Study Guide

No Country for Old Men Mortality and Ethics

By Cormac McCarthy

Mortality and Ethics

Chapter I

The last time [I visited] was the day of his execution. I didnt have to go but I did. I sure didnt want to. (1.1.1)

Bell feels like it was the right thing to do to visit a man on death row; after all, Bell is the one who put him there. Bell feels that he has to go and see the consequences of his own actions. Bell clearly feels a lot of responsibility for what he does.

He set the waterjug on the ground. You dumb-ass, he said. Here you are. Too dumb to live. (1.3.131)

Llewelyn brings the dying man water even though he doesn't like him at all. He doesn't do it out of kindness; he does it because he feels like it's the right thing to do. Why?

La puerta. Hay lobos.

There aint no lobos.

Sí, sí. Lobos. Leones.

Moss shut the door with his elbow. (1.3.30-1.3.33)

This is a small act of kindness on Llewelyn Moss's part, and it foreshadows what will happen later, when he returns with the water jug. If he truly didn't care about this man, Llewelyn would leave the door open for the wolves just to eat the guy.

Chapter II

Here the other day they was a woman put her baby in a trash compactor. Who would think of such a thing? My wife wont read the papers no more. She's probably right. She generally is. (2.1.3)

Bell often looks to his wife, Loretta, for moral guidance, but it seems like she has given up on the world—or at least she has given up trying to know about all the evil in the world. Does this mean Bell will eventually give up, too?

You get stopped with that old boy in the turtle just tell em you dont know nothin about it. Tell em somebody must of put him in there while you was havin coffee. (2.2.47)

This scene is a sketchy little bit of police ethics. When a dead body is found in the trunk of a cop car, Bell and his deputies do what they can to cover it up. Well, consider how much harder it would be for them to do their jobs if there was a ton of media attention. Are they right to do it, then?

Chapter III

By the time he got up he knew that he was probably going to have to kill somebody. He just didn't know who it was. (3.3.276)

Llewelyn knows he will have to do things he doesn't want to do in order to survive. Do you think Chigurh ever started on the same road, slowly doing things that were more and more immoral until he became who he is? Or is his kind of evil something deeper?

I aint makin no promises, he said. That's how you get hurt. (3.2.23)

Llewelyn does what he can to protect his wife because that's what a good husband would do. Sadly, she gets hurt, anyway, despite him not makin no promises. It seems that none of his attempted good deeds work out as he wants them to. He's just up against too much.

Chapter VI

Loretta told me that she had heard on the radio about some percentage of the children in this country bein raised by their grandparents. I forget what it was. Pretty high. […] When the next generation come along and they dont want to raise their children neither then who is goin to do it? Their own parents will be the only grandparents around and they wouldnt even raise them. (6.1.2)

This is one of the most powerful quotes about the sliding morals of everyone in the entire country. What kind of country is this if no one wants to raise their children, and yet they keep having them? That's what Bell thinks, anyway. It's as if everyone has just given up being responsible for anything.

Chapter VII

Finally told me, said: I dont like the way this country is headed. I want my granddaughter to be able to have an abortion. And I said well mam […] not only will she be able to have an abortion, she'll be able to have you put to sleep. (7.1.2)

We're not sure if Bell shares Cormac McCarthy's political views or not, but he seems to be applying a slippery-slope logical fallacy here between abortion and non-consensual assisted suicide. Bell tries to take a moral high ground here, but he comes across ethically confused.

Chapter IX

My daddy always told me to just do the best you knew how and tell the truth. He said there was nothin to set a man's mind at ease like wakin up in the morning and not havin to decide who you were. And if you done somethin wrong just stand up and say you don't it and say you're sorry and get on with it. Dont haul stuff around with you. (9.1.2)

This is good advice, but is there a point where people can cross a line? After all, we doubt that if Chigurh stood up and said he was sorry, Bell would suddenly see him as a paragon of moral virtue.