Cormac McCarthy’s setting in Blood Meridian is a landscape of endless and diverse beauty. McCarthy highlights the surprising beauty of combinations of scrubby plants, jagged rock, and the fused auburn and crimson colors of the fiery wasteland that frame this nightmarish novel. Various descriptions, from the desolate to the scenic, feature McCarthy’s highly wrought, lyrical prose. Such descriptions of the divine landscape seem to serve a dual function. While being an isolated highlight to this gruesome novel, McCarthy’s beautiful setting also serves as an intricate device in defining the novel’s themes and creating the reality in which it is set.
Apart from the novel’s thematic development, McCarthy’s setting and his detailed description of the ornate beauty of the desert southwest is deserving of praise. A lyrical quality and refined beauty are apparent in the novel’s description. McCarthy’s extended accounts of the pristine beauty of the desert can be seen as an artistic and visually appealing piece work apart from the plot of the novel. Such memorable accounts seem to be a lone highlight in a shockingly disturbing book (Moran 37).
By noon they had begun to climb toward the gap in the mountains. Riding up through the lavender or soapweed, under the Animas peaks. The shadow of an eagle that had set forth from the line of riders below and they looked up to mark it where it rode in that brittle blue and faultless void. In the evening they came out to upon a mesa that overlooked all the country to the north… The crumpled butcher paper mountains lay in sharp shadowfold under the long blue dusk and in the middle distance the glazed bed of a dry lake lay shimmering like the mare imbrium. (168)
Such highly-developed and picturesque scenes help elevate and restore the novel from the brutal and grisly realities which it portrays. McCarthy’s striking views of the setting provide a background for a novel soaked throughout with blood, deception and mindless cruelty. According to one critic, this beauteous landscape is the lone virginal feature of the novel and seems to be detached from the murder and chaos of the plot (James 31).
The endless distances and unreachable horizons of the desert setting are functional in the thematic development of both the plot and characters. The environment of such a limitless topography as the desert, allows the setting to be capable of unobstructed extension and violent interruption. Such limitless environments make it possible for such events of the novel that are random in appearance and appalling in nature.
In such country, the convergence of groups of equally savage men and circumstances seem plausible if not inevitable. These men and circumstances bring about the disturbing details of such random and appalling events which drive the plot forward and allow for thematic interpretation (Shaviro 145). Only such a setting could contain a clan of pseudo-military filibusters who, “among their clothes there was small agreement,” (44) who are helplessly slaughtered by a band of Comanches, “in costumes… [of] pieces of uniform still tracked with the blood of the prior owners” (52).
The kid’s travels along the sometimes barren and the sometimes magnificent stretches of unending desert can be compared to man’s wandering through the world (Shaviro 147). These murderers and mercenaries find the most perverse and barbarous of situations following and watching the horizon, “the trembling perimeter of the world” (McCarthy 104), though they never find what Shaviro calls a “final mystery or essential otherness” (146).
In Blood Meridian, man’s futile search to find an unobtainable meaning in his existence is exemplified by the savage brutality of his actions when there are no limitations of morality or law. A comparison of man’s fruitless journey is described as “they move like migrants under a drifting star and their track across the land reflected in its faint arcature the movements of the earth itself” (McCarthy 153). Thus, the setting powerfully influences the novel’s theme and its characters rather than being a detached element of the narrative (147).
Cormac McCarthy’s brilliant descriptions of the landscape of the desert southwest in Blood Meridian can be seen to have a dual purpose. In one sense they are the lone highlight of a novel filled with gruesome realities. In analyzing the setting’s features and connections to the novel’s plot and theme, the reader can see that the setting is an element vital in plausibility of the plot and the understanding of the novel’s underlying meaning.