No Country for Old Men | Study Guide

Cormac McCarthy

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No Country for Old Men | Chapter 11 | Summary

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Summary

Section 1

Bell recalls telling Moss's father his son had been killed. The father tells him Moss had been a sniper in Vietnam. The father speaks of the damage the war did to U.S. soldiers; he says it wasn't the soldiers' fault, or even the fault of the antiwar protestors. He believes "the country was already in bad shape" when the Vietnam War began. "The country ... was in pieces," he says. On the road home, Bell thinks about his motivations for becoming sheriff. He wanted to be a man and be listened to; he also wanted to save people. He reflects that the fashions of today—"green hair" and pierced noses—could not have been foreseen by the older generation. He also feels old.

Bell attempts to help the Mexican man charged with murder. He visits the Mexican man in prison, but the Mexican man admits to killing the state trooper and laughs about it. He laughs at Bell for his naïvete. Bell talks to the county prosecutor, an intelligent man. He asks the prosecutor about Mammon, from the Bible. Neither of them know who Mammon is, but Bell is concerned about him. Bell says Mammon "is pretty much a ghost," but then he corrects himself, saying, "[H]e's out there. I wish he wasn't. But he is."

In conversation with Loretta, Bell blames himself for the recent crimes. He didn't do enough to scare the criminals away from his county.

Section 2

Bell comes home from the prison visit and finds Loretta is out riding her horse. He takes his horse and catches up with her. They share a tender afternoon, talking about retirement and the pleasure they take in being together.

Analysis

Just like Ellis, Moss's father has a dimmer view of the past than Bell does. The United States, in Ellis's view, took a wrong turn long before Vietnam. Moss's father thus complicates the novel's views; Bell's vision of decline is not the only view. But Bell still feels the world has become something he can't fathom. Just as the older generation didn't foresee green hair, Bell realizes he can't foresee what's to come.

Bell and the county prosecutor perhaps know the word "Mammon" from the Bible: "No man can serve two masters ... Ye cannot serve God and mammon" (Matthew 6:24). Bell and the prosecutor wonder "who" Mammon is, but Mammon is a "what": a common Aramaic word for wealth. In the Middle Ages some writers believed "Mammon" was the name of a god of wealth in Biblical times, and later the 17th-century English poet John Milton used the word in this sense. Since Mammon is no one, or no one is Mammon, Bell is right to say Mammon is "a ghost." He changes his mind and insists Mammon is "out there"; this is the same thing he said about Chigurh: "He's a ghost. But he's out there." Thus wealth is a corrupting force, and also a ghostly or insubstantial one. Day traders and mercenaries and men in office towers pile up wealth; as Bell says in the next chapter: "There is fortunes bein accumulated out there that they dont nobody even know about."

Chapter 11 has the longest section of Bell's first-person narration in the book. The rest of the chapter follows only Bell; Chigurh is gone from the book and Moss is dead. The structure of the novel reverses itself. In the beginning, Bell's sections are short and the chapters focus variously on Moss, Chigurh and other characters in addition to Bell. By the end, it is Bell's novel, and the entire final chapter, Chapter 13, is Bell's first-person narration. No Country for Old Men is only partly Moss's shoot-out drama; it is also Bell's meditation on history and the passing away of the older generation.

The scene with Loretta proves she is just as saintly as Bell keeps claiming. She refrains from telling him when he is wrong, although not because she is a meek housewife. She reasons if Bell is wrong, he'll figure it out. And if she and Bell have a difference of opinion, she'll get over it. Bell grasps her meaning; he would not get over a difference of opinion with her so easily, since he is not as good or wise a person as Loretta.

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