No Country for Old Men | Study Guide

Cormac McCarthy

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No Country for Old Men | Chapter 13 | Summary



Chapter 13 consists of only one section, Bell's narration. Bell thinks back on a stone water trough at the house his squad sheltered in, in France in World War II. He considers the patience its maker must have had, and his trust in the future. The maker must have known the world would change; Bell wonders what he had faith in. Bell thinks the man must have had "some kind of promise in his heart." Bell would like to be able to make such a promise, he thinks.

Bell considers his father. Bell is older now than his father was at his death; his father died in his 30s. He was a horse trader and very gentle with horses. From an outside perspective, Bell thinks, he and his grandfather probably were judged to be better men than his father; they were both sheriffs, more important, more successful, than his father. Bell recalls two dreams he had after his father died. The first one is hazy; his father gave him some money and he lost it. In the second dream, they were riding through a mountain pass on horseback, his father ahead of him. His father carried a small flame inside an animal's horn. In the dream, Bell says, he knew his father would go ahead of Bell and make a fire. When Bell caught up he would be warmed by that fire. "And then I woke up," Bell concludes.


Bell says he has "not said much about my father and I know I have not done him justice." The outside world also seems to do Bell's father an injustice, judging him inferior to Bell. Perhaps Bell feels guilty for having surpassed his father in the eyes of the world. As Bell describes him, his father is heroic: gentle with horses, brave enough to remain in a hopeless battle. Bell's father also never became an old man; he never lived to see the world become something he was ill prepared for.

Bell owes his father something, just as in his long-ago dream about losing the money his father gave him. In a patriarchal society, where inheritance is passed down through men, inheritance is called a patrimony. In the first dream, Bell squanders his patrimony, losing what his father gave him. The second dream promises to make up for that loss. In the second dream, his father carries fire forward; the fire might symbolize progress and human civilization. In the first dream, he lost what his father gave him, but in the second dream his father's gift still awaits him: a warm, sheltering place. It is unclear whether Bell thinks he will find that sheltering place in this world. Bell mentions waking up, which emphasizes the dream is not real. But his dead father is holding the sheltering place for him. Perhaps Bell expects to find it after death.

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