Episode IX: A Cannibal of a Craft
Moby-Dick's Influence on Blood Meridian
1. The Black and Seamless Sea
In a 2007 interview with Rolling Stone, Cormac McCarthy told nonfiction writer David Kushner that while “he reserves high praise for a few contemporary narratives (“Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas is a classic of our time”), his list of great novels stops at four: Ulysses, The Brothers Karamazov, The Sound and the Fury and his favorite, Moby-Dick.”
Melville’s influence on McCarthy’s oeuvre is evident to any reader well-versed in both writers, but nowhere is this influence more apparent than in Blood Meridian—a novel that takes many of its narrative and thematic cues—as well as its antique syntax and diction—from Moby-Dick.
I want to examine the echoes of Melville’s masterpiece in McCarthy’s, but I’ll start by saying that many critics engage in a kind of willful overriding when they begin pointing out the parallels between these two novels. There is never a one-to-correlation between Moby-Dick’s characters, plot, and themes and those of Blood Meridian. Though both pursue their quarry with monomaniacal fervor, Captain Glanton is not merely Captain Ahab in buckskin and boots; there are similarities between the Kid and Ishmael, but we could never imagine the illiterate Kid telling the story of his misadventures with the Glanton Gang, much less writing it.
I’m not interested in cataloging the many allusions to Moby-Dick in Blood Meridian: they are legion. Instead, I’d like to discuss the different ways McCarthy uses these allusions, and how recognizing Moby-Dick’s presence in Blood Meridian enhances our experience of the latter novel.
Three types of this literary figure of speech (as identified by Classicist R.F. Thomas) will be important here: the Single Reference, the Apparent Reference, and the Corrective Allusion.