No Country for Old Men | Study Guide

Cormac McCarthy

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No Country for Old Men | Chapter 12 | Summary



Section 1

Bell reflects on how much wiser Loretta is than he. He also thinks about the corrupting influence of the new wealth. "We're bein bought with our own money." He also thinks the drug trade is a symptom, not a cause, of the moral decline: "but people don't just decide to up and dope themselves for no reason." Bell recalls being interviewed by a reporter, who asked him how he "let things get so out of hand." Bell answered there was a moral decline affecting every level of society, leading to a "breakdown in mercantile ethics." He talks to Loretta, who says she has been reading "St. John, The Revelations." Loretta is affectionate with him. Bell thinks to himself he would be dead without Loretta.

Section 2

Bell leaves the courthouse (where the sheriff's office is) for the last time; he has quit his job. From what the narrator says, Bell's assistant, Molly, must have cried: "Some men could put their arms around a crying woman but it never felt natural to him." Bell feels sad and also defeated, a feeling "more bitter to him than death." But he gets on with his day, resolved to overcome his feeling of defeat.


The phrase "mercantile ethics" comes from a book by a 19th-century Italian criminologist, Enrico Ferri. He in turn takes the phrase from a 19th-century French anthropologist named Charles Letourneau. Letourneau proposed four evolutionary stages of moral development for a society, from lowest to highest: animal ethics, savage ethics, barbarous ethics, and mercantile ethics. The word mercantile refers to the exchange of goods and money, like the word merchant. A mercantile society, or a society where people buy and sell things, cannot function without some moral basis. Buyers have to be able to trust the products are not adulterated, and sellers have to be able to trust the money they get is not counterfeit. The carnage left behind by Chigurh represents a breakdown in the mercantile ethics of the drug trade; Chigurh kills people on both sides, and he kills random bystanders as well.

Loretta reads the final book of the New Testament, cited here as the Book of Revelations, also known as the Revelation to John or Apocalypse of John. The word apocalypse is of Greek origin; it means unveiling or revealing: revelation. The Book of Revelation unveils or reveals the catastrophic events it says will happen at the end of the world. In Chapter 11, Bell thinks, "I think we are all of us ill prepared for what is to come." Perhaps Loretta, with her reading, is prepared. The mention of revelation also connects the end of the world with the moral decline Bell has been noticing.

When Bell tells himself he needs to get over his defeat by Chigurh, he is attempting something new. Bell has not gotten over his "defeat" in World War II, his act of desertion. He and Ellis both agreed in Chapter 10 that Bell's father would never have deserted the wounded soldiers in the farmhouse. Bell seems determined not to let Chigurh affect him the same way.

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