Blood Meridian, Chapter Six – “I seen him first.”

What this chapter lacks in length, it makes up for in hilarity.  Toadvine is back, and he’s better than ever.  I never would have thought it possible, but I had missed the guy.

The kid and Toadvine find themselves on a chain gang, cleaning filth from the streets of Chihauhua City with their bare hands.  That’s got to be nasty.

They are overseen by a “goldtoothed pervert” Toadvine has nicknamed “Brassteeth.”  We don’t get any further indication as to how or why he is a pervert, but I’m going to take Toadvine’s word for it.  Brassteeth walks by, and a truly funny exchange ensues:

“I seen him first,” said Toadvine.

“Seen who first.” [the kid]

“You know who.  Old Brassteeth yonder.”

The kid looked after the sauntering figure.

“My biggest worry is that somethin will happen to him.  I pray daily for the Lord to watch over him.”

Something tells me it’s a good thing for Old Brassteeth that Toadvine and the kid are on their way; something may have happened indeed (in a later reference Toadvine askes the kid “What do you reckon we could get for old Brassteeth’s teeth?”  Told you so).

We’re also introduced to a new character Toadvine has nicknamed Grannyrat (we don’t get much in the way of a description, other than that he is old.  But isn’t that a perfect nickname?  Can’t you just picture him?)  Toadvine’s not the only funny one.  Describing some prisoners they had released in an earlier military incursion, the veteran Grannyrat tells of two that got whipped, and they both died from that.  Some others stole some mules, and the commander “flat out hung them fools.”  “Which they did likewise perish of.”  Hilarious, right?  Am I going crazy?

It took me quite a while to figure out the “two dogs hung together in the street sidle and step.”  I may still not have it completely.  Given the context and other goings on in the book, at first I assumed they had been hung, like the thieves above.  Disturbing I suppose, but par for the course.  But then a few paragraphs later, those same dogs stand “tail to tail,” and other dogs are watching them.  The kid is watching them.  Then they are referred to as the “coupling dogs.”  It all comes together.

We see another glimpse of the hollow man imagery referenced earlier, the prisoners and these dogs together:

All lightly shimmering in the heat, these lifeforms, like wonders much reduced.  Rough likenesses thrown up at hearsay after the things themselves had faded in men’s minds.

The men are no better than the beasts, and all are merely “wonders much reduced” or “rough likenesses.”

We see a procession that looks to be a religious procession, but if you refer back the chapter heading, they are described as “los hereticos.”  A heritic is:

1
: a dissenter from established religious dogma; especially : a baptized member of the Roman Catholic Church who disavows a revealed truth
2
: one who dissents from an accepted belief or doctrine :nonconformist
We also see that the wagon has an eye painted on the side.  Are these heretics because to abide by normal Christian precepts in this godforsaken country is heretical, or does that eye mean a departure from the Christian/Catholic church?  As with so many other areas in the book, McCarthy just tells us minimally what is going on, not why.  I find it refreshing.
One line about the goldseekers, or “patched argonauts,” is one of my favorite in the book so far: “Itinerant degenerates bleeding westward like heliotropic plague.”  I can’t really add anything, I just love the language.  So minimal yet there is so much there.  And the word choice, you can’t step to that.
We see this rag-tag group of some of the wildest, most frightening individuals we have seen to date (and at this point in this book, that is saying something): “the whole like a visitation from some heathen land where they and others like them fe[e]d on human flesh.”  Foremost among them, but not their leader (at least not nominally) is  the Judge.  He is back!
To make a long story short, these are scalp-hunters, and they work out a deal with the governor to get a hundred dollars a scalp.  Somehow Toadvine, the kid, and Grannyrat finagle their way into the group.  I, for one, can’t help but wonder if the kid would have been better off staying behind.

VOCABULARY

chary- [archaic] dear, cherished; slow to grant, accept, or expend

sidle- sideways movement; furtive advance

guidon- a small flag; especially : one borne by a military unit as a unit marker; one who carries a guidon

argonaut- any of a band of heroes sailing with Jason in quest of the Golden Fleece b : an adventurer engaged in a quest

azoteas- a flat roof or platform on the top of a house or other building

corrida- bullfight

thews- strength, vitality, muscle, sinew

claymore- a large 2-edged sword formerly used by Scottish Highlanders; also : their basket-hilted broadsword

scapular-

1
a : a long wide band of cloth with an opening for the head worn front and back over the shoulders as part of a monastic habit b : a pair of small cloth squares joined by shoulder tapes and worn under the clothing on the breast and back as a sacramental and often also as a badge of a third order or confraternity
2
a : scapula b : one of the feathers covering the base of a bird’s wing
tapaderos-  Southwestern U.S. a hoodlike piece of heavy leather around the front of the stirrup of a stock or range saddle to protect the rider’s foot.
heliotropic-  turning or growing toward the light.

2 thoughts on “Blood Meridian, Chapter Six – “I seen him first.”

  1. I read on another blog that someone thought the “pervert” referred to a different definition of the word, a more general turning away from what is right, good, or true. She reasoned that, because we are given no specific evidence of his sexual perversion, McCarthy must have meant something else. I don’t think so. I think he meant what he said, and gave no further explanation because that is McCarthy’s style. He is a master wordsmith, and uses them judiciously. No fluff.

  2. I also wanted to mention the mass burial with the indians sitting in the cave in their best gear, and how the Mexicans had desecrated the site. A lot of the backlash I think was because of the brazen violation of things the native Americans held sacred.

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