Cormac McCarthy is famously tight-lipped as to his own interpretations of his work. Nevertheless, there are some clear themes in his novel Blood Meridian: human propensity to violence and the efforts of religion and philosophy to make sense of that violence and develop something good in the face of overwhelming bleakness.

At least, that was the message I took away up until the end of the book, before reading the one-page epilogue. On the surface the novel is a straightforward narrative of a gang of outlaws in the wild west. The epilogue, however, becomes suddenly esoteric. It described a figure moving across a plain full of holes and using an odd and un-named tool to make fire in the holes.

The meaning and purpose of this epilogue appears to have puzzled a large number of readers. Is there any kind of academic or critical consensus on what it might represent?


4 Answers 4


More than likely the tool the man was using was a post hole digger. I'm speculating but I've used one and I can't think of what else it could be. He was probably digging post holes for a fence. When you strike rock with the blades of the digger it creates a spark. Barbed wire fencing fundamentally changed and tamed the "wild west" and the North American prairie. Once fences were erected it was no longer open range. It was the end of the huge cattle drives from Texas to the northern prairies, the end of free roaming buffalo, the end of the cowboy and the end of the frontier itself. A great book on the subject is Cattle Kingdom: The Hidden History of the Cowboy West by Christopher Knowlton. I've also read books about mountain men and pioneers which discuss the subject. Many of Larry McMurtry's books also attempt to demythologize our idea of the cowboy.

In All the Pretty Horses, Mccarthy wrote, "What is constant in history is greed and foolishness and the love of blood." Evil and "prophets of destruction" are common in McCarthy's novels - e.g. Judge Holden, Anton Chigurh, cannibal gangs in The Road. One of the morals I've gleaned from McCarthy's books is to never underestimate evil. There are "true and living prophets of destruction" in the world and they are not to be trifled with. Usually the characters in his novels meet a violent end when they allow greed or vengeance take them down a path of no return - and there is only one path in our lives and we can never return on it or start over. In No Country for Old Men, Llewellyn Moss says, "Your notions about startin over. You don't start over... Ever step you take is forever. You can't make it go away. None of it." Later in that same book Anton Chigurh says, "The prospect of outsized profits leads people to exaggerate their own capabilities. In their minds. They pretend to themselves that they are in control of events where perhaps they are not. And it is always one's stance upon uncertain ground that invites the attentions of one's enemies. Or discourages it." Be careful what you wish for and how you seek it. Do not assume you can dip your toe in evil and not be consumed by it.

Mccarthy is so dark... and so good!

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    Sorry, I'm new so I'm still familiarizing myself with how things work around here. The reason I think the tool is a post hole digger is because I've used one and I can't imagine what else it could be. It just fits contextually. I didn't read about it somewhere else. I didn't reference the other because I've read several books about the American West / Wild West and most of them discuss how fencing fundamentally changed things. At any rate, I did go back and put some references in. Hope it helps. Commented Mar 7, 2019 at 12:53

Rereading Blood Meridian after about a dozen years and this is something I just thought about the Epilogue: Could the author have meant simply to refer to the spread of the telegraph in the West, a civilizing influence which would make it harder for "Bad Men" like the judge to thrive?

We know that he is a creature of mystery and lies, someone that everyone thinks they have encountered before, someone who relies upon no one knowing who he is or verifying his statements. Although fence posts might be suggested the fact that CM mentions fire suggests more strongly to me electricity: "striking the fire out of the rock which God has put there" seems like a poetic description of that substance; indeed, amber, a sort of stone, was strongly associated with electricity in the early history of human understanding of it.


I think striking fire from the earth is a reference to nuclear weapons, uranium. McCarthy describes in detail how gun power was made from, things from the earth. He also describes weapons and what they are made from: again, thing from the earth.


I see it as just a simple allegory for life. One of the topics I remember from Blood Meridian is that of agency, whether free-will or determinism. I think the epilogue is life. Those who do the hard work of sparking fire which God has placed in rock, this is the man who has claimed agency through power to exert his will to it's fullest God given capabilities. Artists, any man who has chosen to rise to meet his destiny and take on the challenge of testing or taming the barbarousness of the world and his own heart. Then there are those who gather bones, left over scraps, discarded leftovers. A paltry existence, but a middle ground. Also a collection of materials which truly hold no spiritual value. Remnants or decaying material. Then there are those who do not gather. Having rejected both the daunting task of seeking a meaningful vocation in life, and also the gathering of bones. The gatherers of bones and those who do not gather, both of these groups halt and posture as if taken by thought and prudence but truly, this reflectiveness has no inner life or reality. I'm reminded of a line in Moby Dick by Herman Melville: "It is the easiest thing in the world for a man to look as if he had a great secret in him." I know Moby Dick is one of McCarthy's favorite novels and that it highly influenced him and Blood Meridian. Anyway this epilogue is very esoteric and does yet contain much mystery to me. But that's roughly what I've always thought of as my interpretation of the epilogue. I also agree with the fence post correlation, the taming influence on the world. The wild, barbarity of the evil in the alien hearts of men, which is held at bay by civilization and the threat of punishment. Blood Meridian, though horrific, is my favorite novel I've ever ride or come across. The best I've ever found and read. The breadth of it, the philosophical scope and challenge of tackling theodicy and civilization. Cormac's writing is the ideal pinnacle of verbal artistry to me.

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