No Country for Old Men | Study Guide

Cormac McCarthy

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No Country for Old Men | Chapter 8 | Summary

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Summary

Section 1

Bell notes his county now has nine unsolved homicides. He reflects on previous drug wars south of the border. He thinks about whether he believes in Satan.

Section 2

Moss and his hitchhiker stop for a meal. Moss reveals he was once a welder. He also gives her a thousand dollars. The girl notices the boar tusk Moss wears on a chain; he says it belongs to someone who has died. The girl says she is going to California; Moss is going to El Paso.

On the way to Fort Stockton, the Mexican stops in Balmorhea to wash blood and "other matter" from his windshield. Hours later Bell drives a similar route on his way to Fort Stockton. While en route he drives past a burning car. When Bell reaches the motel, he learns of a shoot-out; a Mexican shot a man and a woman to death. The shooter was also fired upon and injured.

Bell identifies Moss's body at the morgue, where he learns the wounded Mexican man was airlifted out in a helicopter. The hitchhiker is also there dead. Bell returns to the motel Moss stayed in; Chigurh is also there. Chigurh has retrieved the money from Moss's room and returns to his car. Bell calls for backup, and they search the motel parking lot but Chigurh is gone. Bell drives to El Paso and tells Carla Jean that Moss is dead. Carla Jean threatens to shoot him.

Analysis

Bell remembers "when they was havin them dope wars down across the border." His statement is open to interpretation. Perhaps now "they" are Mexican people bringing drug wars to the United States, or perhaps Bell means the violence of America's antidrug efforts has returned to this side of the border. Although the novel is in one sense about drug wars on the U.S.–Mexico border, it does not depict drug-related violence as originating only in Mexico.

In conversation with the hitchhiking girl, Moss reveals he shares some of Chigurh's beliefs. The girl is young and speaks with hope about moving to California. She tells Moss it's her turn for some good luck. Moss's reply is harsh; he tells her the one thing she does not resemble is "a bunch of good luck walking around." She focuses on the future. But Moss tells the girl her past determines her future: "You think ... yesterday dont count. But yesterday is all that does count." In these remarks Moss shares Chigurh's philosophy: past choices have spun a web of fate that determines the girl's future.

Moss's death at the hands of "the Mexican" is a shock to readers, in several ways. In Chapter 8 Moss, Bell, and Chigurh are all converging on Fort Stockton. Carla Jean's phone call in Chapter 7 told both Bell and Chigurh where Moss was. Bell and Chigurh apparently almost meet on the highway. Their convergence seems to make it more likely all three will have a confrontation, or at least Moss and Chigurh will.

Moss's death also comes as a shock because readers learn about it from Bell's perspective. In earlier chapters the events of Chigurh's pursuit and Moss's evasion are narrated first, and then Bell trails after, picking up clues. When Bell puzzles over crime scenes such as the Hotel Eagle shoot-out, readers already know what happened there. Until this chapter, readers always knew more than Bell about what happened. In this chapter, that suddenly changes; readers know only what Bell knows. Moss's murder is not presented to readers with blow-by-blow descriptions of the shoot-out, or any record of Moss's thoughts and feelings. Instead readers experience a violent crime the same way Bell does: afterward, when all that's left is wreckage, waste, and the burden of consoling the grieving.

The fact that Chigurh retrieves the money right after Moss is murdered suggests a connection, but it is never explained. Did Chigurh set Moss up, tipping off one of Moss's Mexican pursuers? Even if Chigurh was not involved, he knows how to exploit the chaos of the crime to his advantage, stealing back the money.

It is not clear how Chigurh escapes from the motel parking lot. In a sense it is Bell who escapes from Chigurh, after he senses Chigurh watching him. If Chigurh is the "prophet of destruction" Bell mentions in Chapter 1, this is the moment Bell "walk[s] in front of those eyes."

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