The novel No Country for Old Men by Cormac McCarthy uses symbolism and the world of the characters to support one of its many themes of the novel. Not only that, but through symbolism, McCarthy reveals the character traits and motives of each of the characters, mainly Moss and Chigurh. The journey of Llewellyn Moss and his attempts to escape the psychotic killer Chigurh symbolizes the fact that you must keep on going to escape the ever changing world. The actions of Chigurh also tell the readers that amongst our sweet, beautiful world, there is so much evil, greed, and death lurking and no matter how hard people try, there is no escape. Through the developments of characters as they are in the novel, and with the help of many symbols, McCarthy effectively conveys the message of “No Country for Old Men”.
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The title of the novel itself signifies one of the themes very well which is that one must keep running because if the ever changing world catches up to you, it will devour them. The quote “survival of the fittest” as said by Charles Darwin applies to this real well. For example, an example straight from the story is how Moss finds the suitcase with two million dollars in it, and is on the run thereafter, from the psychotic killer Chigurh. Where ever he goes, Chigurh gets there and finds him. This is an example of how the world is always changing and if even for a second, a person thinks they are not going to be a victim of it they are wrong. As the story progresses, Chigurh finally catches up with Moss and kills him. This tells the readers that as soon as you think you have won against the world, it will get you really hard. This theme also relates to the title of the story really well in the sense that it says that this is no country for old mean. How this relates is when people get old, they cannot stay up with the race against the world, and one day, the world overtakes them, and they meet their end. It may be the author’s take on how life and death works.
Another prominent character in the story, Sheriff Ed Tom Bell who is out to hunt for Chigurh plays a great role in signifying the theme mentioned in the above paragraph. Like Moss is on the run from Chigurh, Chigurh is on the run from Sheriff whether he knows it or not. This proves that it does not matter who you are and what you may do, the cycle of life, and the moving world applies to you too.
How this applies to the Sheriff himself is really clear in the novel. Throughout the novel, he talks about how he is getting old and he wants to retire through big passages at the beginning of each chapter. He makes remarks about how the world has been changing so quickly, and becoming into a dark, scary place. He mentions that “law enforcement work is more dangerous now than what it used to be” and this is referring to the world of law enforcement, which is his world because he has been a sheriff since a really young age (McCarthy, 38). So what he is trying to say is that the world is a much more worse place not than before, which also points to the changing of it (the world), and it has changed for the worse. A point to be noted is the fact that he mentions how he is getting old and wants to retire. This goes back to the title of the novel itself. No country for old men.
One more example of the prominence of the above theme is when Moss is on the run from Chigurh and is having dinner. He says “three weeks ago I was a law abiding citizen. Workin nine to five jobs. Eight to four, anyways. Things happen to you they happen. They don’t ask first. They don’t require your permission” (McCarthy 220). This quote is one of the single biggest proofs of the theme of a changing world in the book. This tells us how our choice, and decisions we make effects our life whether we know it or not, and we cannot do anything about it. Clearly, when Moss was making a choice of taking the money, he did not consider this. This tells the readers that whatever you do in the world will have its consequences and some you can avoid, and others you cannot but to do so, you must keep moving otherwise you will be caught and served justice.
Along with that, another prominent theme of the novel is that there is nothing anyone can do about the evil side of human nature. This includes greed, violence, and cold hearted killing. Let us start off by talking about the protagonist, Llewellyn Moss. The actions of this man started off the whole chain of events, leading to numerous deaths. When Moss saw the drug deal gone wrong, instead of helping one of the wounded survivors out, he walks away, takes the 2 million dollars, and goes home. This triggers another event. Anton Chigurh sets out to find him, and wherever he goes, he leaves a trail of blood. When the Sheriff tells him he will help, he refuses and digs his grave even deeper. All of this is a result of the greed for money. Another example is that of Anton Chigurh the main antagonist. When Chigurh gets into a gun fight, he sees “the lights receding. Watching his own image degrades in that squandered world” (McCarthy, 122). This symbolizes the squandered world, being degraded to the point where people can kill very easily, and watch others die just as easily thereafter.
The last quote mentioned also shows the contrast between the character of Moss and Chigurh. On one hand, there is Moss, who cannot kill Chigurh, even though he was right in front of him, knowing the fact that he is trying to kill him, no holds barred. On the other hand, there is Chigurh, who enjoys every single moment of killing people.
Although what Moss did triggered so many murderous events, his actions throughout the book and lead us to say that he is not a bad person, though he may have made a few mistakes in his life. Going back to the beginning of the novel, when Moss finds the money case, and there is a man dying and asking for water. At that time, he does not have it so he goes back to get it and while coming so, says “I’m fixin to go do something dumbhern hell but I’m going anyways” (McCarthy, 24). He knows that going there is risky, but as a good person, he risks his life just to go and give a dying man some water and this is a really good sign of how great of a heart Moss possesses. Another example is later on when he is on the run. He says “Three weeks ago I was a law abiding citizen. Workin nine to five jobs. Eight to four, anyways. Things happen to you they happen. They don’t ask first. They don’t require your permission”(McCarthy, 220). He tells this to a girl who he is having dinner with. This shows his character as a caring and nurturing one because he does not want the girl to make the mistakes he has made. This goes to show that no one on this planet is flawless.
The actions of Anton Chigurh, from the start build his character as an evil, blood thirsty, and devilish person who will do anything to attain personal benefits. In the beginning of the story, Chigurh escapes from the clutches of a local Sheriff, and “he place[s] his hand on the man’s head like a faith healer [â€¦] The man slid soundlessly to the ground, a round hole in his forehead from which blood bubbles [â€¦]” (McCarthy, 7). This quote, not only reveals Chigurh’s character, but the fact that it is at the very beginning of the book, reveals the theme of violence, murder and violence throughout the story, and readers can very easily notice them.
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When Chigurh “[â€¦] place[s] his hand on the man’s head like a faith healer [â€¦]”, it reveals to the readers that Chigurh, despite being on a murderous rage, believes he had god given powers. Later in the novel, he “weigh[s] things in his hand like a medium” (McCarthy, 204) and this action of his is quite interesting because it paints divine light on the bloody character of Chigurh. Despite all the useless bloodshed caused by this fellow, he is portrayed as a greater being. Taking reference from Hindu philosophies, we can prove this to be correct. In Hinduism, a good person is the one who does his deed (karma) and bad people are the ones who slack away from it. Because of the fact that Chigurh is a killer, and he is killing people really well, McCarthy may have taken into account this philosophy, and painted Chigurh as an almost divine and great figure.
By putting together all the different aspects of formalist approaches, we know that Cormac McCarthy is sending the readers of his novel, “No Country for Old Men” a deeper message than just the words. McCarthy wants to tell the readers that no matter what happens in life, you must keep moving forward, and never give up. This message can be taken by the readers no matter where they go in life and no matter how big of a person they become.
Work Cited List
No Country for Old Men Forums – From Book to Film – MovieWeb.com. (n.d.). Movie Trailers, New Movies, Movie News, 2013 Movies, DVDs – MovieWeb.com. Retrieved March 18, 2013, from http://www.movieweb.com/movie/no-country-for-old-men/FT252CRAcxjO56
McCarthy, C. (2005). No country for old men. New York: Knopf.
McCarthy, Cormac. “No Country for Old Men Cormac McCarthy Study Guide, Lesson Plan & more – eNotes.com.” Study Guides, Lesson Plans, Homework Help, Answers & More – eNotes.com. N.p., n.d. Web. 18 Mar. 2013.
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