Blood Meridian Chapter 5 – “Sometime come the mother. Sometime the wolf.”


If you cry for help, you might get this fellow on your heels

If you’ll recall, chapter 5 of Blood Meridian comes on the heels of the Indian attack that concludes chapter 4. The endless, horrific, unforgettable Indian attack. This is the point where the chapter headings always start to make me uneasy. We’ve now seen a bit of what McCarthy is capable of as far as violence and imagery, and suddenly we’re alerted to the fact that chapter 5 will include…

Tree of dead babies


And I see it and I wonder if we’ll be treated to this imagery in the same way, with a comparable word count, as we were to the Indian attack. (No, it’s mercifully brief). I see it and I think, To read or not to read? Do I really want to read that? To visualize it?

I hope that makes sense. This book begins to take a cumulative toll on me every single time I read it. And as far as the horrors of each chapter go, there are few surprises as far as what actually happens. I’m sure that everyone is surprised by how it feels to read about the Indian attack, but nobody can say they didn’t know an attack was coming.

Chapter 5 summary

The kid survives, along with 8 others. He hooks up with a man named Sproule and they strike out for nowhere in particular, as usual.

This chapter has a few of the funniest lines so far. Most are in the interactions with Sproule and the kid. For instance, about those Indians:

Damn if they aint about a caution to the Christians

Perhaps the most ridiculous understatement of all time, based on the end of chapter 4. It made me laugh, which surprised me.

But it’s also a gross generalization, and knowing what’s coming, it’s pretty silly that anyone in this book holds themselves as morally superior to the Indians.

They wander, they have no water, and eventually they see a group of men wending up the hills towards them. It turns out to be a group of Mexicans. They let them pass before the kid steps out and calls to them. The Mexicans turn and they have a discussion that contains one of my favorite lines in the book.

The leader asks why they didn’t hide from his men. The kid replies that they were thirsty. Then we get this bleak little gem:

When the lambs is lost in the mountain, he said, they is cry. Sometime come the mother. Sometime the wolf.

When I read this passage this time around, I immediately thought of all the lone men wandering the backdrops of McCarthy’s landscapes. Their best chance at survival is often each other. But join up with the wrong men…alert the wrong men to your presence…and things might go ill for you, to put it lightly.

Do you call out for help and take your chances? I love this idea of every single cry for help potentially summoning either the rapacious predator or the loving mother.

A chilling thought, and one that I’ll talk about more during the discussions of games and stakes that are coming up.

The judge

The kid winds up in prison with Toadvine. Captiain White is dead. The judge rides into town with Glanton and suddenly the kid is part of a band of scalphunters.

The judge only appears briefly. Here is what I found most significant:

The kid was watching the judge. When the judge’s eyes fell upon him he took the cigar from between his teeth and smiled. Or he seemed to smile. (79)

A predatory baring of teeth can look a lot like a smile. The kid and Toadvine weren’t exactly in the prison calling for help, but now help is here. Whether it is in the form of the wolf or the mother has yet to be seen.




17 thoughts on “Blood Meridian Chapter 5 – “Sometime come the mother. Sometime the wolf.”

  1. I found this fifth chapter the hardest to read, so far. I felt it longer lasting maybe because I felt dizzy sometimes: The dead babies and the putrefactive arm Sproule carried among the strongest factors. Captain White’s head didn’t help either.

    I liked the dialogue with the Mexican bandits too. It reminded me a novel called “Pedro Páramo”, a Latin-American gem and one of my five favorite novels (I completely recommend it).

    I did not catch the mirage or its meaning.

  2. I felt precisely the same way about the “tree” chapter heading. Like “oh no, this is going to be BAD.” But, and maybe this was because I was expecting it to be really bad, so geared myself up for it, and maybe because I was so desensitized by the last chapter, and probably because it was considerably shorter and less detailed, it wasn’t that bad.

    This was a rough chapter. But overall, it wasn’t as hard for me as the last one. The last one kind of let me know what to expect. I created adequate distance.

    Dunce One, what does that line mean about “a caution to the Christians”? What is he saying there?

    Like you, I think that statement from the head Mexican was one of the more profound ideas, of this chapter certainly, and even for the book. You can choose to ask for help, but you can’t choose who answers. Do you think this has applications to God/the Devil? Or am I reading too much into it? Chilling either way.

    Gustavo, thanks for the various “dunce” translations. Those will come in handy!

    • “what does that line mean about “a caution to the Christians”? What is he saying there?”

      I just took it to mean, “Gee, good Christian folks like us sure don’t belong out here with pagan savages wearing bloody wedding veils and conquistador armor, do they?”

    • Can’t distinctly recall either way. I would trust the version you’re reading, though. Unless it’s a pirated copy you acquired on the street. A friend has toyed with the idea of rewriting the story from the perspective of the kid. What do you think?

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