Critical Analysis Of A Novel – No Country For Old Men

The society of the novel is focused on a few important characters in which they determine the way the society operates.  No Country for Old Men by Cormac McCarthy, is a novel based on violence and immorality.  It strives to show the depth to which violence and immorality can impact a society.

According to “Trauma and storytelling in Cormac McCarthy’s no country for old men and the road” by Francisco Collado-Rodriguez, the role of trauma and storytelling in No Country for Old Men depends on two issues.  First, the writer uses two characteristic modes of narration and genres to enclose the characters in distinguished parts.  The story revolves around the minimalist and the modernist interior monologue approach.  The story, on the other hand, falls in the western form of thrilling crime story.  Second, the sheriff serves as a protagonist who has the symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder, PTSD, due to suffering from a traumatic experience.  This condition makes him look like the underdog version of a detective hero in traditional crime stories.

Moss is supposed to be the good young man of the society.  He should serve to show us the absence of violence in the society.  We however see him begin the novel as a hunter trying to shoot an antelope.  The aspect of Moss being a hunter who himself becomes the hunted is another aspect that draws eyebrows.  It shows the vulnerability of individuals in the society.  The fact that even hunters are hunted is a reversal of roles.  It further depicts how deep violence has gone.  Moss’s expertise with weapons, and use of illegal weapons for hunting further points us towards his traits of violence.

In fact, Moss fails in playing his role as the protagonist three times, first; the return to the scene of the crime to give water to the drug dealer is not logical.  It does not make sense for him to lack sleep and return to the scene of the crime, he ultimately gets himself into more trouble.  Second, he fails to kill Chigurh when he has a chance, just to get injured minutes later by him.  Third, he gets himself killed at the expense of a girl he had just met earlier in the day.  These instances are all instances where the young protagonist fails in his role as a protagonist (Collado-Rodriguez).

Moss’ family is out of hand. He concentrates too much on the quest for money.  He and the wife seem to be in love with each other.  They give the society a sense that some institutions are still intact.  When he is leaving in the middle of the night to go and get the survivor of the drug deal scene some water, she begs him not to leave.  She fears that something horrid is going to happen to her.  She tells him “Baby I dont want you to go.  Where are you goin?  I dont want you to go” (McCarthy 24).  The concern, however, is highly contrasted by what he says to her when things get worse.  He says, “Here’s what’s goin on, Carla Jean.  You need to get your stuff packed and be ready to roll out of here come daylight.  Whatever you leave you aint goin to see it again so if you want it don’t leave it” (48).  This shows a society that is only slightly responsible to get her out of trouble.  He is however dictating and does not see the need for him to explain anything to her.

Bell fails is with the attempts to find Chigurh and every time he slips between his fingers.  When Bell is sure that he has nabbed Chigurh and calls for back-up, he finds out that Chigurh has slipped again from between them. The law fails at every attempt to nab him. He watches from the truck as they look for him.  Somehow, he (Bell) even looks reluctant to approach his encounter with Chigurh when he says he does not want to meet him again.

The study of PTSD seeks to identify underlying problems in the pasts of characters that continually cause regret and stress.  Often, the characters prefer using story telling as a way of healing their trauma.  The character’s stories are often discontinuous, and his life is full of the need to revenge or pay for something they did (Collado-Rodriguez 1).

Bell is the chief character of the novel.  He suffers from PTSD and these symptoms drag him down.  He does not seem to be in control of his life.  He regrets almost everything in his life and wants to right it all.  All these are displayed in his monologues. According to Lydia R. Cooper’s ““He’s a psychopathic killer, but so what?” Folklore and morality in Cormac McCarthy’s No Country for Old Men” the monologues enable the author to display the nature of change that has been experienced over time.  Bell’s inexplicable code of morality tends to counter the nihilistic events of the narrative.  It also gives the light philosophy opinion of Bell.

Bell tells his stories discontinuously, often cutting them in the middle.  The story of a daughter who died, he says, “Me and my wife has been married thirty-one years. No children. We lost a girl but I wont talk about that” (90).  Later on he adds, “She would be thirty now” (285).  He believes his wife is far much better than himself and so many other people for that matter.  This is the kind of stories that are told by trauma case patients.

Bell is the opposite of the society. He is pursuing Chigurh. He however does not fit in this society and hence the title of the novel.  The world is too fast for him.  He seems to be one step behind Chigurh at all times.  The author also gives the same implication of speed by barely using any punctuation in the novel.  The novel is fast paced as well.  The settings change in minutes, and the novel holds the reader to the last minute.  The resignation of Bell from his position shows a total collapse of the old values.  He leaves the new community to deal with its problems.  Bell thinks that the entire society is rotten and needs someone else with more strength to lead them.  He is not comfortable with anything about it.  He says, “It starts when you begin to overlook bad manners.  Any time you quit hearin Sir and Mam the end is pretty much in sight” (304).  All the morals have gone with the system.  The simple things such as courtesy are long gone.

In his musings, he directs his blame to imaginary characters.  At one point, he says that Chigurh is a ghost.  He tries to separate people who have a soul and those who do not.  He says that some people have hearts, and others do not.  He too perhaps believes he belongs amongst those who have no hearts.  He however attributes the good characters he would have preferred to possess to the daughter they lost or the men he could have saved.  He feels his daughter’s existence or dying on the battle field would have righted some things.  He fears for his life too.  He believes that so many people have died while they were younger than he was, and feels deserted. Probably the author intends to display the viability of his novel title by bringing this issue up.  Once they approach old age, life overwhelms them hence their deaths.

Chigurh is the psychotic killing machine, the villain of the novel.  He seems to kill everyone along the way.  He even makes jokes after a murder.  He seems to have a close bonding with death.  Bell says about him, “Somewhere out there is a true and living prophet of destruction, and I dont want to confront him.  I know he’s real.  I have seen his work.  I walked in front of those eyes once.  I wont do it again” (4).  This shows how the society has deteriorated with time.  They have no concern for each other.  When he kills a man to steal his car, he tells him to move away from the car then shoots him.  Immediately the man is dead, he says, “I just didnt want you to get blood on the car” (7).  When he finds Carla Jean, he gives her a chance at survival with a coin toss.  This seems unmoral however, Chigurh has is own set of moral standards.  However Carla Jean fails and is killed.  The fact that he gives her a chance to survive shows that society still has a chance to survive.  The means, however, will not be through the leadership of the Sheriff.

The coin toss by Chigurh could also be a sign of immorality.  It would not be reasonable to put people’s lives on the balance the way he does it.  When Chigurh speak to Moss, he threatens to kill Carla Jeans and implies that only his surrender can save her life.  However once Moss is killed he still finds her.  There is no basis to believe that Moss would have accepted this faint if he had known Chigurh would depend on a coin toss to choose the fait of Carla Jean.

The society of this book is full of violence.  Moss, the young protagonist, and Chigurh are similar on several grounds.  They are both hunting predators; they are weapon specialists; they get injured in their gun fights, limp out of their injuries, and their final target in life is money.  Chigurh is a paid hit man and Moss risks his wife’s life for money (Collado-Rodriguez 6).  The similarity between them shows that even killing Chigurh is not a solution to society.  Eventually, the extreme evil will wins and Moss is killed.

In conclusion, the society of the novel is a violent one.  We move from one scene of crime to another.  The murderers have no regrets doing it.  It seems like their way of life that is totally acceptable in the society.  Efforts to cure the society fail.  The society dwindles with the outgoing law system of Bell.  The evil in society gets the last laugh and in turn, gets everything they wanted.

Works Cited

Collado-Rodriguez, Francisco. “Trauma And Storytelling In Cormac Mccarthy’s No Country For Old Men And The Road.” Papers On Language & Literature 1 (2012): 45. Literature Resource Center. Web. 11 June 2014.

Cooper, L. R. (2009). ‘He’s a psychopathic killer, but so what?’: Folklore and morality in Cormac McCarthy’s No Country for Old Men. Papers On Language & Literature, (1), 37.

McCarthy, Cormac. No Country for Old Men. New York: Knopf, 2005. Print.

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