Big Planet

The Rhetoric of Blood Meridian

In book review on July 12, 2009 at 9:10 am

Noting the schemes and tropes helps us demystify the text and gain some measure of courage in confronting a novel that describes “times before nomenclature was”. Though it says nothing about the whole, the list is useful for a future analysis of Cormac McCarthy’s verbal techniques. I got the definition of terms from this source and Lee Jacobus’ article on the rhetoric of Milton. I plan to use Blood Meridian as a specimen for identifying as many rhetorical techniques as possible.

Schemes of Omission

1. Ellipsis.  Deliberate omission of a word (or words) which is readily implied by the context; “As well ask men what they think of stone”; “Before man was, war waited for him” (Chapter 17, Page 248)
2. Asyndeton. Deliberate omission of conjunctions between a series of related clauses; “He is pale and thin, he wears a thin and ragged linen shirt.” (Chapter 1, Page 3)
3. Polysyndeton. Deliberate use of many conjunctions; “They rode through the tracks of their dismounting and they buried their stool like cats and they barely spoke at all.” (Chapter 12, Page 151)

Schemes of Repetition

1. Epanalepsis. Repetition at the end of a clause of the word that occurred at the beginning of the clause; “A man’s at odds to know his mind cause his mind is aught he has to know it with.” (Chapter 2, Page 19)
2. Anaphora. Repetition of the same word or group of words at the beginnings of successive clauses; “Whether his history should run concomitant with men and nations, whether it should cease.” (Chapter 17, Page 243) “Before there were paths anywhere, before there were men or suns to go upon them” (Chapter 17, Page 243)
3. Anadiplosis. Repetition of the last word of one clause at the beginning of the following clause; “he usurped to contain within him all that he would ever be in the world and all that the world would be to him”
4. Temporal Crescendo (my invention, since I can’t find the right term). Arrangement in order of temporal priority; “That is the way it was and will be” (Chapter 17, Page 248)


1. Prosopoeia. Investing abstractions or inanimate objects with human qualities or abilities; “A heraldic tree that the passing storm had left afire.” (Chapter 15, Page 215)
2. Anti-prosopoeia. Anti-personification; “and be his charter written in the urstone itself”
2. Hyperbole. “She weighed nothing.” (Chapter 22, Page 315)
3. Erotesis. Rhetorical question; “In that sleep and in sleeps to follow the judge did visit. Who would come other?” (Chapter 23, Page 309)
4. Antonomasia. Use of proper nouns to stand for something; “doomed and mute as gorgons shambling”

Schemes of Breaking Rules

1. Anapodoton. Deliberately creating a sentence fragment by the omission of a clause; “Spectre horsemen, pale with dust, anonymous in the crenellated heat.”
2. Enallage. intentionally misusing grammar to characterize a speaker or to create a memorable phrase; “When the lambs is lost in the mountain, he said. They is cry. Sometime come the mother. Sometime the wolf.” (Chapter 5, Page 65)


A generic term for changing the normal or expected order of words; “But that man who sets himself the task of singling out the thread of order from the tapestry will by the decision alone have taken charge of the world” (Chapter 14, Page 199) “so like an icon was he in his sitting” (Chapter 11, Page 146) “Hack away you mean red nigger” (Chapter 19, Page 275)

  1. Do you think McCarthy consciously goes out to fill his books with such techniques, or is it all subconscious? (my vote is for the latter).

    Thanks for the comment by the way.

  2. His work shows evidence of quality thinking. Who knows if intuition played a great role? Maybe it did.

  3. Once schooled in rhetorical figures, either through study or by extensive reading, which I’m sure McCarthy has done both, this kind of rhetoric starts floating to the surface both consciously and unconsciously for good authors. McCarthy is one of the best. He is and will be part of the American Literary canon along with Hemingway, Faulkner, Morrison, Emerson, etc.

  4. McCarthy is a literary king. Like Henry V he is the ruler of what is fashionable. He makes the rules. He can make new ones. He determines the new rules of his realm and craft.

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