Judge Holden: Role of Antagonist in Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian

February 11, 2021 by Essay Writer

An Exploration of Judge Holden in Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian

As human beings, we often find ourselves searching. It is ingrained within us to question the nature of the world, and to discover the truth of what surrounds us. From the creation of the wheel to the first landing on the moon, we have never stopped exploring and asking new questions. One question that humanity has searched to answer since the dawn of our existence is a seemingly simple one. What is evil? This question is one that has consistently eluded us. Naturally, many intriguing and promising answers have come to the surface in an attempt to answer what evil might be. However, evil seems to be a broader and more complex subject than we have been able to define within the confines of language.

The nature of evil may, in some ways, be a contributing factor to its persistent ambiguity. Evil is not a concept easily perceived by those that are not, in some form or fashion evil themselves. To those blessed with goodness, evil is a concept that is often understood in its shallowest of terms. To begin to understand evil, however, one must actually be exposed to evil. Due to this translational handicap, man has attempted to form the concept of evil through experiences, thoughts, and anecdotes, among other things. Humans choose to form the idea of evil through many small wisps of enlightenment coalescing into a tangible concept, rather than defining evil in the typical fashion one might explain any other simpler notion by attempting to categorize and restrict such a broad and varied word within a specific, concise meaning.

In Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian, the antagonist, Judge Holden, serves as one such wisp of enlightenment. Holden transgresses from the laws of nature, normalcy, and all good and wholesome. Through his transgression, Holden becomes a supernatural embodiment of evil. Portraying one of the most supreme villains ever depicted in literature and thereby yielding new light to the study of evil’s meaning.

One aspect of Holden’s aura of evil surrounding him is a close resemblance to The Devil, both in appearance and nature. The most immediately disquieting trait of The Judge, is his appearance. Judge Holden is seen in Blood Meridian as “An enormous man dressed in an oilcloth slicker…bald as a stone and he had no trace of beard and he had no brows to his eyes nor lashes to them. He was close to seven feet in height” (McCarthy 6). Holden’s strange and powerful figure clearly parallels that of a snake. Completely hairless and eerily pale, Holden seems to “shy [in] ne like the moon”, similar to a scaled reptile (McCarthy 175). Similarly, The Devil is often compared to a reptile. In the Bible, The Devil is referred to as “the great dragon” (NIV Revelation 12:9) as well as “the ancient serpent” (NIV Revelation 12:9), even being referred to in Ezekiel as “every precious stone” (NIV 28:13), relating The Devil’s appearance to a luminous and scale-like quality. The Devil is also said to be extremely tall and powerful, having been one of the greatest angels under God (Wellman).

Holden also shows supernatural qualities of health, rarely sleeping and seeming to not age. While death lies in nearly every page of Blood Meridian, Holden is never injured and is seemingly immune to the chaos and death surrounding him. By the end of the novel, The Judge is the only one left alive of the hundred some people that started off in Blanton’s gang, Holden having killed a fair share of them himself, proving without a doubt Holden’s supernatural luck and immunity to mortal law.

Judge Holden closely resembles The Devil in his cunning and tricky nature. In the novel, Holden is described as a renaissance man of sorts. Holden proves to know five languages, can track game, shoot uncannily, play the fiddle deftly, and dance better than any man (McCarthy). Holden’s skill as a fiddle player is an obvious reference to The Devil, who is often referred to as a violin player, using it as an instrument of his trickery. Holden uses his seemingly unending knowledge to cloak himself in a scholarly mirage of harmlessness. Along the trail Holden sits with the gang, speaking passionately of geology and minerals, creating awe and admiration of his knowledge (McCarthy). Yet, when asked later on why he documents and studies nature so profusely, The Judge states “that it was his intention to expunge [the knowledge of nature] from the memory of man” (McCarthy 147). This quote lends a disturbingly different commentary on his seemingly good natured actions, shrouding his true objectives further into mystery. Judge Holden’s name itself is a clever, ironic jibe at Jesus’s popular title as “Judge of the quick and the dead” from the Apostle’s Creed. Holden frequently uses people’s misperception of his secretly convoluted nature in order to gain an upper hand, leading people to think of him, ironically as a savior or fine leader. The contrast between his fellow leader of the band, Blanton, with Holden wearing all white and Blanton all black exemplifies this horrendous misperception of Judge Holden by many (McCarthy 211). While Blanton is seemingly shrouded in darkness, Holden is beholden in light, deceitfully implying purity and godliness.

In many occasions, throughout the novel, The Judge uses his superior knowledge and silver tongue in order to get himself out of potentially hazardous situations. In one of the first instances in Blood Meridian in which the boy is with Blanton’s gang, Holden talks his way out of the gang being shot down by a Mexican armada and arms dealers by lying to them charismatically and deftly. “He sketched for the sergeant a problematic career of the man before them , his hands drafting with a marvelous dexterity the shapes of what varied paths conspired here in the ultimate authority of the extant- as he told them- like strings drawn together through the eye of a ring” (McCarthy 88). In fact, in the presence of chaos and threats Holden becomes most alive, as if warming to his natural habitat.

Holden embraces chaos throughout the novel as if the fear and pain gives him nourishment. His love of chaos is reflected through his very philosophy. In one chapter, Holden states that “War is God” (McCarthy 261), wholeheartedly accepting that killing is a game of life and that everything significant revolves around death. Holden purposely surrounds himself with chaos, as if he needs it to survive. Much like The Devil, his only objective in life seems to be the furtherance of pain and suffering of others. In one instance, Holden buys two dogs from a little boy, only to immediately drown the dogs in a lake all for the sake of watching the innocent child’s dismay. When the kid, the protagonist of the novel who eventually meets his fate at the hands of Judge Holden, first observes The Judge, he witnesses Holden enter a church tent mid sermon, “smoking a cigar even in this nomadic house of God” and denounce the preacher in front of a full room as an imposter (McCarthy 6). The Judge accuses the reverend of being wanted in multiple states for child molestation and “for having congress with a goat” (McCarthy 7).

The Judge’s ability to move a crowd to his bidding is also apparent throughout the novel. Immediately after the reverend is beaten and chased out of town by the angry crowd of church goers, The Judge admits that he had never even met Reverend Green before. Instead of hating Holden, the crowd buys him drinks in amusement. When The Judge chooses Blanton’s gang as his new home, Holden easily inserts himself into Blanton’s Gang, and soon controls the group completely, with Blanton’s full support.

Through Judge Holden’s met human essence, Cormac McCarthy enlightens the reader of what it means to be evil. The Judge’s evil permeates throughout the novel, leaving the reader with a greater sense of discovery, and closer towards understanding the hugely encompassing concept of evil. Humanity may never achieve complete discovery of all the world’s mysteries, but through Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian, Judge Holden’s insidious nature leads humanity one step further towards our irresistible goal to define evil.

Outline

THESIS: In Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian, the antagonist, Judge Holden, serves as one such wisp of enlightenment. Holden transgresses from the laws of nature, normalcy, and all good and wholesome. Through his transgression, Holden becomes a supernatural embodiment of evil, and in turn, not only one of the most supreme villains ever portrayed in literature, but most importantly serves as a beautiful embodiment of evil, giving new light to the study of its meaning.

That most immediately disquieting about The Judge, is his appearance.

A. B. C. etc. Judge Holden is seen in Blood Meridian as “An enormous man dressed in an oilcloth slicker…bald as a stone and he had no trace of beard and he had no brows to his eyes nor lashes to them. He was close to seven feet in height” (6) Holden’s strange and powerful figure clearly parallels that of a snake. Completely hairless, and eerily pale, Holden is seen to “shy [in] ne like the moon” (175), like a scaled reptile. Similarly, The Devil is often compared to a reptile, in the Bible being referred to as “the great dragon” (Revelation 12:9) as well as “the ancient serpent” (Revelation 12:9), even being referred to in Ezekiel as “every precious stone” (28:13), relating the devil’s appearance to a luminous and scale-like quality. The Devil is also said to be extremely tall and powerful, having been one of the greatest angels under God (“Does the Bible Say What the Devil, Satan, or Demons Look Like?”). Holden also shows supernatural qualities of health, rarely sleeping and seeming to not age. While death lies in nearly every page of Blood Meridian, Holden never is injured, seemingly immune to the chaos and death surrounding him. By the end of the novel, The Judge is the only one left alive of the hundred some people that started off in Blanton’s gang, Holden having killed a fair share of them himself.

II.Judge Holden closely resembles The Devil in his cunning and tricky nature.

A.B.C. etc. In the novel, Holden is described as a renaissance man of sorts, being said to know five languages, how to track game, shoot well, and play fiddle and dance better than any man, which in its own right is an obvious reference to The Devil, often referred to as a fiddle player, using it alongside his trickery. In many occasions, throughout the novel, The Judge uses his superior knowledge and silver lounge in order to get himself out of potentially hazardous situations. In one of the first instances in Blood Meridian in which the boy is with Blanton’s gang, Holden talks his way out of the gang being shot down by a Mexican armada and arms dealers by lying to them charismatically and deftly. “He sketched for the sergeant a problematic career of the man before them, his hands drafting with a marvelous dexterity the shapes of what varied paths conspired here in the ultimate authority of the extant- as he told them- like strings drawn together through the eye of a ring.” (88) In fact, when in the presence of chaos and threats, Holden seems to become the most alive.

Holden embraces chaos throughout the novel, as if the fear of others gives him fulfilment and revitalizes him. Much like The Devil, his only objective in life seems to be the furtherance of pain and suffering of others.

A.B.C.etc. Holden embraces chaos throughout the novel, as if the fear of others gives him fulfilment and revitalizes him. His love of chaos is reflected through his philosophy stated in one later chapter that “War is God” (261) in which he wholeheartedly embraces his idea that killing is the game of life, and everything significant revolves around death. Holden purposely surrounds himself with chaos, as if he needs it survive. Much like The Devil, his only objective in life seems to be the furtherance of pain and suffering of others. In one instance, Holden buys two dogs from a little boy, only to immediately drown the dogs in a lake all for the sake of watching the boy’s dismay. The first time the reader is introduced to the reader is when the kid, the protagonist of the novel who eventually meets his fate at the hands of Judge Holden, observes The Judge enter a church mid sermon, “smoking a cigar even in this nomadic house of God” (6) and denounce the preacher in front of a full room as a an imposter. The Judge states the reverend to be wanted in multiple states for child molestation and “for having congress with a goat” (7), all of which are found to be utter lies stated by The Judge for his own amusement, once the reverend is beaten and chased out of town by the angry crowd. The Judge’s ability to move a crowd to his bidding is apparent throughout the novel. The Judge easily inseminates himself into Blanton’s Gang, and soon controls the gang completely, seemingly to Blanton’s full support.

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