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No Country for Old Men | Symbols



The coins Anton Chigurh tosses for his potential victims symbolize fate and free will. Ordinarily a coin toss is a function of pure chance; every time a coin is tossed in the air, the result is equally likely to be heads or tails. Chigurh believes chance has nothing to do with his coin tosses. His potential victim made a choice, long ago, that led to various consequences. By the time Chigurh stands before someone, bolt gun in hand, the coin has become an instrument of fate. "Anything can be an instrument," Chigurh says, though his favorite instrument of fate is the coin. A coin's travels from hand to hand are chance, but once Chigurh tosses a coin to bet someone's life, the appearance of chance vanishes. The coin suddenly appears to have been traveling toward the victim for years. Carla Jean points out Chigurh has free will and can choose to kill her or not: "The coin didnt have no say. It was you." Chigurh's response shows he believes he too is an instrument of fate, like the coin: "Look at it my way. I got here the same way as the coin."

Bolt Pistol

When he uses the bolt pistol, Anton Chigurh brings his hand to his victim's forehead; the gesture is like anointing someone's forehead in baptism, or like a faith healer's touch. A bolt pistol is used in slaughterhouses; it ejects a metal bolt that pierces the animal's skull, and then the bolt returns to the barrel of the pistol (for that reason it is also called a "captive bolt pistol"). Chigurh's bolt pistol symbolizes his special status as a prophet of destruction, which puts him at a distance from all other humans. Just as human beings use a bolt pistol on helpless animals who do not know why they are in a slaughterhouse, Chigurh uses the bolt pistol on people he sees as uncomprehendingly caught in a web of fate. Chigurh does not seem to think people are animals, because he explains to his victims they made a choice that led to their fate. In the slaughterhouse, one could say the person who uses the bolt pistol to stun a cow has nothing to do with how the cow arrived in the chute that day. Chigurh sees himself the same way; he is the impersonal agent of fate. In Chigurh's eyes, there is as great a distance between Carla Jean Moss, who is the victim of fate, and himself, as the agent of fate; the distance is as great as between a human being and a mute animal.

Boar Tusk

Llewelyn Moss wears a boar tusk on a chain around his neck. The tusk symbolizes the relationship between hunter and hunted. The narrator describes it in Chapter 1 as Moss aims his rifle at the antelope; at that point Moss is the hunter. Later, Moss touches the boar tusk while he thinks about the fact that the killer from the desert shoot-out must be watching him; from that point, Moss is the hunted. When the girl notices the tusk in Chapter 8, it is a reminder of the predator–prey relationship; Moss is once again the hunted. He is killed soon after.

The boar tusk also has a private meaning for Moss. The hitchhiking girl asks him about the tusk; Moss tells her he is keeping it for someone dead. Since Moss is a veteran of the Vietnam War, it is possible he keeps it for a fallen soldier. Whatever its source, the tusk is also a symbol of the boar's power and a reminder of the hunt that conquered it.

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