Literary Analysis Essay on No Country for Old Men by Cormac McCarthy

Published: 2021-07-16
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Middlebury College
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The novel is set to follow three central characters; Ed Tom Bell, a local Texas sheriff, Anton Chigurh, a psychopathic killer and Llewellyn Moss, a young hunter who has a drug deal that goes wrong. The plot is carried out where Moss finds a suitcase that is full of $ 2milion in cash in the midst of many dead bodies. Chigurh is the one person behind the suitcase with money and the drug activities. He is therefore determined to recover the money from Moss without failing. Bell, on the other hand, is very much committed to being the hero in the story on a task to save the life of Moss.

The novel is a look at the changing times that face the law enforcement and the challenges that are faced as the law tries to mitigate the drug trafficking and the deaths associated with the activities. Ed Tom Bell investigates the massacre in the desert which is linked to the heroin trafficking and Mexico (Raff, Genre, Heroism and Conceptions of Evil in 'no Country for Old Men'). The tension that it brings creates a large hole in what Bell has always considered being his responsibility in keeping the people of his town safe. Cormac McCarthy introduces different people with different goals in the novel which brings conflict.

The main protagonist who is Ben is determined to restore peace to his town and restoring it to how it used to be before the threat from the drug dealers. With his town full of fear from the massacre conducted in the desert, the novel introduces the fact that the characters will stop at nothing to protect their territory from anyone who tries to invade it. As the novel begins, one is a force to believe the fact that the novel only revolves around Moss when in a real sense it is the narrative of Sherriff Ed Tom Bell that is used to tie the story together and get the conflict.

Moss is also used to create the conflict as he is incited by the drug money since he finds it and chooses to take it setting some consequently sets off the pattern of a three man chase. Chigurh decides to chase Moss as Bell is chasing him ("Mccarthy's 'No Country For Old Men'"). The choice that Moss makes to take the suitcase and run is what makes him a target of the drug dealers that try to kill him. Bell symbolizes justice as Chigurh is an embodiment of death. Chigurh believes that he is entitled to decide the fate of an individual and that he has the power to determine the person who is supposed to live and die.

The main conflict that is faced in the whole novel is the will that Moss has to live. No matter the situation that faces him, he is determined to live through his stubbornness. Apart from Moss will to live, each character in the novel is also confronted with their mortality and flaws, and they are what makes the plot of the book. The sheriff tries to make up for his mistakes of leaving his unit behind during his experience in the World War II and because of that, he has been in conflict with his self.

He tries to make up for his failure by trying to protect Moss and restore the peace of his town as he investigates the desert massacre. He plans to protect Moss, but as it turns out, he is so stubborn and greedy too (Raff, Genre, Heroism and Conceptions of Evil in 'no Country for Old Men'). This trait eventually leads him to a worse demise of being shot in a hotel room. As a result, he loses the money to the Mexican drug runners and puts his wife in danger since he was dumb and selfish.

Chigurh has got external conflict rather than internal one since what he wants to do has already been decided. His external conflicts are violent and short lived since he likes to kill with the least amount of pain affliction especially to the animals hence the reason why he carries a cattle gun. His main conflict is with the people who do not want to follow the rules of his game play ("Mccarthy's 'No Country For Old Men'"). He externalizes his rules by attacking and also killing the individual who annoys him like Mosss wife, Carla Jean. The personality conflict that he has originated from his coldness and austere towards himself. He does not show any internal empathy, and he believes that he is an executioner and the representation of fate.

The climax of the conflict is seen as the Sheriff tries to go after Anton Chigurh but to no avail. He attempts to solve the murder investigation but ends up giving up and losing the trails. As the sheriffs keep on dreaming on his past failures it seems that he is deemed to fail too in keeping Moss safe just like he failed in the World War II (Perennial, "Review: No Country For Old Men By Cormac Mccarthy). He abandons the investigation just like he abandoned his unit. He does not resolve the conflict that he wrestles with in his inner being, and it becomes even real when he fails to solve the investigation and Mosss life since he is killed together with his wife.

As Mosss death comes to pass, there is a great conflict that reveals itself to the reader. Surprisingly most readers would think that Chigurh would be caught by Sheriff Ben and Moss life be spared from the drug dealers (Raff, Genre, Heroism and Conceptions of Evil in 'no Country for Old Men'). Contrary to this idea, the bad people are supposed to be stopped and defeated and good to prevail, but this does not happen as the opposite takes place.

The most intriguing question can be seen when the author brings out the element of fear in the city of Sheriff Bell. This human condition provides the Sheriff with ample time to investigate and find out the threat that they were up against. They are in a world of trouble, arent they?(McCarthy 54). It appears that even if the Sheriff tries to hide what happened to a reporter claiming that it is a hunting accident. As they drive out, they are confident that the town has a new threat that they have the responsibility of stopping. The massacre that occurred causing loss of lives was an indication that something was not going smoothly and there was an enemy out there.

As the evidence was obtained, it was certain that there was drug trafficking involvement and the accident was as a result. There's heroin spilled in the back of that Bronco, (McCarthy 54). In essence, the person who got away was in the world of trouble since he was being hunted by murders and individuals with no empathy as it turns out when Chigurh started chasing Moss for the suitcase full of money that he had refused to let go. After Bell and Tobert had realized that the heroin and money were missing, they started investigating so that they can use the missing person to get to the drug dealers.

The question that Tobert asked Bell is intriguing since it is what seems to be happening in the whole of unit IV. It is in this section that the ending chase of Moss and Chigurh starts as the effortless chance to apprehend the bad people goes down the drain, and the disappointed Sheriff begins to compare his past and present failures causing him to conflict with his inner self. Moss was surely in a world of trouble as he tries to hide his trail from Chigurh (McCarthy 52). He goes to a motel and books another room next to his, and as fear and paranoia starts to creep in, he keeps awake trying to listen if there was anyone out for him. He stays with his short gun close meaning that he was tense and in danger. The man who pursues him as ruthless as he is seen shooting a bird without mercy, therefore, meaning that Moss was in a lot more trouble due to his stubbornness and greed for money.

The weight of Bells word to Tobert is seen as Chigurh goes on murdering everyone who stands in his way. The Mexican who tries to reach out for his gun on seeing Chigurh is shot three times as the upper parts of him spread across the headboard and the wall behind it.It becomes hard for Bell to solve the problem since Moss was not getting out of trouble and it was a matter of time before Chigurh caught up with him. The whole of chapter four involves the discussion of how Moss was being pursued and how in humane Chigurh was towards every person he thinks deserved to die (Perennial, "Review: No Country For Old Men By Cormac Mccarthy). It is no doubt that anyone who stood in his way, his world was in a lot more trouble than he could know. Moss under estimated his pursuer and didnt know that he had no mercy and that he could not hesitate to kill him or the people that Moss cared for. The bullet snapped at his shirt and blood started running down his upper arm, and he was already at a dead run, (McCarthy 63). His world was a complete mess when Chigurh killed his wife after Moss refused to part with the money and he dies for it. Bell is unable to stop Chigurh from killing Moss and therefore failing in his quest.

My opinion about McCarthys book is that he decides to write about reality and not just fiction whereby the villain in the story gets defeated by the hero. Although he brings out a lot of tragedy, they stand out to make a lot of sense since a lot of drug trafficking business has got violence involved in it. I think he represents and reveals how drug dealing rips people off their humanity together with greediness for money and control. Moss is so much possessed by the money he got which is not even his, and he is willing to put his life and that of his wife in danger without a second thought of what he is getting himself into. When Moss learns that Sheriff Ben has been to his wife, his only worry is what the Sheriff had told his wife and not his safety nor that of his wife.

McCarthy identifies how the real people in the society are brain washed by their desires and how conflicted they end up being. Most authors make the protagonist a hero as he leads his people to victory, but McCarthy reveals that the war on drug trafficking and the deaths that come along with it needs more than one man to stop (Bloom, Cormac Mccarthy). The sheriff thought that he would do better and not abandon Moss as he did to his unit but as it turns out, he gave up too making him as guilty. He couldnt get justice to the people who looked up to him for protection, and this made him reflect on his past branding himself a failure.

The author pokes on the characters human condition and used their inner and outer conflict to build a personality and reveals the motive behind their dedication which is either humane or cold. It seems that the author is bent on exposing the evil in the society whereby he introduces a person who is cold and with no empathy pursuing someone who escaped death and chooses to still stay on the path of danger. I would say that the book is more of a tragedy and it makes a psychotic sociopath be an embodiment of the world of drug dealing and the new kind of killer that is reforming not only on Bells county but the whole nation. As the number of corpse piles up, Ben realizes that he is fighting against a terrible alien killer who seems to presage the dissolution of the decent American lives.


"Mccarthy's 'No Country For Old Men'." N.p., 2017. Web. 30 July 2017.

Bloom, Harold. Cormac Mccarthy. New York, NY: Bloom's Literary Criticism, 2009. Internet resource.

McCarthy, Cormac. No Country For Old Men. [London]: Picador, 2013. Print.

Perennial, Harper. "Review: No Country For Old Men By Cormac Mccarthy." the Guardian. N.p., 2017. Web. 30 July 2017.

Raff, Mario. Genre, Heroism and Conceptions of Evil in 'no Country for Old Men.' Munchen: GRIN Verlag GmbH, 2009. Internet resource.

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