No Country for Old Men: Book Summary & Quotes

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.

In Cormac McCarthy's 'No Country for Old Men', Llewelyn Moss finds a case full of drug money and more trouble than he bargains for when a psychopathic killer named Anton Chigurh is hired to pursue him. Sheriff Bell tries but fails to protect Moss.

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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