It's hard to tell who the main character in No Country for Old Men is. We've got three characters to choose from: Sheriff Bell, Anton Chigurh, and Llewelyn Moss. That's the order we meet them in, but even though we see Llewelyn Moss third, and even though—spoiler alert—he dies two-thirds of the way into the book, we're gonna go with him as main man.
Why? Well, Llewelyn most closely follows a traditional hero narrative. He makes a bad mistake early on—he steals money from a drug deal gone wrong—and he ends up on the run as a result. Unfortunately, unlike most heroes, Llewelyn Moss doesn't succeed, and he screws up a lot of lives in the process.
But why do we still think he's a hero? Well, even heroes make mistakes. Llewelyn seems like a good guy. He's a 36-year-old Vietnam War vet. Because he was a sniper, he's an impeccable marksman, and he's turned his skill to hunting. He works as a welder and has a young wife he seems to support 100%.
Think about it: if you were a hard worker and you came across 2.4 million dollars—that's a lot for 1980—wouldn't you take it? Who's going to miss it? A bunch of drug dealers? Llewelyn knows the money will change his and his wife's lives. And don't you think a war veteran deserves a better life, a life that this kind of money would bring him?
Well, the ruthless killer Anton Chigurh doesn't see it that way. And Llewelyn eventually comes to understand that he won't live long enough to see the benefit of the money: "His whole life was sitting there in front of him. Day after day from dawn till dark until he was dead. All of it cooked down into forty pounds of paper in a satchel" (1.3.47).
Llewelyn Moss basically makes two decisions in the whole book: he takes the money, and then he decides to take a bottle of water to a dying drug dealer. How sweet.
Yeah, well—big mistake. Llewelyn knows it's a bad idea when he does it, thinking, "I'm fixin to go do somethin dumbern hell but I'm goin anways" (1.3.110). That's another reason we like this guy. He doesn't want to let a man die of thirst in the desert. It's too bad the good deed ends up getting him killed.
That's right—it's when Llewelyn returns to the scene of the crime that he is caught. He's identified by his truck's ID number, and the pursuit begins. From then on out, Llewelyn Moss is on the run from drug dealers and crazy Chigurh.
All Llewelyn wants is to survive and to protect his wife. He's smart, cunning, and "[p]retty damn motivated" (1.3.148). He's clever enough to hide the money in air ducts and to evade Chigurh and the drug dealers through a couple violent shootouts.
Tragically, even though we spend about 200 pages with Llewelyn, he's killed. And we find out hardly anything about it. He isn't killed by the book's villain; he isn't killed at the end of the book; and he isn't even killed on the page. A scene basically fades to black, and when we return, we find out that Llewelyn is dead. It's like if you turned on a new episode of your favorite TV show, and the main character had died between episodes. What gives?
Perhaps McCarthy does this to show us the brutal consequences of the drug trade. Dozens of people die during the course of the book. Many of them are almost anonymous—we don't know their names. Even though we know Llewelyn Moss's name, in death he's just another corpse, more collateral damage. That's what Chigurh sees it, anyway. To him, it's all random. But because we've come to know Llewelyn, we know it's not random. We know it's terrible.
Or maybe McCarthy, in his old age, forgot to write that chapter.