Blood Meridian, Epilogue- “[B]ones and the gatherers of bones and those who do not gather”

stone on fireDunces!  The epilogue is brief, just a single paragraph, but I think it merits its own analysis.  The first line provides: “In the dawn there is a man progressing over the plain by means of holes which he is making in the ground.” (p. 337).  The dawn?  Is this dawn of the next morning?  The dawn of time?  Who is this man?

The man, whoever he is, is making a series of holes with a two handled tool.  I picture something like this:

I think the choice of the term “progressing” is significant here.  Progress suggests moving forward, towards a goal.  The man is not just going across the plain or digging holes at random.  He has a purpose.

In each of the holes is a stone, and when he throws in his tool, it “enkindles” a stone inside the hole that “God has put there” (note the uppercase “God”).  The man is making the holes, but in each hole is a stone, placed there by God.  As the man strikes the stone with his steel, it comes to light or starts on fire.  I picture it becoming molten.  What do these stones represent?  Are they coming to life, in a way?  Why does God want this?

If you will permit me, this phrase seems to hold great significance:

On the plain behind him are the wanderers in search of bones and those who do not search and they move haltingly in the light like mechanisms whose movements are monitored with escapement and pallet so that they appear restrained by a prudence or reflectiveness which has no inner reality. (p. 337)

What?  Okay, there are wanderers on the plain, and I believe they represent mankind, their journey life.  Some search for bones and some don’t.  I don’t know what this means.  But they move “like mechanisms whose movements are monitored with escapement and pallet so they appear restrained by a prudence or reflectiveness which has no inner reality.”  This is heavy, but I believe it refers to time.  Time and, again, volition or agency.  Because of time, because life is limited and measured in time, we think of it as progress or having meaning.  But if time is a false construct, it “has no inner reality,” then all this time we take for reflection is wasted.

The line continues: “they cross in their progress one by one that track of holes that runs to the rim of the visible ground and which seems less the pursuit of some continuance than the verification of a principle, a validation of sequence and causality as if each round and perfect hole owed its existence to the one before it.”  Okay, so the man is progressing, but also the people behind him are progressing, passing each hole he is making.  The holes are in equal increments, like the notches on a clock.  Their progress is less the pursuit of some continuance than the verification of a principle.  Okay.  The pursuit of some continuance would suggest they were working towards a goal or advancing for some particular purpose.  But the verification of a principle suggests that the journey does not necessarily have a purpose, and that is the principle being verified.  Time waits for no man.  Existence doesn’t necessarily have any meaning, it just is.

This would seem confirmed by the “a validation of sequence and causality” line that follows.  If each hole owes its existence to the one before, it could be talking about time or mankind.  Because the lines are being created in sequence, the one before leads to the one that follows.  The same could be said of time.  Each second exists only as the natural consequence of the one before.  You need the one before for the next to follow.  Same for man.  I exist.  I have children, and they exist.  They would not exist if I did not exist, just as I would not exist if my parents did not exist before me.  This is a truth, but sometimes we give it too great a significance.  It just is.  Wondering why provides no greater value.

Who is the man?  God?  No, God put the stones there for the man.  His Son?  A Jesus image?  Maybe.  “He strikes fire in the hole and draws out his steel.  Then they all move on again.”  Is this man some version of the kid?

What does the epilogue mean?  I think it is a continued commentary on mankind, mankind’s purpose, volition, and the meaning of life.  Life goes on.  Time passes.  So what?

This analysis has been quite the adventure.  Never intended it to take this long.  In some ways I feel like I’ve created more questions than I have answered.  But I’ve loved reading Blood Meridian this closely.  McCarthy is a genius.  This book in particular I could read perpetually and still gain and learn more.  This has been primarily just a close literal reading, the only real references my dictionary and occasionally Wikipedia.  I am sure there are depths here I haven’t even barely scratched the surface of.  I’m not an expert, but an amateur McCarthy/Blood Meridian enthusiast.  I hope my reading helps some or at least provides some insights/an additional perspective.

May go back and revisit some of these chapters that I either did not analyze myself or did not address with the same level of detail.  And then I will take a break.  A little Blood Meridian goes a long way.  Need something lighter.  No man should go this dark all the time.

Just now joining us?  Go back and relive the adventure, starting here.

Vocabulary

enkindle- to set (as fuel) on fire; to make bright or glowing; to take fire: flame

 epilogue- a concluding section that rounds out the design of a literary work

escapement- a :  a device in a timepiece which controls the motion of the train of wheelwork and through which the energy of the power source is delivered to the pendulum or balance by means of impulses that permit a tooth to escape from a pallet at regular intervals b :  a ratchet device (as the spacing mechanism of a typewriter) that permits motion in one direction only in equal steps

pallet- :  a lever or surface in a timepiece that receives an impulse from the escapement wheel and imparts motion to a balance or pendulum

10 thoughts on “Blood Meridian, Epilogue- “[B]ones and the gatherers of bones and those who do not gather”

  1. I think I skipped over these the first time, but they maybe would have given me a sneak peek at the themes that were coming:

    In the beginning of the book:

    “Your ideas are terrifying and your hearts are faint. Your acts of pity and cruelty are absurd, committed with no calm, as if they were irresistible. Finally, you fear blood more and more. Blood and time.”
    – Paul Valery

    Valery was a French poet, essayist, and philosopher who lived from 1871 to 1945. This is a perfect precursor to the book that follows. The acts both of pity and cruelty are absurd. We act as if we have no control, but we do. Or do we? And does it matter either way. All there is to fear is time and death.

  2. Another:

    “It is not to be thought that the life of darkness is sunk in misery and lost as if in sorrowing. There is no sorrowing. For sorrow is a thing that is swallowed up in death, and death and dying are the very life of darkness.”
    – Jacob Boehme

    Boehme was a Christian mystic and theologian. He lived from 1575 to 1624. I’m not sure what he means here, but I like it. On some level, it seems to be saying that death has no sting because once you are dead you are dead. Death is not misery if it is a mere ceasing of existence. Seems a strange position from a Christian theologian. Maybe I’m reading it wrong.

  3. Won’t include the last quote in its entirety, but it’s an entry from the Yuma Daily Sun from June 13, 1982. It says that a 300,000-year-old skull from the region of northern Ethiopia was reexamined, and it was determined that it had been scalped. Some things never change. War and violence are central to man’s very nature.

  4. What are you going to read next from Cormac McCarthy? I’ve heard “The Orchard Keeper” has recieved mixed reviews. But it’s one of his latest novels, and some say it’s one of his best books. Who knows? Define best books.

      • Thanks, yeah, I have. And if you liked Child of God, and haven’t read it yet, you should try Outer Dark. I’m reading it now. It reminds me of Child of God meets The Road, with just the right amount of Blood Meridian-like references to keep me coming back for more. Great writing!

  5. This is my take on the epilogue.

    The man making the holes – he’s just doing something mundane. He’s a farmer building a fence. The post-hole diggers are his implement. It seems a simple and mundane tool. But he is taming the West. The judge is the epitome of the violent wild west but he is going to have to face those who would put the violence down. That is his dance. He never sleeps. The violence never stops – thus far in history. And he says that he will never die. But we can hope he is wrong here, that someday his ruthless violence, his thirst for bloodshed, the dance, will be defeated.

    Earlier the judge is overshadowing a coldforger (in the kid’s dream – chapter 22). The man in the epilogue is opposed to the coldforger because he strikes fire in the holes. Whatever else the man is, he is no coldforger. The fire is simply the spark of metal against rock. It is also mundane on the surface, but it sets him apart from the judge as an adversary. And what he is doing is really quite profound in that he is remaking the world against the world made by the judge. He will come into conflict with the judge at some point. Who will be the victor? It seems the judge destroyed the kid, but will he destroy this fence-builder as well? We can hope not.

    That is just my take. I may be right or wrong. Appreciate your work. It has certainly enhanced this re-reading of Blood Meridian.

    • Certainly a plausible take. Fences represent control, containment, order. The opposite of everything the judge stands for. And the opposite of the wide open, wild, wild west. I’ve heard it said that barbed wire changed the West. Of course barbed wire would have no effect on the judge; he’d just cut it down. But indirectly, as it imposed borders, allowed for a more controlled, productive commerce, it tamed the west, and took away the anarchic environment the judge would need to thrive in.

      I’m glad you’re enjoying it. It was a tiring but ultimately rewarding effort.

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