Dr. Amy Hungerford’s lectures on Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian are part of Yale University’s “Open Yale” series. The lectures were originally presented as part of ENGL 291, The American Novel Since 1945. From the course description–
In this first of two lectures on Blood Meridian, Professor Hungerford walks us through some of the novel’s major sources and influences, showing how McCarthy engages both literary tradition and American history, and indeed questions of origins and originality itself. The Bible, Moby-Dick, Paradise Lost, the poetry of William Wordsworth, and the historical narrative of Sam Chamberlain all contribute to the style and themes of this work that remains, in its own right, a provocative meditation on history, one that explores the very limits of narrative and human potential.
In this second lecture on Blood Meridian, Professor Hungerford builds a wide-ranging argument about the status of good and evil in the novel from a small detail, the Bible the protagonist carries with him in spite of his illiteracy. This detail is one of many in the text that continually lure us to see the kid in the light of a traditional hero, superior to his surroundings, developing his responses in a familiar narrative structure of growth. McCarthy’s real talent, and his real challenge, Hungerford argues, is in fact to have invoked the moral weight of his sources–biblical, literary, and historical–while emptying them of moral content. Much as the kid holds the Bible an object and not a spiritual guide, McCarthy seizes the material of language–its sound, its cadences–for ambiguous, if ambitious, ends.