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B E R N A R D A. S C H O P E N University of Nevada, Reno "TheyRode 0nw :BloodMeridian and theArt ofNarrative Since its publication in 1985, Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian or TheEvening Redness in the West has received little serious criticism. This remarkable neglect of what Denis Donoghue calls “one of the most powerful American novels I have read” (6) is about to end, however. Now that All The Pretty Horses has garnered a National Book Award and The Crossingleaped up the best-seller list, McCarthy threatens to become an academically fashionable, perhaps even a canonical figure, and we can expect that his novelswill increasinglybe “interrogated”into confes­ sing that they are cultural documents desperately in need of “post-something” reading and ideological excavation.1Insofar as Blood Meridian is concerned, however, cultural and ideological critics will need to consider that what draws our attention to the novel in the first place is thoroughly literary. While certainly the study of la bête humaine and the philosophical inquiry that reviewers and critics would have it, Blood Meridian is first and finally a novel, an imitation of an action informed by the principles of a consummate narrative art. Thus McCarthy’s masterpiece all but demands that it be read in literary—that is, formal—terms, for only an examination of its art can suggest why Blood Meridian has powerfully engaged and affected its readers as have few other American novels. And such a reading demon­ strates that, while McCarthy’s art is everywhere in evidence, it is most apparent in the shaping voice of his narrator and the haunting story this voice literally constructs as it speaks to us, in the complex structure that the narrator imposes on the material, in the tragic action that he invents 180 WesternAmerican Literature for the central character, and in the repetition of words, phrases, and images to which the narrator almost obsessively harkens back in an attempt to come to terms with—if not to explain—the mystery lurking in the depths of the human heart and at the center of McCarthy’snovel. I Any consideration of a prose fiction as art must reckon with its medium. Butwhile all of Blood Meridians critics agree that it is a stylistic tour de force and attribute to McCarthy a style “biblical” or “baroque,” “highly wrought” (Moran), and even “gorgeous” (Shaviro), no one attempts to assess the effects of its language. Donoghue approaches the subject when he notes the polysemous nature of the text and observes that its “many styles and dictions” employ a lexicon of archaic or ab­ struse “hard words” that “help McCarthy to control the pace of one’s reading” (Donoghue 7; see also Shaviro 117-18).2But more than “hard words”exert this control; most of the rhetorical devices available to the writer in English contribute to it and to the effects it produces. For illustration we need go no further than the novel’s opening paragraph; See the child. He is pale and thin, he wears a thin and ragged linen shirt. He stokes the scullery fire. Outside lie dark turned fields with rags of snow and darker woods beyond that harbor yet a few last wolves. His folk are known for hewers of wood and drawers of water but in truth his father has been a schoolmaster. He lies in drink, he quotes from poets whose names are now lost. The boy crouches by the fire and watches him. (3) Other than the Ecce Homo echo and the use of the present tense, this contains nothing especially unusual, and nary a “hard word.”Yet the passage is remarkable in effect, as faintly odd as it is quietly beautiful. The unconventional punctuation disturbing the simplicity of the sen­ tences; the repetition, subtly of “thin”and less subtly of “He,” reinforc­ ing the lyrical rhythms; the ironic clashing of those rhythms with the grim description; the “rags of snow”metaphor spilling significance over the passage; the Biblical idiom in “hewers of wood and drawers of waters” shifting the register of the discourse; the ambiguous referent BernardA. Schopen 181 lurking in the “He”of the penultimate sentence—all force the...


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