No Country for Old Men: Characters, Summary & Analysis

Margaret Stone, Margaret Stone
  • Author
    Margaret Stone

    Margaret has taught both college and high school English and has a master's degree in English from Mississippi State University. She holds a Mississippi AA Educator License.

  • Instructor
    Margaret Stone

    Margaret has taught both college and high school English and has a master's degree in English from Mississippi State University. She holds a Mississippi AA Educator License.

Learn about the novel "No Country for Old Men" by Cormac McCarthy. Analyze the plot, characters, and significant quotes from the "No Country for Old Men" book. Updated: 08/27/2021

No Country for Old Men: Cormac McCarthy

Cormac McCarthy's No Country for Old Men was published in 2005. McCarthy published his first novel in 1965 and has written ten novels during his career. Literary critic Harold Bloom placed Cormac McCarthy on his list of the four great living American writers in 2003. The title of No Country for Old Men alludes to "Sailing to Byzantium", a poem by William Butler Yeats.

Summary

Cormac McCarthy's No Country for Old Men opens with Llewelyn Moss hunting antelope in south Texas. Moss finds more than antelope on this expedition, however: he stumbles onto a load of heroin, several dead men, and a case full of money.

Moss is stunned to see several vehicles containing dead men and other corpses lying amidst the wreckage. A man, the lone survivor in the firefight, asks Moss for 'agua.' 'I ain't got no water,' Moss replies. As Moss cautiously leaves the scene, he spots a dead man leaning against a rock. At his feet, Moss discovers a case containing over two million dollars.

Moss returns to his mobile home, where his wife Carla Jean, is wondering where he has been. He hides the money under a bed temporarily, but Moss realizes that the owners of the drug money will try to locate it.

As Moss tries to fall asleep, he is troubled by thoughts of the man who has asked for water. Moss returns to the scene with a jug of water, a critical error that leads Moss to a near fatal encounter with a new contingent of drug dealers who have been sent to the desert to locate the heroin and the money. Moss leaves his truck in the desert and flees. He returns briefly to his home, where he tells Carla Jean to go her mother's home in Odessa, Texas to ensure her safety. Then he continues on the run.

Sheriff Ed Tom Bell is drawn to the carnage when a burning car gets his attention. The sheriff and his deputy find heroin in one of the dead men's wrecked vehicles, and the sheriff speculates that the scene represents a drug deal gone awry.

After finding Llewellyn Moss's vehicle, the sheriff goes to Moss's home to investigate. Llewellyn and Carla Jean are gone, but the sheriff believes someone has been in the home moments before. He realizes that Moss, a local welder who has never been in trouble, will be facing some very dangerous men who will go to any lengths to retrieve their money.

The most dangerous of these men is Anton Chigurh, a murderous engine hired to locate the money and punish the thief. Chigurh is a psychopath who enjoys his work, and he discovers Moss's identity and relentlessly pursues him. Moss fails to realize that there is a transponder in the bag of cash, making it easy for Chigurh to find him. After one firefight in which neither man is killed, Moss flees to Mexico to consider his next move.

Chigurh again locates Moss. The two men speak on the telephone, and Chigurh tries to get Moss to deliver the cash to him. If the cash isn't turned over to him, Chigurh says he will kill Carla Jean. Moss continues to attempt to elude Chigurh. After Moss and a young hitchhiker check into a motel in Van Horn, Mexicans kill them both.

Once law enforcement leave the crime scene, Chigurh slips into Moss's room where he retrieves the money from the air duct.

Meanwhile, the sheriff has been attempting to locate Moss. Though he wants to protect Moss, the sheriff arrives too late. He attempts to make sense of the ruthless nature of human behavior throughout the narrative, but after seeing the vengeance of the drug trade the sheriff decides to retire.

Making good on his promise to Llewelyn, Chigurh locates Carla Jean and kills her even though he has already retrieved the money.

Cormac McCarthy has written several novels about the American west.

Photograph of Cormac McCarthy

No Country for Old Men: Characters

In No Country for Old Men, characters are caught up in the violence that accompanies an ill-fated drug deal. There are three main characters in the novel.

  • Llewelyn Moss, a Vietnam veteran, stumbles upon the aftermath of a drug deal while he is hunting antelope in the West Texas desert in 1980. When he finds a case containing millions of dollars in cash, a truck filled with heroin, and several bodies, he realizes that someone will be seeking the money soon. Moss returns home and insists that his wife pack her belongings so that she can go to her mother's house, where he believes she will be safe. Moss goes on the run with the money, but he soon encounters an unrelenting opponent.
  • Anton Chigurh is hired to locate the missing money. Chigurh is able to pinpoint the location of the cash because the satchel contains a tracking device. Moss is unaware of the tracking device, so Chigurh easily locates him in a hotel. Moss is wounded in the encounter with Chigurh but manages to flee to Mexico. Chigurh, intent on claiming the reward for the return of the missing money, leaves a bloody trail in his wake as he tracks the money across the southwest. Anton Chigurh is depicted as a mysterious figure who is rarely seen by his victims. The sheriff who pursues Chigurh says, "He's a ghost. But he's out there."
  • Ed Tom Bell is the sheriff of Terrell County, Texas, where the drug deal takes place. When he realizes what has occurred, he is concerned about Moss, who is a citizen of Terrell County. Bell contacts Carla Jean Moss, Llewelyn's wife, and convinces her that her husband is in danger. Eventually Carla Jean reveals her husband's whereabouts, but Bell arrives too late to save him.

No Country for Old Men: Summary

What is No Country for Old Men about? The novel is set in Terrell County, Texas and in Mexico. When Llewelyn Moss finds a satchel containing more than two million dollars in cash and surveys the carnage left in the aftermath of a dispute involving drugs, he cannot begin to imagine the repercussions of his actions. Moss sends his wife Carla Jean to Odessa to stay with her mother, while he tries to elude the man who is set on locating the money and killing him. Anton Chigurh uses a tracking device that has been hidden in the money to locate Moss in the Hotel Eagle in Maverick County, Texas. Chigurh kills the night clerk and enters the hotel in pursuit of Moss, but a wounded Moss escapes.

Sheriff Ed Tom Bell is drawn into the case by reports of a burning car. Bell finds the scene of the drug deal, which includes several weapons, drug debris, and nine corpses scattered among vehicles pitted with bullet holes. Bell soon identifies an abandoned truck nearby that belongs to Llewelyn Moss, a local welder. The sheriff is concerned that Moss may be in trouble, but Moss and his wife have already left when Bell attempts to locate him.

Bell locates Carla Jean Moss at her mother's home in Odessa and attempts to convince her that he wants to find her husband to protect him. She does not know where Llewelyn is, however, so Bell continues to look for him.

A freelance agent named Carson Wells, hired by a rival group to locate the money, finds Moss in a hospital in Mexico. Wells tries to warn Moss about the brutal Chigurh, and he offers to let Moss keep part of the money if he returns it. Moss refuses, and Wells leaves after asking Moss to call him after he thinks about the offer. When Wells returns to his hotel, Chigurh is waiting. He kills Wells in a hotel room. Moss is having second thoughts about Wells' offer and calls Wells' mobile phone. Chigurh answers. Chigurh tells Moss that he will kill Carla Jean unless he gives up the money. Moss refuses.

Moss calls Carla Jean. She can tell that he has been injured by the sound of his voice. Moss urges his wife to take her mother, who is actually her grandmother, and hide out in El Paso. When he returns home, Sheriff Bell receives a message saying that Carla Jean Moss has called. When he calls back, she makes Bell promise not to hurt her husband and then reveals Llewellyn's location.

In the meantime, Moss has picked up a young hitchhiker who says she is trying to get to California. When Bell finally locates Moss, he has been killed. Bell is concerned that Carla Jean will believe that Moss was having a sexual relationship with the hitchhiker, but he does not believe this was the case. Bell never discovers that members of the drug cartel had wiretapped his phone, and his call to Carla Jean has allowed a Mexican hitman to locate and murder Llewelyn Moss. After Moss is killed, Chigurh locates the case of money hidden in the vent of Moss' hotel room.

While returning the money to the unnamed man who has hired him, Chigurh offers to work for the man as a freelance killer. Chigurh then locates Carla Jean Moss (who has just buried her mother) and kills her. Afterward, he is involved in an automobile accident. He walks away from the accident with injuries, including a broken arm, and two boys find a gun in Chigurh's vehicle. When the gun is later used in a robbery in Shreveport, Sheriff Bell locates the boys and questions them about the man who left his vehicle and gun after the accident. They provide only a vague description of Chigurh.

Bell visits his uncle to inform him that he believes that he is no longer capable of effectively serving as sheriff, and he plans to retire. Bell senses that a different type of evil is now afoot in the land.

No Country for Old Men: Analysis

While No Country for Old Men, with its focus on law and order in the West, may at first appear to belong to the western genre, its complex examination of good and evil positions the novel as something outside traditional depictions of the West in fiction. Traditional westerns are populated by good guys and bad guys, with the good guys always winning in the end. Sheriff Ed Tom Bell views the world in terms of good and evil, but his experiences while tracking Llewellyn Moss convince him that the world no longer operates as it has in the past. Sheriff Bell, a symbol of law and order, ostensibly serves as the good guy in the novel, yet even this characterization is complicated by an act of cowardice in his past.

Quotes

When Llewelyn Moss finds the drug money, he realizes the danger he will face by taking the money. 'There was a heavy leather document case standing upright alongside the dead man's knee and Moss absolutely knew what was in the case and he was scared in a way that he didnt even understand.'

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Additional Info

Summary

Cormac McCarthy's No Country for Old Men opens with Llewelyn Moss hunting antelope in south Texas. Moss finds more than antelope on this expedition, however: he stumbles onto a load of heroin, several dead men, and a case full of money.

Moss is stunned to see several vehicles containing dead men and other corpses lying amidst the wreckage. A man, the lone survivor in the firefight, asks Moss for 'agua.' 'I ain't got no water,' Moss replies. As Moss cautiously leaves the scene, he spots a dead man leaning against a rock. At his feet, Moss discovers a case containing over two million dollars.

Moss returns to his mobile home, where his wife Carla Jean, is wondering where he has been. He hides the money under a bed temporarily, but Moss realizes that the owners of the drug money will try to locate it.

As Moss tries to fall asleep, he is troubled by thoughts of the man who has asked for water. Moss returns to the scene with a jug of water, a critical error that leads Moss to a near fatal encounter with a new contingent of drug dealers who have been sent to the desert to locate the heroin and the money. Moss leaves his truck in the desert and flees. He returns briefly to his home, where he tells Carla Jean to go her mother's home in Odessa, Texas to ensure her safety. Then he continues on the run.

Sheriff Ed Tom Bell is drawn to the carnage when a burning car gets his attention. The sheriff and his deputy find heroin in one of the dead men's wrecked vehicles, and the sheriff speculates that the scene represents a drug deal gone awry.

After finding Llewellyn Moss's vehicle, the sheriff goes to Moss's home to investigate. Llewellyn and Carla Jean are gone, but the sheriff believes someone has been in the home moments before. He realizes that Moss, a local welder who has never been in trouble, will be facing some very dangerous men who will go to any lengths to retrieve their money.

The most dangerous of these men is Anton Chigurh, a murderous engine hired to locate the money and punish the thief. Chigurh is a psychopath who enjoys his work, and he discovers Moss's identity and relentlessly pursues him. Moss fails to realize that there is a transponder in the bag of cash, making it easy for Chigurh to find him. After one firefight in which neither man is killed, Moss flees to Mexico to consider his next move.

Chigurh again locates Moss. The two men speak on the telephone, and Chigurh tries to get Moss to deliver the cash to him. If the cash isn't turned over to him, Chigurh says he will kill Carla Jean. Moss continues to attempt to elude Chigurh. After Moss and a young hitchhiker check into a motel in Van Horn, Mexicans kill them both.

Once law enforcement leave the crime scene, Chigurh slips into Moss's room where he retrieves the money from the air duct.

Meanwhile, the sheriff has been attempting to locate Moss. Though he wants to protect Moss, the sheriff arrives too late. He attempts to make sense of the ruthless nature of human behavior throughout the narrative, but after seeing the vengeance of the drug trade the sheriff decides to retire.

Making good on his promise to Llewelyn, Chigurh locates Carla Jean and kills her even though he has already retrieved the money.

Quotes

When Llewelyn Moss finds the drug money, he realizes the danger he will face by taking the money. 'There was a heavy leather document case standing upright alongside the dead man's knee and Moss absolutely knew what was in the case and he was scared in a way that he didnt even understand.'

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Frequently Asked Questions

Does Anton Chigurh die in the book?

Anton Chigurh does not die in No Country for Old Men. After killing Carla Jean Moss, he is injured in a car accident and leaves on foot. He does not appear in the novel again following the accident.

Who is speaking in the beginning of No Country for Old Men?

Sheriff Ed Tom Bell is speaking at the beginning of No Country for Old Men. Bell's monologues appear throughout the novel.

Is no country for old men based on a true story?

No Country for Old Men is not based on a true story. McCarthy first wrote the story as a screenplay and later wrote the novel.

When did Cormac McCarthy write No Country for Old Men?

Cormac McCarthy published No Country for Old Men in 2005, forty years after he published his first novel in 1965.

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