Study Guide

No Country for Old Men Good vs. Evil

By Cormac McCarthy

Good vs. Evil

Chapter I

They say the eyes are the windows to the soul. I don't know what them eyes was the windows to and I'd as soon not know. (1.1.2)

There's a description of Chigurh's eyes in the next chapter: "blue as lapis. At once glistening and totally opaque. Like wet stones" (2.4.73). What do you think those eyes are windows to? Do you even want to know? Would you even be able to understand what's behind there?

What do you say to a man that by his own admission has no soul? Why would you say anything? I've thought about it a good deal. But he wasnt nothin compared to what was comin down the pike. (1.1.1)

Did someone mention Anton Chigurh? Oh, actually, no—no one has mentioned him yet. That makes this foreshadowing, folks. It's Chigurh who will turn out to be way worse than the man in prison who says that if he is let out, he will kill again. That's pretty bad. And if that guy doesn't have a soul, what about Chigurh? Does he have an anti-soul?

I think it is more like what you are willin to become. And I think a man would have to put his soul at hazard. And I wont do that. I think now that maybe I never would. (1.1.2)

Bell believes that he would have to become a little evil in order to catch Chigurh. He won't do that… and he doesn't catch Chigurh. Is that noble, or is it cowardly? Should someone else be given his job? On the other hand, what happens when you fight evil with evil (even a little bit of evil)? Does that just make evil keep happening?

I really believe that he knew he was goin to be in hell in fifteen minutes. I believe that. And I've thought about that a lot. (1.1.1)

Following the first quote, this idea of evil is unsettling to Bell. Not just because evil is, naturally, unsettling, but because the whole concept is hard to comprehend. How can be people actually be that evil?

And he told me that he had been plannin to kill somebody for about as long as he could remember. Said that if they turned him out he'd do it again. Said he knew he was goin to hell. (1.1.1)

Introducing the concept of hell in the very first paragraph puts us in the mindset to look out for battles of good versus evil right away. And not that we need to be told this, but anyone who kills without remorse is probably evil.

Somewhere out there is a true and living prophet of destruction and I dont want to confront him. I know he's real. I have seen his work. I walked in front of those eyes once. I wont do it again. (1.1.2)

If we knew that someone was the walking embodiment of evil, we'd want to stay far, far away from that person, too. What would it take to confront a person like that? Could that person be defeated? Remember, this isn't a Stephen King novel with a magical showdown; this book is intended to realistic and true to life.

Chapter III

It takes very little to govern good people. Very little. And bad people cant be governed at all. Or if they could I never heard of it. (3.1.6)

Do you agree with Bell's point? We imagine he would be against gun control, since good people behave, and bad guys would get guns, anyway.

Chapter V

You cant corrupt [the truth] because that's what it is. It's the thing you're talkin about. I've heard it compared to the rock—maybe in the bible—and I wouldnt disagree with that. But it'll be here even when the rock is gone. (5.1.1)

Bell believes that the truth is good and unchangeable. Do good and evil vary in degrees, or are they absolute?

Chapter VIII

They asked me if I believed in Satan. I said Well that aint the point. And they said I know but do you? I had to think about that. I guess as a boy I did. Come the middle of my years my belief I reckon had waned somewhat. Now I'm startin to lean back the other way. He explains a lot of things that otherwise dont have no explanation. Or not to me they dont. (8.1.4)

It might be hard to be believe in true, all-consuming evil until you have seen it and what it can do. Bell returns to believing in evil after seeing Chigurh's work; for him, there is no other explanation for Chigurh's behavior.

Chapter XII

It was defeat. It was being beaten. More bitter to him than death. You need to get over that, he said. Then he started the truck. (12.2.1)

What do you think Bell means by "get over that"? Does this mean he will keep trying to fight the good fight, or does it mean he is going to give up once and for all?