Blood Meridian Chapter 3 — “Only men have power to wake it”


A Mennonite hat

So if chapter 2 of Blood Meridian ended with the kid playing “wretched baptismal candidate,” what’s the next step? What is he being initiated into?

When chapter 3 begins he’s lying under a tree when a man from the army rides up and says he’s been sent to find him. Or rather, he’s been sent by his Captain to find the man who roughed up the Mexican in the bar so badly. Why? To take the fight to some Mexicans, of course.

You ready to go to Mexico?

I aint lost nothin down there.

The second line is the kid. Vagabond that he is, this line interested me this time around. So far there’s been no justification of any sort as to why he goes anywhere. But suddenly he indirectly says that if he did go to Mexico, it would be because he lost something down there.

I honestly don’t think there’s much more to read into that, but it seemed significant somehow.

Hard times

I love this exchange because it is classic McCarthy:

Kindly fell on hard times aint ye son?

I just aint fell on no good ones.

It reminds me of the line later in No Country For Old Men between a deputy and Sheriff Tommy Lee Jones:

It’s a mess, ain’t it sheriff?

If it ain’t, it’ll do til the mess gets here.

One thing that is easy to miss in Blood Meridian is how funny some of it can be, in the driest, most here-and-gone-immediately way possible.

The captain

The kid agrees to go meet the captain, who lays down some serious jingoism and fanfare as he urges to kid to join up and help them fight the Mexicans. This is another part that made me laugh:

After the captain makes a grand old speech:

And I don’t think you’re the sort of chap to abandon a land that Americans fought and died for to a foreign power. And mark my word. Unless Americans act, people like you and we who take their country seriously…

I don’t know if he’s just a typical recruiter or if he thinks he knows something about the kid, but I do know that i think the kid’s eventual response made me laugh. After all that:

What about a saddle?

The Mennonite

The kid eventually ends up overhearing a conversation between a Mennonite and the other recruits. The Mennonite tells them that if they cross the river they’ll be jailed by the US army and won’t be coming back. Of course, this news is met with jeers and strutting from the tough guys.

It sounds to me like another step in the chain of crossings that began with the baptism at the end of chapter 2:

Do ye cross that river with yon filibuster armed ye’ll not cross it back.

The qualifier there is armed. Go over there with bad intentions and you’ll get what’s coming to you, I think.

Then the Mennonite utters the most significant passage in the chapter:

The wrath of God lies sleeping. It was hid a million years before men were and only men have power to wake it. Hell aint half full. Hear me. Ye carry war of a madman’s making onto a foreign land. Ye’ll wake more than the dogs.

Lots to think about there, but here’s what feels the most meaningful to me today, right now, while I’m typing. “Only men have power to wake it.” God’s wrath, that is.

In other words, if you could just let things alone, we’d be better off. But if you ride on the orders of madmen, you’re going to stir up some nasty troubles.

That night in the bar ends with a fight and a death. Doesn’t even matter who.

When they ride out, the Mennonite watches them go.

There is no such joy in the tavern as upon the road thereto

In other words, the journey is more fun than the destination. And it’s ominous to acknowledge that there’s been nothing to suggest so far that the journey the kid is on has any joy of any sort to begin with. He’s going somewhere, and hell aint half full.




6 thoughts on “Blood Meridian Chapter 3 — “Only men have power to wake it”

  1. I have to ask: This place Bexar exists? Following Wikipedia, it might be actual San Antonio. Are the historical references of any significance to the story?

    Also, “In other words, the journey is more fun than the destination…” This seems like a recurrent idea in McCarthy’s writings, at least for a newbie like me. What do you think?

    Personal comment: Spanish phrases are very well inserted in paragraphs; just like and Spanish writer would have done, meaning: not just shy short phrases to impress the reader.

    • Gustavo, from what I’m seeing, there is currently a Bexar County, but there is no longer a city by that name. I think you’re right that it eventually became San Antonio.

  2. Did the kid make up that whole story about being robbed? He’s talking about the nice cattle hands that fed him, and left him food and a knife, right? Basically he’s lying about the whole thing and throws in just a sliver of truth about them leaving him with a knife. Lying in order to better his current situation.

    • Thanks for bringing that up Eric. I thought that too when I read it the first time. I think you’re right. He may have been robbed at some other time, but I think he is spinning that to his advantage. That’s kind of what I was getting at with the saddle talk. They gave him that knife; I caught that too.

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