Episode VIII: The Fire Which God Has Put There
The Meaning of Blood Meridian's Epilogue
1. They All Move On Again
After the novel proper has ended, McCarthy appends a short, one-paragraph epilogue1 to Blood Meridian. Here it is:
Presumably, the year is 1878 and the bone-pickers that the Kid encounters in the final chapter are still at work, gathering bison bones to sell to the eastern markets: these will be ground up and used as fertilizer.
A man is walking among them, moving over this north Texas plain, making holes in the ground with an implement. McCarthy’s language here is downright mystical (he even capitalizes God), and this epilogue has confused a number of readers, the esteemed literary critic Harold Bloom among them. Here is Mr. Bloom’s take on this mysterious passage from his introduction to the Modern Library2 edition of Blood Meridian:
“The strangest passage in Blood Meridian […] is set at dawn, where a nameless man progresses over a plain by means of holes that he makes in the rocky ground. Employing a two-handled implement, the man strikes ‘the fire out of the rock which God has put there.’ Around the man are wanderers searching for bones, and he continues to strike fire in the holes, and then they move on. And that is all. […] Perhaps all that the reader can surmise with some certainty is that the man striking fire in the rock at dawn is an opposing figure in regard to the evening redness in the West. The Judge never sleeps, and perhaps he will never die, but a new Prometheus may be rising to go up against him.” (xii-xiii)
Unlike Mr. Bloom, I don’t have an Ivy League education, but I did grow up on a cattle ranch in rural Oklahoma where I got a schooling that gave me greater insight into Blood Meridian’s Epilogue than two graduate degrees from Yale seem to have given the famed author of The Anxiety of Influence.
The man progressing the plain is digging holes for fence posts with a tool called a post-hole digger. It looks like this.
Growing up on my grandparents’ ranch, I had the dubious honor of helping my grandfather build fences: I’ve helped dig post holes, drive posts in the ground, string barbed wire. This is tedious, back-breaking labor and contrary to what ranchers will tell you, it doesn’t build character: the only things it builds are callouses and calcium deposits.
If, unlike Mr. Bloom, you’ve done farm work, you know instantly what the nameless man in Blood Meridian’s epilogue is doing with his implement: it’s about as “strange” to you as a bale of hay.
But if this character is simply building a fence, why is this action significant enough to warrant a coda? And what does it have to do with the carnage and chaos the reader has experienced in the 350 preceding pages?