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The bleak violence of Blood Meridian is punctuated at intervals by various vignettes that have an air of surrealism, almost of black comedy. Some examples from memory include:

  • The "buffones" and travelling magicians that the Glanton gang meet on the road
  • The snake-bit horse with the grotesquely swollen head
  • The Judge's story about making his own gunpowder: "piss for your very souls!"
  • The "imbecile" in his cage, who is later lead around like a pet by the Judge

Occasional comic lines are not uncommon in McCarthy's work, but the sheer weirdness of parts of Blood Meridian is unusual, at least in his later novels (I'm given to understand that Outer Dark, which I have not read, has similar elements).

Given the somber and serious themes of the novel, what is McCarthy seeking to achieve with these "weird west" interludes in text?

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Aside from contributing to the novel's (at least partly) "Acid Western", dreamlike style, I think that the novel's surrealistic elements are intended to strengthen its themes of violence and meaning.

The violence could be seen as just as surreal as the moments you have mentioned. This conflation of violence with seemingly senseless or humorous acts, ties into the Judge's philosophy that "War is God." If there is no higher value than violence, then the sense of the actions of the characters becomes either diffuse or nonexistent. Having said that, I would certainly not try to claim that any of your examples are uninterpretable within the context of their scenes and the book more broadly.

I have another possible explanation. Moby-Dick, which Blood Meridian is often compared to, also uses this technique of placing absurd elements alongside more serious scenes. For example, Ahab's soliloquies or the novel's whaling sequences find themselves partner to chapters adoring spermaceti and arguments over the doneness of whale steaks. So this quality of Blood Meridian could partly be homage. Although, I cannot say for certain. McCarthy has, however, said that Moby-Dick is his favourite book.

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