This note explores the cultural implications of the Penitente sect’s deathcart and figure of Death armed with bow and arrow, and identifies McCarthy’s source in Fergusson’s Rio Grande. The Penitentes’ female death angel, La Muerte, is represented either as a bare skeleton or in feminine garb. The ungendered skeleton in Blood Meridian allows for the protagonist’s misinterpretation of the figure as male and thus a reminder of his Indian-fighting. The eldress in the rocks, wearing the icons of Our Lady of Guadalupe but unrecognized by the man, is another death angel, a conflation of the Virgin and Death. The deathcart appears not only in the Penitente procession, but also in the tarot reader’s prediction of Black Jackson’s death and again in the buffalo bonecarts. Together these tropes support the novel’s representation of border, national, and human history as the procession of Death Triumphant.


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pp. 227-232
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
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