Cormac McCarthy

No Country for Old Men

  • 36-page comprehensive study guide
  • Features 13 chapter summaries and 6 sections of expert analysis
  • Written by an experienced high school teacher with a PhD in English Literature
Access Full Summary

No Country for Old Men Themes

Good versus Evil 

Sheriff Bell and his fellow sheriffs seem to recognize that a change is happening in their jurisdictions. The kind of crimes, the number and violence of them, overwhelms and saddens them. Drugs have brought great evil into southwest Texas.

Bell in particular wrestles with this form of evil—in contrast with normal human stupidity, exemplified by Llewelyn taking the drug money—in trying to save Llewelyn and Carla Jean Moss. Sheriff Bell recognizes that in order to understand and defeat a man like Chigurh he would have to start thinking like him. Thinking like a cold-blooded, soulless killer would change him and take him to the edge of a moral abyss. Bell refuses to go there; he states this in the opening of the novel, foreshadowing that the serial killer with no soul, Chigurh, is never caught and never brought to account, legally, for his crimes.

Bell finds it impossible to reconcile what he learns of human nature during this investigation with his desire to make a positive difference in his community. As a result, he retires, unable to cope with the changes in the criminals that he sees taking over the world around him. There is no real legal justice anymore: no possibility of righting an evil so disturbing and wrong. Bell finds that he has no role, or no role that he will accept, in such a world.

McCarthy intends for the deaths of so many characters—particularly Llewelyn and Carla Jean Moss—to resonate with the theme of the fight between good and evil.

Sheriff Bell’s struggle to protect the people of Terrell County against evil leaves him too worn out to fight another day. Though he confronts his limits, his struggle is not worthless. Other men must pick up where he left off. The other sheriffs in the counties he visits through the novel all sound like Bell himself and reinforce the view that there are many of them left, still fighting the good fight.

Evil triumphs, but is not unscathed—as suggested by Chigurh’s car accident after killing Carla Jean and the Mexican drug dealer’s death sentence. Despite the death and…

This is just a preview. The entire section has 882 words. Click below to download the full study guide for No Country for Old Men.