Blood Meridian, Chapter Five – “What’s wrong with you is wrong all the way through you.”

Somehow, at the beginning of this chapter, the kid rises like a phoenix from the carnage, unscathed, and resumes his journey, walking through the night.  The next morning, he is climbing out of the plain around some boulders, when someone calls out to him.  And it is another one of these uniquely bizarre characters that could only come from the mind and pen of McCarthy:

SPROULE

One of the most fascinating parts of this chapter is the relationship between the kid and Sproule.  They are not friends, they are thrown together by happenstance, and seem pretty much indifferent to one another, as evidenced by the kids repeated admonitions “you suit yourself” and Sproule’s repeated response “I aim to.”

They do share a blanket one night out on the desert, but you get the impression that is more out of mutual need than care or concern.  When they get to the abandoned/ravaged village, the kid goes looking for food, finds some, eats it, but brings none back for Sproule (did you notice that?).

When they observe the scene in the church, there is an interesting non-verbal exchange, where Sproule “turn[s] and look[s] at the kid as if he’d know his thoughts but the kids just shook his head.”  I wonder what that means.

When the Mexicans are coming, Sproule tells the kid “save yourself.”  The kid says nothing.

(Sproule does, impossibly, somehow seem to have a sense of humor through all of this.  After a coughing fit, the kid asks him what’s wrong, and Sproule says he has consumption, and that he came on this trip for his health.  He’s kidding, right?  This trip is the polar opposite of good for you).

One night a vampire bat climbs up on Sproule’s chest, and bites into his neck (Sproule has some pretty bad luck).  And to claim that Sproule proceeded to “freak out” would be a gross understatement.  He is clawing at his neck, “gibbering hysterically,” then he puts his bloodied hands over his ears and cries out “a howl of such outrage as to stitch a caesura in the pulsebeat of the world.”  Intense!  And the kid’s response is interesting.  He spits in the darkness between them, then says “I know your kind…What’s wrong with you is wrong all the way through you.”  What is he talking about?  I came up with the following possibilities:

  • Bad luck
  • Mental illness
  • Fear
  • Negativity
  • Consumption
  • Disease from the arm
  • Rabies from the bat
  • Possessed by the devil

Thoughts?

At one point, the kid is getting water by digging a hole down to where it is damp, putting in his shirt to soak up the water, and then sucking on his shirt.  Sproule wants to use the kid’s shirt, and the kid tells him “[s]uck on ye own shirt.”  Why won’t the kid let him use his shirt?  It’s not like it would be super nice and clean at this point.  Does he not want to catch what’s “wrong all the way through” Sproule?  Sproule doesn’t want to take off his own shirt, maybe because he is in denial about how nasty his arm looks under there.  The descriptions of his rapidly deteriorating arm throughout the chapter are nothing short of intensely disgusting.

They catch the ride into town, and fall asleep in the back of the wagon.  The kid wakes up in the morning, and Sproule is dead lying next to him.  The kid seems completely unaffected.

ANIMALS

Vultures- The vultures, in their “foul black rookeries,” seem in charge down here.  This is their territory: “nothing moved in that purgatorial waste save carnivorous birds.”  In the village we read, “the carrion birds sat about the topmost corners of the houses with their wings outstretched in attitudes of exhortation like dark little bishops.”  Are they what pass for religious figures in this country?  At another point, there are buzzards on a kid, and Sproule shoos them, but they don’t go anywhere.

Wolves- The wolves are back, first “howling and moving north toward the slaughter” on that first night, and later slinking from doorways and dissolving into the fog in the ravaged village.  And there is evidence that they have been up to other gruesome mischief at the church.

Bat- SCARY!

Rattlesnakes- Called “prairie vipers.”  I liked that.  The kid and Sproule are afraid.

SPITTING

I noticed a lot of spitting in this chapter.  I don’t know if this was going on before, and I just wasn’t paying attention, or it just came up here.  Maybe you spit more when you are dehydrated.  The two most obvious times were the kid spitting in the space between he and Sproule after the bat bite and another time where a lizard pops out and drinks it.  Oh, and right after he sees the captain’s head: [spit] “He ain’t no kin to me.”

RELIGION

Sproule and the kid find a “seep” and have to get close to the rock to suck the water, which they do, “like devouts at a shrine.”  Sproule talks about the indians being a caution for Christians (I am not sure what this means.  A warning?).  There are obviously religious connotations to the pile of people in the church.  What stood out to me is that people went to this church for protection (physical and spiritual).  It seems they got neither, left lying in their “communal blood.”

There was also the vulture/bishop reference above.  And the rocks were described as “basalt prophets.”  And the alien rocks that will swallow your soul.

Later in the capital, birds hold out “their own dark vestments in postures of strange benevolence.”

THE MEXICANS

Did you notice how one of them was riding the captain’s horse, but there was no sight of the captain (until later)?  As they ride up, they see the kid and Sproule, but keep going, until the kid calls out to them.  Why were the Mexicans acting so strange?  Slapping each other like apes?  Are they crazy?  Drunk?

Later, the kid is captured by Mexican soldiers.  He is put in a corral with three others.  Boys harass them, throwing rocks.  The kid throws a rock back, knocking one clean off the wall.  Nothing happens.

The woman caring for them sneaks them meat from her own table.  Another rare moment of kindness in the book.

The Mexicans taking the prisoners to the capital are superstitious, thinking coyotes are medicine men or sorcerers.  They hear things, talking of “witches and worse.”

RANDOM OTHER THOUGHTS/OBSERVATIONS

Again there is the “alien” reference.

Mercifully little detail on the tree of dead babies.  Still disturbing.

At one point in conversation with Sproule, the kid says he “Ain’t got no say.”  It has meaning in the context of the specific conversation, but seems to have a bigger meaning for the kid in relation to his life as a whole.  And beyond that, to the “say” that all of us have over our lives, at least according to bleak McCarthy-ism.

This seems like a place outside of time, especially the village.  It was like things were frozen just as they had been when the attack came.

I liked the phrase “wigless skulls,” though the accompanying visual was unpleasant.

At one point Sproule says he hears thunder, but the kid hears nothing.  In an earlier chapter, there was a storm they could see in the distance, but could not hear.  Interesting.

Toadvine is back; things are going to get crazy!

VOCABULARY

caesura- a pause marking a rhythmic point of division in a melody; break; interruption

peons- a person held in compulsory servitude to a master for the working out of an indebtedness; a member of the landless laboring class

brujo- wizard; sorcerer; medicine man

tecolote- owl

talus- sloping mass of rock debris at the base of a cliff.

scoria- porous cinderlike fragments of dark lava

vadose- of, relating to, or being water or solutions in the earth’s crust above the permanent groundwater level

deathcamas- any of several plants (genus Zigadenus) of the lily family that cause poisoning of livestock in the western United States

reliquary-  receptacle, such as a coffer or shrine, for keeping or displaying sacred relics.

flintknapping- knapping is the act of shaping stone, such as flint, into tools by hitting it; small fissures form and pieces of the rock fall away

ratchel- gravelly stone

corbel-  bracket of stone, wood, brick, or other building material, projecting from the face of a wall and generally used to support a cornice or arch

squailed- to throw sticks at cocks; to throw anything about awkwardly or irregularly

ocotillo- a cactuslike tree (Fouquieria splendens) of Mexico and the southwest United States, having clusters of scarlet tubular flowers

bated- to lessen the force or intensity of; moderate

terra damnata- condemned or damned earth or ground

slag- the dross or scoria of a metal

scoria- the refuse from melting of metals or reduction of ores

carreta- cart; wagon

tenon- a projection on the end of a piece of wood shaped for insertion into a mortise to make a joint

whinstone- any of various hard, dark-colored rocks, especially basalt and chert

monocline- a geologic structure in which all layers are inclined in the same direction

turret- a small tower, usually one forming part of a larger structure; a small tower at an angle of a building, as of a castle or fortress

basalt- a dark gray to black dense to fine-grained igneous rock that consists of basic plagioclase, augite, and usually magnetite

pinole- a finely ground flour made from parched corn; any of various flours resembling pinole and ground from the seeds of other plants

sorties- raids;excursions; expeditions

escopeta- shotgun

lobe- curved or rounded part

rebozo- a long scarf covering the head and shoulders, traditionally worn by Spanish-American women.

mescal- an intoxicating liquor distilled from the sap of an agave.

serapes- a shawl or blanket worn as a cloak in Latin America.

gantlet- variant of gauntlet

offalthe waste or by-product of a process: as a : trimmings of a hide b : the by-products of milling used especially for stock feeds c : the viscera and trimmings of a butchered animal removed in dressing : variety meat; rubbish

porphyry- a rock consisting of feldspar crystals embedded in a compact dark red or purple groundmass

clackdish- a dish with a movable lid, formerly carried by beggars, who clacked the lid to attract notice

flense- slice the skin or fat from (a carcass, esp. that of a whale).

 

3 thoughts on “Blood Meridian, Chapter Five – “What’s wrong with you is wrong all the way through you.”

  1. When I originally commented I appear to have clicked the -Notify me when new comments are added-
    checkbox and now every time a comment is added I receive
    four emails with the same comment. Perhaps there is an easy method you are able to remove me
    from that service? Thank you!

    • What blog entry/entries was your comment on? If you remember, I can try to fix it. At the very least, I can delete the comment, and hopefully that would resolve. Sorry for the annoyance.

  2. Another interesting detail is the people gathered in the church for protection and (assuming) offering up prayers where shortly Indians would climb to roof and rain arrows down on them.

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