No Country for Old Men

by Cormac McCarthy

Setting

No Country for Old Men takes place in the 1980's. The narrative transpires along the Tex-Mex border, taking place primarily in Sanderson, Texas but gravitating to nearby towns and briefly to Mexico.

Main Characters

Theme

War, evil and the deteriorating state of society

Throughout this novel, many wars are mentioned. It is indicated that Carson Wells and Llewelyn Moss fought in the Vietnam War while Ed Tom Bell was "a war hero" (195) in World War II. Of course, the ongoing war explored throughout No Country for Old Men is the "dope wars" (217). The war over drugs is what causes the mass homicide in the desert which insights much of the conflict in the novel. Sherriff Bell partakes in the war against drugs. He highlights the evil brought out in this war by saying: "I think if you were Satan and you were settin around tryin to think up somethin that would bring the human race to its knees what you would probably come up with is narcotics" (218). Furthermore, Bell struggles with the direction that the world is headed. He iterates that “the world is goin to hell in a handbasket” (196). To emphasize, he says: “[A] while back in San Antonio they shot and killed a judge….Add to that that there’s a peace officer along this border getting rich off of narcotics…. I don’t believe that was true even ten years ago. A crooked peace officer is just a damned abomination…. And this aint goin away” (216-217). Additionally, Bell recounts that forty years ago, “the biggest problem [students] could name was things like talkin in class and runnin in the hallways…. Forty years later. Well, here come the answers back. Rape, arson, murder. Drugs. Suicide” (197). Accordingly, Bell gathers that the evil in society “has done got way beyond anything you might of thought about even a few years ago” (217) and “’[t]here ain’t nothing to do about it’” (269). Given these points, it is clear that war, evil and the deterioration of society are key themes developed throughout No Country for Old Men.

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Choice, consequence and fate

Throughout this novel, Cormac McCarthy highlights the consequences of our choices and the role fate plays in the progression, positive or negative, of our lives. Perhaps the greatest example of choice and consequence is Moss' choice to take the money in the desert. As a consequence of this decision, he is hunted until the inevitable death of him and his wife. Likewise, Bell chose to "'cut and run'" (276) instead of protecting his fellow soldiers after a brutal attack in WW2 and must now "'live with the consequences'" (278) of this decision. He "'has never quit wishing [he] could go back'" (278) and "'die over there doin what [he'd given his] word to do'" (277). Chigurh progresses this theme when he tells Carla Jean: "'Every moment in your life is a turning and every one a choosing. Somewhere you made a choice. All followed to this.... A person's path through the world seldom changes'" (259). Another great example of this is the choice of "'heads or tails'" (56). This seemingly innocent decision can have fatal consequences, as Carla Jean finds out. This decision develops the theme of fate as the consequence of the decision is dependent on chance. Furthermore, when the gas station proprietor is confused as to the purpose of the coin toss, Chigurh says: "'You've been putting it up your whole life.... [The coin's] been traveling twenty-two years to get here'" (56). This suggests that fate has led the events of the man's life as well as the coin to this decision. Fate is further explored throughout the novel with lines such as: "'There's a reason for everything'" (256). In brief, choice and consequence, intertwined with fate, play a prominent role in this novel.
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Symbolism

Chigurh represents the devil

Throughout this novel, it is made clear that Chigurh is not your average psychopath. Wells’ comparison of Chigurh to “’[t]he bubonic plague’” (141) as well as the description of Chigurh as “’invincible’” (140), solidifies the illusion that Chigurh transcends a human existence. Furthermore, while Chigurh reveals that he “’model[s] himself after God’” (256), his evil actions suggest that he would be better classified as satanic. As Carla Jean states, he is “’a blasphemer’” (256). Chigurh proves himself to be the great adversary of humanity as he kills nearly everyone he encounters with no remorse. As an illustration, Wells says: “’The people he meets tend to have very short futures. Nonexistent, in fact’” (150). In addition, Chigurh is referred to as “’the ultimate bad-ass’” (153) and “a true and living prophet of destruction” (4). Who better fits these titles than Satan himself? Even the way Chigurh dresses, all in black, suggests a demonic presence. Sherriff Bell remarks that "[Satan] explains a lot of things that otherwise dont have no explanation" (218); with no background information given to explain why Chigurh acts the way he does, perhaps the only explanation is the one Bell gives. In effect, Anton Chigurh becomes a symbol for the devil in this novel.

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Coins represent the fate involved in choice

The main use of coins in this novel is when Chigurh uses them to decide whether or not to kill his victims. A victim's choice, heads or tails, is the difference between life and death. However, as coins provide a 50/50 chance, an individual's choice, while providing a facade of control, is inevitably controlled by chance. Furthermore, it becomes clear throughout the novel that Chigurh believes that his use of the coins is aligned with fate. He tells the gas station proprietor: “’Anything can be an instrument…. Is it [just a coin]?’” (57). Moreover, after flipping the coin that will decide the man’s fate, Chigurh tells the gas station proprietor: "'I can't call it for you. It wouldn't be fair. It wouldn't even be right'" (56). This highlights the importance of the victim’s choice and demonstrates his belief that the coin is an absolute tool of fate that he cannot overrule. Chigurh furthers this when Carla Jean pleads for him to spare her life, to which he replies: "'You're asking that I second say the world'" (260). This suggests that the coin and Chigurh are carrying out the work of a greater power. He expands on this when he tells Carla Jean: “’I had no belief in your ability to move a coin to your bidding.… [T]he shape of your path was visible from the beginning’” (259). In other words, the decision made by the coin is the way Carla Jean was destined to end. Altogether, in this novel, coins represent the role of fate and chance in choice and consequence.
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Call It, Friend-O - No Country for Old Men (2/11) Movie CLIP (2007) HD