US land. However, they fail miserably when they enter Mexico, as many of them die and the kid is imprisoned. In prison he meets an earless man, Louis Toadvine, who helps him get out, on the condition that they both join John Joel Glanton’s gang – a brutal group of riders who go around committing deadly and debauched acts on Apaches, other peaceful Indians, and even harmless Mexican villagers, scalping and killing them.

Later on, the kid discovers that Judge Holden, the evil man he met earlier in his travels, is also a scalp hunter already in Glanton’s gang, however he is very respected and revered here, because of how brutal and wicked his murderous tendencies were.

Months later, as the gang travels along, they set up near Yuma, Arizona, where local Yuma (Quechan) Indians live. Glanton’s gang approach under false pretenses, and then brutally kill them and seize their weapons. They continue to do this with multiple ferries, until they have collected a vast assortment of stolen fortune, however out of nowhere, the Yuma’s attack the gang back, killing almost all of them, including their leader John Joel Glanton. Judge Holden however escapes with his life, after fighting with multiple Yumas.

The kid also survives, with his friend Toadvine, and another gang member named Tobin. They run off into the desert – the kid is injured, he has taken an arrow to the leg, but they carry on, heading west. On their way they again meet up with Holden. This time Holden pulls a gun on them. He shoots Tobin in the neck, but Tobin and the kid run off and hide. Holden calls out for them to show themselves, but they again narrowly escape.

Despite the fact that the kid and Tobin go their separate ways, after escaping from Holden, they both end up in San Diego, and actually find each other along the way. However, the kid is caught by the local police and thrown in prison. While he is imprisoned, Judge Holden comes to visit him, trying to get him out he tells the cops that the kid was the one who put an end to the gang, and he should be released for it. The kid, while behind bars is claiming that Judge was the one responsible for keeping the gang alive, but to no avail. The kid is released, and immediately heads to a doctor to help him with his arrow wound. As he is put under anesthesia, the kid has an ether induced fantasy that Holden is visiting him once more.

After he recovers he heads to Los Angeles in search of the rest of his crew and his friends, and finds his buddy Toadvine being executed for his role in the Glanton gang. The kid now tries to find Tobin, hoping he is alive – but no luck.

About thirty years later, in 1878, the kid still wandering along the American West, he enters a saloon in Texas and finds the judge. Finally, the kid is now “the man” and they are on equal ground, and tells Holden what he thinks of him – that he is a heathen. Holden responds by telling the man that he himself enjoyed “the dance.”

Blood Meridian is an odd and passion-filled novel, coated with themes of violence, death and existentialist characters in a vast empty desert. In the years since it’s conception, this novel has been adapted into numerous screenplays and is still under consideration for large productions, and with the hopes that they would do justice to Cormac McCarthy’s fervent and peculiarly compelling writing.