Cormac McCarthy

No Country for Old Men

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No Country for Old Men Symbols and Motifs


Weapons, usually guns, are commonplace and accepted workman’s tools in this novel. They are ubiquitous. Not only does Sheriff Bell carry multiple weapons, which the reader expects because of his job, but nearly every other character has at least one weapon too. Their choice of weapon, and who they use that weapon against, defines each character’s moral code and character.

Anton Chigurh’s slaughterhouse weapon symbolizes his contempt for the people he kills. He puts them down just like the butchers at the slaughterhouse put down cattle. People are no more than animals to Chigurh. His use of such a weapon to kill people, one that requires his close proximity to his victim, frequently touching their heads “like a faith healer,” are a sick reminder that instead of healing, he is killing. He is a demon of death and destruction, not an angel or faith-healer. Additionally, he has no faith and no belief in the soul—he is Sheriff Bell’s “prophet of destruction” (4).

Chigurh’s use of weapons, frequently unusual, such as the slaughterhouse gun or the shotgun with a homemade beer can silencer, contrasts sharply with Moss’s precise and expert knowledge of shooting techniques and guns. Moss is a craftsman, a hunter, understanding and appreciating the qualities of the weapons he uses. Moss uses his weapons to protect himself, not to wreak vengeance. He shoots, but does not kill, Chigurh.

Cars and Trucks

Vehicles form an underlying motif in this novel. McCarthy frequently describes the year, make, model, and color of the cars and trucks each character drives or acquires. Each vehicle symbolizes generally an ability to move and cover ground, and the ability to escape danger.

When a vehicle loses its protective ability, it is abandoned, as Moss abandons his truck at the beginning of the novel. When Chigurh has no more use for the Dallas man’s Ford, he abandons it and sets fire to it. Significantly, he abandons the sedan for a powerful, large truck—a Dodge Ramcharger.

However, for all the miles the characters cover back and forth in this southwestern corner of Texas, they do not travel very far in knowledge or wisdom…

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