Blood Meridian: Who is referred to by "clemency for the heathen"?

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  • 27 Apr 2016 at 9:06 pm #8273


    I am curious how you all interpreted the judge’s line as he taunts the kid in chapter 21: “You alone were mutinous. You alone reserved in your soul some corner of clemency for the heathen.” Maybe my google-fu is weak, but I haven’t found too much discussion on this line.

    My interpretation was that the “heathen” the judge refers to is not the Native Americans that the gang fought, but the members of the gang themselves. Correct me if I am wrong, but I don’t recall a single description of the kid showing any sort of clemency towards any Native American. However, there are several notable instances where the kid shows a small amount of aloof compassion towards his comrades which sets him apart from the other characters significantly. Off the top of my head:

    -Accompanying Sproule through the desert, and offering to look at his arm
    -Approaching McGill when he is skewered with a lance, presumably to try to assist him
    -Pushing the arrow through Brown’s leg
    -Staying with the dying Shelby, and later accompanying Tate despite his lame horse

    So it seems that the only people he showed clemency towards were members of the gang.

    Also, I question what the word “heathen” actually means to the judge. It is possible that he is simply using it as a colloquialism, but the word takes on a completely different meaning if it is to be taken literally. When spoken literally, “heathen” would describe somebody who is not a follower of your religion. The judge explicitly states in a prior chapter that “War is god.” He speaks of war in religious terms due to, as I took his speech, its function of creating order by choosing the stronger will between men and destroying the weaker will. With this in mind, it seems consistent to me that the judge might consider the heathen to be the man who has become injured and defeated in war, whose will has been selected against by the order of things, but who lives on, for whatever short time. So, by assisting these injured and defeated men, the kid is defying the god of war and showing clemency for the heathen.

    Is this interpretation in line with what anybody else took from that passage? Any other interpretations?

    14 Jun 2016 at 10:15 am #8347


    Earlier in the novel the Judge refers to the Kid as “Young Blasarius”. I think this is when they were having their fortunes read. A Blasarius is an arsonist but it also means incendiary. The Judge could be refering to when the Kid and Toadvine burned down the hotel but he could also be calling the Kid an incendiary, one who is against the group.

    14 Jun 2016 at 8:21 pm #8348

    Rick Wallach

    Orbis: I must admit that it never occurred to me that by “heathen” the judge might have meant the other gang members; that’s a wonderfully ironic take on the comment and, the more I think about it, the more I suspect you’re correct: it was, after all, the kid who couldn’t bring himself to finish off his wounded gangmate, and the kid who pulled the arrow out of Brown’s leg, and – this being perhaps the most ironic point of all – the kid who couldn’t shoot down the unarmed judge when he passed before his rifle sights. If the judge isn’t the ultimate heathen, who would be?

    Nice job of thinking outside the box.

    14 Jun 2016 at 9:36 pm #8349


    In what is, if I recall correctly, the first attack on an Indian village the Kid is seen emerging from the water. I think it’s possible the Kid was hiding in the water so he wouldn’t have to kill helpless Indian women, children and elderly.

    Prior to another attack, I believe it was the attack on the peaceful Tiaguas, the Kid is seen confering with Toadvine and Toadvine says, paraphrased, ‘those Indians never hurt anybody’. It seems to me Toadvine and the Kid do not wish to participate in the attack but feel they must.

    I think these two instances, combined with the Judge identifying the Kid as a Blasarius, may serve to show that the Kid was not as commited to killing Indians as his association with the group might seem to indicate.

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