No Country for Old Men | Study Guide

Cormac McCarthy

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No Country for Old Men | Chapter 4 | Summary

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Summary

Section 1

Bell recalls becoming county sheriff at age 25. He and his wife have been married 31 years. They had a daughter but she died; Bell says he won't talk about it. He remarks on how grateful he is for his wife.

Section 2

Bell and Wendell inspect Moss's trailer. They see the door lock is broken; Moss and his wife left in a hurry. The case is big news, drawing journalists and law enforcement to Sanderson. Along with a DEA agent named McIntyre, Wendell and Bell examine the shot-up trucks and the dead bodies in the desert. They note there must have been Mexican heroin in one of the trucks.

Chigurh picks up a signal from his transponder; his briefcase is in Del Rio. On the way to Del Rio he shoots at a bird and misses. Moss returns to the Trail Motel, where he rents a different room. Using tent poles, he fishes the briefcase out of the air duct without entering his original motel room.

Chigurh enters the Trail Motel office and walks out with a room key. Armed with his bolt gun and a shotgun, he enters Moss's original motel room and shoots two Mexican men, killing them. Moss is not there.

Bell reads a report and realizes how Chigurh is killing people: he must be using a bolt pistol. Moss arrives in Eagle Pass, a border town, traveling by taxi cab. He rents a room at the Hotel Eagle. He unpacks the briefcase of money and finds the transponder. He pays the night clerk to phone his room if anyone else checks in.

Moss wakes at 4:37 a.m. without being called. He hides under his bed with a gun. Chigurh enters. From his hiding place under the bed, Moss orders Chigurh to drop his gun. With his gun on Chigurh, Moss leaves the hotel. Chigurh shoots Moss from a distance, twice. Moss falls but gets up and runs. A shoot-out erupts behind him, between Chigurh and rival dealers.

Moss goes to a bridge at the Mexican border. He buys an overcoat from a drunken partier. He hides the briefcase full of money in a "stand of carrizo cane" (reed-like grasses) at the river's edge on the American side. He crosses into Mexico and gets medical help. Back in Del Rio, Chigurh leaves the hotel; his right leg has been wounded by a shotgun blast. Chigurh makes his way through Del Rio, shooting and killing. He forces one victim to look at him as he dies.

Analysis

Bell talks about his daughter at the end of the novel. Although all Bell's narration takes place after the events with Chigurh and Moss, this is one sign that Bell changes in the course of his narration.

In contrast to the other law enforcement officials, the DEA agent McIntyre isn't from a rural place; McCarthy shows this by having him say "somebody must have got away," where Bell and the other Sanderson characters say "must of." McIntyre is a minor character; the importance of this detail is in McCarthy's subtle use of speech patterns to characterize people. (McIntyre also doesn't say "must have gotten," the most correct usage.) The presence of an urban DEA agent also shows how Chigurh's crimes are having a widening effect, reaching into other parts of the state.

The Mexican men Chigurh kills must have been pursuing Moss. They complicate the narrative of Chigurh's pursuit of Moss, by reminding the reader many people are after the money. They also foreshadow Moss's eventual death at the hands of someone other than Chigurh.

Moss does not know about the transponder, but he still outwits Chigurh. The ploy with the two motel rooms and the air duct is so clever it's a little disappointing when Moss gets the drop on Chigurh. Chigurh has shown great fighting skill and inhuman indifference to pain; how is he stymied by a mere gun? McCarthy has written many fight scenes in his other novels, so the dialing back on the violence here seems deliberate. The stand-off emphasizes that despite the hints of something cosmic or supernatural about him, Chigurh is mortal.

Chigurh is also uninterested in the money, as Moss notices when he picks up the briefcase: "[Chigurh's] thoughts seemed elsewhere." Chigurh is not motivated by greed. Moss also notices Chigurh's racial ambiguity; he has blue eyes and dark hair and is "faintly exotic." With these details and Chigurh's odd name, McCarthy makes it difficult to place Chigurh on one side or the other of the border.

In the shoot-out in the town of Eagle Pass, Chigurh is ruthless. He sprays the town with shotgun fire. He knows Moss has escaped, but he pauses to shoot a wounded man with his bolt pistol. Chigurh commands him to look as he shoots him with the bolt pistol. Chigurh wants to see the man's consciousness fade, and perhaps to see the man recognize that it is Chigurh who kills him. In the man's eyes, Chigurh watches "his own image degrade in that squandered world." It is possible Chigurh views the world as fundamentally a waste, a botched creation. In that case there is nothing tragic, from Chigurh's perspective, in cutting short a life in this blighted world.

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