No Country for Old Men | Study Guide

Cormac McCarthy

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No Country for Old Men | Chapter 9 | Summary

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Summary

Section 1

Bell recalls giving Carla Jean the bad news that Moss was dead. He says he took seriously her threat to shoot him at that moment. He regrets not having a chance to tell Carla Jean that Moss was not romantically involved with the runaway girl. Bell then recalls getting the bad news from Odessa: Carla Jean had been murdered.

Section 2

Chigurh returns 2.3 million dollars to a businessman in an office tower. He asks the businessman to consider hiring him. Chigurh says the other people the businessman used to work with in the drug trade are gone; he remarks on how foolishly people act where large sums of money are concerned.

Carla Jean attends the funeral of her grandmother. After the funeral, Carla Jean finds Chigurh waiting for her in her bedroom. He says he must kill her because he promised Moss he would. He tells her Moss chose this fate for her. Carla Jean weeps and pleads. Chigurh offers her a coin toss; she loses. Chigurh explains this is the way things are; for him to act otherwise would go against the order of the world. Carla Jean says she understands. Chigurh shoots her.

Three blocks from Carla Jean's house, a driver runs a stoplight and hits Chigurh's car. Chigurh suffers a broken arm and other injuries. He bribes a teenage onlooker to give him his shirt and say nothing to the police. Chigurh uses the shirt for a sling and walks away. The teenager and his friends steal a pistol from Chigurh's abandoned truck.

Section 3

Bell visits his Uncle Ellis. Loretta has written to Ellis and told him Bell is quitting the job of sheriff. Ellis was once a deputy sheriff to Bell's grandfather. They recall Harold, a relative who was killed in World War I at age 17. They recall their relative Mac, who had been a Texas Ranger in the 19th century. Ellis says the family legends about Mac are "all bull." He "never rode with Coffee Jack," a famed officer of the Texas Rangers. Instead a group of Native Americans shot Mac on his front porch.

Bell tells Ellis about the World War II battle in which he earned his medal. The squad he led was sheltering in a farmhouse. The enemy shelled the house and killed or wounded everyone but Bell. He grabbed a rifle and fired back, probably hitting some enemy soldiers. He knew when night came he would be unable to hold off the enemy any longer. So he ran, abandoning his wounded comrades. He tried to refuse his Bronze Star, telling his commander the truth. The commander told him to accept the medal and never to tell the true story. Bell now feels he was perhaps meant to die that night; he compares his survival to a theft. Bell resolves to tell Loretta.

Analysis

Carla Jean's threat to shoot Bell seems to come from authentic anger, but McCarthy doesn't give women agency to cause action in this novel; rather, they are either protected or abandoned by men. Bell's mention of the runaway girl sets up a parallel later in the chapter.

Chigurh prides himself on his accurate self-knowledge. Others in the drug trade let greed fool them into overestimating their abilities, according to Chigurh. He is correct when he tells the businessman he has eliminated all his enemies; Bell does not count as an enemy because he is leaving the field of battle. However, Chigurh appears to believe he alone is an agent of fate, which may be an extreme overestimation.

The argument between Chigurh and Carla Jean mirrors the conversation between the hitchhiking girl and Moss. Like the hitchhiker, Carla Jean is oriented toward the future; she tries to convince Chigurh his past promise to Moss means nothing now. Just as Moss insisted "yesterday is all that does count," Chigurh insists he must do as he "promised" Moss. Thus Moss and Chigurh are alike; they both deliver a bitter truth about fate to a trusting young woman.

The debate is deeply unfair, mainly because Chigurh holds a gun on Carla Jean. But the notion of a promise to Moss is also slippery. Chigurh threatened Moss with the death of Carla Jean; carrying out his threat would make sense as a tactic in terrorizing and unnerving Moss. With Moss dead, there is no purpose in the tactic of wife-killing; Moss cannot surrender now. And yet Chigurh reveals the murder of Carla Jean was never a rational tactic. Chigurh kills for one reason: he believes he delivers people to their fate.

Carla Jean tells Chigurh, "You make like it's the coin. But you're the one." She means Chigurh does the killing, not a blind, impersonal fate. She is right, unless the world is what Chigurh believes it is—a blighted, malformed creation where evil rules and Chigurh alone is an agent of fate.

The car accident gives Chigurh a chance to demonstrate his principles in action. In conversation with the businessman, Chigurh said that how you act in chaotic circumstances determines how enemies will treat you. He means if you can walk away from a shotgun blast and treat your own wounds, or if you can charge into a murder scene and steal money, people will fear you. At the scene of the accident, he uses available materials to his advantage; he makes use of some foolish teenagers, and he abandons the truck and gun that no longer serve him.

In World War II, Bell had an unusual experience, escaping a battle alone. However, the feeling this engenders in him—"I should have died then"—is common. Often when a loved one dies, the bereaved guiltily feels the loved one's death was meant for them instead. Bell also compares himself to his father, Jack; he says Jack would have stayed there, fighting alone "till hell froze over and then stayed a while on the ice." Ellis's consolation comes in the form of suggesting Loretta will be more forgiving than Bell thinks.

Bell and Ellis also refer to the history of their family, which is connected to the history of Texas. Their relative Mac was said to have done military service of some kind under "Coffee Jack," although Ellis says this is untrue. John Coffee Hays (1817–83) was a military officer of the Republic of Texas and a captain in the Texas Rangers. He fought in the Mexican-American War of 1846–48, a war in which the southern border of the United States was expanded. While serving as a Texas Ranger, Coffee Jack also worked as a land surveyor. In his duties as a land surveyor of the contested land of Texas, Coffee Jack was involved in armed conflicts with Comanche people and other Southwestern tribes. Thus the Bell family legend includes going to war against Native Americans and Mexico.

However, Uncle Mac did not die in battle, Ellis says, but in a dispute at home. A group of Native Americans with a grievance against him came to his house. Mac came out onto the porch with a gun and someone shot him. Mac's bloody and ignoble death shows Bell has had an idealized view of history. His claims that people used to behave morally are refuted by the history of the Bell family, which is also the history of Texas.

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