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26 Jan 2015 at 7:59 pm #6296
So I finally got around to watching the movie of The Gardener’s Son, and I reread the screenplay while I was at it. While I don’t wish at this point to go into too much detail, I thought I’d make a couple observations that people might find interesting.
The comparison with Moby-Dick is very striking. Robert McEvoy gets his leg cut off, for crying out loud, and goes around with a peg leg for almost the entire movie. And it is hinted that James Gregg, the son of the founder of the mill, was responsible for McEvoy losing his leg. Which makes McEvoy Ahab and Gregg the whale/God, if you are willing to entertain my conjectural comparison. (Yes, in my mind, the whale = God in MD, and the way I’m reading The Gardener’s Son, I would bet McCarthy agrees. More on this below.) And Gregg, being the owner of the mill in this company town, is essentially a dictator. He has complete control over the lives of the people in “his” town, thus reinforcing the God idea. Moreover, as Dianne Luce points out in her excellent “Reading the World”, Gregg runs a *textile* mill: Recall the “Loom of Time” from Chapter 47, The Mat-Maker, in Moby-Dick, as well as
“Nay—the shuttle flies—the figures float from forth the loom; the freshet-rushing carpet for ever slides away. The weaver-god, he weaves; and by that weaving is he deafened, that he hears no mortal voice; and by that humming, we, too, who look on the loom are deafened; and only when we escape it shall we hear the thousand voices that speak through it. For even so it is in all material factories”
from Chapter 102, The Bower in the Arsacides. These further link Gregg to the whale/God. Furthermore, as Ms. Luce mentions in her book, during preproduction of the film, the director, Richard Pearce, wrote a “research newsletter” wherein he includes the entire above quote about the “weaver-god”. It is very possible that McCarthy put Pearce onto that quote, and it is almost certain that both had the link with MD in mind during the making of the movie.
So Gregg has complete control over the lives of the people in his town, runs the “Loom of Time”, and may have caused McEvoy to lose his leg. McEvoy decides to take revenge. But the reason for his revenge is never completely spelled out. Is it because of his leg? Maybe, but it’s not definite that that was even Gregg’s fault. Is it because Gregg tried to shtup McEvoy’s 14-year-old sister Martha for money? Maybe, but it’s not definite that McEvoy even knows about Gregg’s “affinity” for Martha. Is it because Gregg has McEvoy’s father no long working as a gardener but as a factoryhand? I’m inclined to say it’s all of these and more. I’m inclined to say that McEvoy piled upon Gregg “the sum of all the general rage and hate felt by his whole race from Adam down”. And so he killed him. And killing him cost him his own life, as Ahab.
Note too that when McEvoy shoots Gregg, McCarthy writes “The clatter of machinery in the background suddenly comes to a halt. There is an immense silence.” Presumably killing Gregg shuts down, or at least momentarily disrupts, the Loom of Time.
(FWIW, I’m aware that many people quite dislike neat, tidy, with-a-bow-on-it readings such as these, considering them “reductive”. Frequently, I would agree. Here though, the points of similarity are so striking I can only say “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s”.)
A couple more points: When William Chaffee, the “Young Man” from the beginning of the screenplay, who seems to be related to Gregg (though I’m not sure how: He clearly states that his grandmother was Mrs. Gregg, so he must be either Gregg’s son or nephew (EDIT: When Mrs. Gregg talks to Martha, she states “James was the last male heir.” Plus, Chaffee has a different last name. So he must be a nephew.), but he seems far too young for that, given how old Martha is, since she was 14 during the main action of the screenplay), goes to visit Martha in the hospital at the end, he and an orderly pass an old man who is mopping the floor. When they pass, the old man “makes a strange mudra after them with his hands”. I’ve long wondered about the judge’s hand gestures, and Rick wrote somewhere (Blood Meridian’s Evil Archon, maybe?) that those hand gestures are mudras. I’ve thought that was interesting, but I never completely believed it, mainly because I was skeptical that McCarthy would know what mudras are. Well, now it is obvious “what McCarthy knew and when he knew it”, that is, before writing BM.
Also, after McEvoy’s execution, a doctor gives the time of death as 1:13. That’s way too close to the 1:17 that recurs in No Country and The Road for me to not notice. But I still have no idea what either could possibly mean. (Also, does anyone know what M-71 might be? For several of McCarthy’s more recent works, the copyright is not held by him, but by “M-71, Ltd.” There’s the “17” from “1:17” again, in reverse, this time.)
Finally, The Gardener’s Son is interesting for how it reflects on McCarthy in various ways. For instance, the above comparison with Moby-Dick potentially gives insight into what McCarthy sees in that book. I mean, for him to say that Moby-Dick is his favorite novel and that he rereads it every year (EDIT: See below, I may be totally full of it), well, presumably he doesn’t just think the writing is pretty. I assume there are philosophical/thematic elements in it that really appeal to him or influenced/changed him. And if his use of MD in The Gardener’s Son is any indication, perhaps he reads it (at least in part) as the story of a world run by an evil god who causes pain and suffering to people and especially smites those who rebel. All of a sudden I find myself taking Gnostic readings of McCarthy’s works much more seriously. (I was never really sold on them before.)
Along these lines, Gregg trying to pay Martha for sex links him with the judge: pedophile, uses money (in particular, coins) to manipulate people, and plays the role of God in his respective domain. Indeed, TGS is resonating in interesting and unexpected ways with McCarthy’s other works, BM in particular.
26 Jan 2015 at 8:00 pm #6297
- This topic was modified 2 years ago by efscerbo.
Also, for those of you who read the McCarthy-Pynchon Connection thread, note that Pynchon uses essentially the same trope of town-founder as God in The Crying of Lot 49: Pierce Inverarity developed, built, owns, runs, and controls everything in the town of San Narciso, and throughout the novel he plays the role of deus absconditus: He dies (maybe) and is thence absent, it is his “testament” that sets the whole story in motion, but without access to him, Oedipa can never break out of her solipsistic tower and realize the “truth” of the world.
Just thought I’d mention it.
26 Jan 2015 at 8:19 pm #629827 Jan 2015 at 2:53 am #6305
Thanks a bunch. Got a copy of The Gardener’s Son DVD as a Christmas present, so I’ve been thinking about that one a lot lately. Very interesting, especially in light of the Moby-Dick connections mentioned above.
Been spending more time reading Shakespeare and Pynchon lately than McCarthy, but I’m hoping to begin a chronological reread of McCarthy’s stuff this year. If that happens, you’ll definitely know, because I’ll be posting incessantly. Hopefully schoolwork won’t get in the way.
Hope all is well by you.
27 Jan 2015 at 7:10 pm #6313
“for him to say that Moby-Dick is his favorite novel and that he
rereads it every year.” Where did he say that?
I’m interested in this because Moby-Dick is my favorite novel
as well, and ever since my first reading of BM I’ve been deeply
fascinated with connections between the two.
I wonder where I could find essays or crit.lit that woud deal with
Blood meridian and Moby-Dick.
Enjoyed your recent posts on the “The End of BM: A Reading” thread.
Especially the stuff about the reflections.
ToniQuote28 Jan 2015 at 12:28 am #6317
You know, I gotta be honest, I may have dropped the ball on that one. I should say, Moby-Dick being McCarthy’s favorite novel is somewhat well-documented: It’s mentioned in his 1992 NYT interview and his 2007 Rolling Stone interview. However, the bit about him rereading it every year, that’s something I heard years ago, shortly after I first read BM. But I don’t remember where, and on trying to find it now, the only thing I’m coming up with is this NYT op-ed:
But a) that’s not really a reliable source (who’s John Rocco and how does he know McCarthy said that?) and b) I don’t remember *ever* seeing this article before, so I really don’t think it’s where I heard that. However, unfortunately I can’t find anything else on it right now.
Hopefully someone else knows what I’m talking about and can give a source? Otherwise, be skeptical.
And I agree: MD is a very close second to BM for me. So, on watching + rereading Gardener’s Son, it was very interesting to see McCarthy working so closely with that novel. It’s also interesting because, if my understanding of McCarthy’s reading of MD is correct, I *totally* disagree with him. Which I think is entertaining.
Oh, and thanks for the vote of confidence on the recent posts. I was hoping to stir up more of a response with those, but no one seems to want to bite. I’d even be content if everyone thinks I’m full of it: It would be fun for people to try to poke holes in my reading, really let me test how much weight it supports.
28 Jan 2015 at 6:21 am #6320
I seem to recall him mentioning that, or the writer of the article, mentioning it, in one of the several articles that have appeared over the last few years about the circumstances of the writing of The Road and McCarthy’s sojourn in and around the Santa Fe institute. In any case I also remember reading that somewhere so you’re not alone, Ed. It is, like the truth in the X-Files, out there somewhere.
Rick WallachQuote28 Jan 2015 at 6:51 am #6322
Yes, I have read the articles you mentioned and remember that
Moby-Dick is said to be his favorite novel, but it was this
“annual reading” that struck me. Never heard that before.
I recently read them back-to-back and I kept noticing little
things through out that connected the two. I’m not making any
deep philosophical points here, (the level of ideas and discus-
sion here makes me want to shut up and listen) but there were
little things here and there that seemed very similar, at least
on the surface, if nothing else.
An example (speaking of surface): The scene where the judge gathers
the man against his terrible flesh and closes the door, in my mind
resonates with how the white whale pulls Ahab under the surface.
But maybe this is a topic for another thread?
ToniQuote28 Jan 2015 at 7:33 am #6325
I mentioned the MD connection – the distribution of gestures towards the whale and Ahab – in the physiognomy and behavior of the judge, and of the Glanton gang with the “Anacharsis Klootz deputation,” as Melville describes the crew of the Pequod, in my essay on Judge Holden in Sacred Violence, Vol. I. I also wrote a more extensive consideration of the racial and political aspects of Moby-Dick and Chamberlain’s My Confession, the basis of the Blood Meridian narrative, in Southwestern American Literature 23:1, 1997.
Now, you can easily overdetermine those moments in BM that seem to suggest Moby-Dick – I once read a comment on one of the online lit courses which are proliferating through the net that Brown’s sawing off of the shotgun was comparable to Ahab’s baptism of his harpoon in St. Elmo’s fire. I think that’s a stretch. On the other hand, I think there are also other inferences of Melville’s The Confidence Man in Blood Meridian, given how easily and how often the judge bamboozles his witless factotums in the gang. Most critics get drawn off in pursuit of Moby-Dick invocations and, I think, have overlooked the Confidence Man angle. There’s some good work waiting to be done there.
Similarly, it’s also possible to overdetermine Melville throughout McCarthy’s work.
I don’t see any evidence within the screenplay itself that James Gregg had anything whatsoever to do with the accident that costs McEvoy his leg. I’m aware that that claim is made in the Wikipedia article about the screenplay, but Wikipedia is notoriously inaccurate about many things. The article in question gives no textual evidence for this inference, and there is nothing I can recall in McCarthy’s notes or correspondence about the Graniteville project in the Wittliff collection at San Marcos.
On the other hand, McEvoy is clearly an ideologically motivated laborer who resents the younger Gregg’s exploitation of his workforce. We first find out that Gregg is a sexual predator towards his young distaff workers during Bobby’s conversation with Pinky when he visit the local doggery for a shot of hooch. This conversation sets up the incident which really is the breaking point for the young amputee: the inference that Gregg had tried to seduce – which may be a gentle word – his younger sister, which we observe when she goes to visit Gregg in his office, and further discover that she had apparently confided the incident to Bobby during her confrontation with Mrs. Gregg late in the drama.
PS – back to Melville for a moment. Just for fun, this time. I recently wrote an article about political, religious and mythological issues behind the original 1954 Godzilla film (Humanities and Technology Review, 2014: http://htronline.weebly.com/2014.html) It’s actually full of Melville ethos. Turns out that the novelist and translator Tomoji Abe completed his full translation into Japanese of Moby-Dick, interrupted by the war, in 1946 and that the writer of the original story upon which Godzilla was based, Shigeru Kayama, was a friend of Abe’s. The original title of the film was Gojira, a conflation of the loan word “gorilla” with kujira, Japanese for “whale.” The gorilla part of his name was, of course, a reference to King Kong, which had just been released in Japan in 1952 to immense box office success. The “whale” part…well…just as one small example, have a look at this:
Note the lower jaw…..
Rick WallachQuote28 Jan 2015 at 12:26 pm #6330
First, Rick: Thanks for confirming that I’m not losing my mind. I know I’ve read that somewhere. Now to be fair, I’m always skeptical of things I read about McCarthy, even in his interviews (e.g. the “radical conservative” bit in the NYT piece… although Woodward also calls him a “southern conservative” in the Vanity Fair article, so who knows?), since things said *of* him are rarely said *by* him. So even if we find that article, interview, whatever, I’d still take his rereading it every year with a grain of salt. But I don’t doubt the importance of it, or of Melville at large, to him.
Toni: That’s really interesting. I’ve also heard about connections between the two novels for years. And I too reread them consecutively last year, but I didn’t make an effort to read either through the lens of the other. I would love to try and chart connections between the two, although as Rick said, it’s easy to go off the rails in such endeavors. Nonetheless, it’d be fun to speculate and discuss.
And Rick: Thanks for the sources. I’m quite sure the Sacred Violence one is the same “Blood Meridian’s Evil Archon” I mentioned above. I’m unfamiliar with the SAL one, I’ll look it up.
I’ve heard similar things about The Confidence Man. Also, Dianne Luce wrote in SAL 26:1, 2000 connecting BM to Pierre. It’s “Ambiguities, Dilemmas, and Double-Binds in Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian“. I really like that paper.
The thing about Gregg causing McEvoy to lose the leg isn’t in the movie, but it is in the screenplay, the very beginning, the conversation between Timekeeper and Young Man (aka William Chaffee). Timekeeper says
“Some people claim that James Gregg had run over the boy with his buggy and caused him to lose his leg but that was never so. He broke it fallin off the gravel train.”
So it may not be true, but it’s certainly a rumor. And I wouldn’t be surprised, given McCarthy’s probable position that “[t]imes past are fugitive”, if that’s a red herring intended to simultaneously reveal and conceal the truth. Perhaps he didn’t want to make the connection with Moby-Dick *too* overt.
I would also point out that it’s hinted that Gregg is a pedophile even earlier on: Right after the opening credits, we see Gregg in a wagon with some stockholders of the mill. McCarthy writes
“They pass a young girl [who turns out to be Martha] standing in the mud waiting for the wagon to pass. James Gregg tips his hat to her. He turns and winks at the stockholder next to him. The girl looks away shyly.”
But I’m not sure that McEvoy ever *knows* that Gregg tried to put the moves on Martha. I’m sure it’s possible, but unless I’m mistaken, we don’t ever see Martha tell him. I don’t remember exactly what Martha tells Mrs. Gregg later on, but I think that concealing McEvoy’s precise motives is rather important for McCarthy here.
As for the class elements in The Gardener’s Son, I’m sure that’s part of it. As I mentioned, Gregg uses money, specifically a *coin*, just as the judge does, just as David Brown does in the San Diego cell, to manipulate people. And coins are very frequently linked with fate in McCarthy. I would totally believe that these are related: That whatever entity manipulates destiny uses money (among other things) to influence if not outright control people’s decisions. However, for me, I don’t see the “control” element as political, but metaphysical. I have a hard time seeing McCarthy as a Marxist (and that’s not just Woodward’s “radical/southern conservative” claims talking). But I would fully agree that in such an extreme capitalist setting as 1800s company towns, where owners were de facto dictators, McCarthy would find a very graceful metaphor for some cosmic workings he perceives or believes in.
And the Godzilla stuff is amazing. The crooked jaw!
- This reply was modified 2 years ago by efscerbo.
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