Study Guide

No Country for Old Men Violence

By Cormac McCarthy


Chapter I

In the first vehicle there was a man slumped dead over the wheel. (1.3.16)

The body count is racking up pretty quickly, and Chigurh isn'teven responsible for these guys. This was a Mexican standoff gone bad, which resulted in the killing of basically everyone involved. There are no winners in the drug trade. (Well, except Chigurh, we guess.)

They wont shoot you, he said. They cant afford to do that. (1.3.164)

Llewelyn underestimates the violent lengths the drug dealers are willing to go to in order to catch him. Immediately after this, they shoot at him and his wife. And this is just a warm-up for Chigurh.

The deputy's right carotid artery burst and a jet of blood shot across the room and hit the wall and ran down it. (1.2.4)

And there ya go. When one of the first major scenes in your book involves a lawman murdered in grotesquely violent fashion, it's scary to imagine where you're headed next.

He'd been shot through the head. No lobos. No leones. (1.3.132)

Llewelyn returns with water for the one surviving Mexican drug dealer, who was afraid of being eaten by a lion or a wolf. But it's not animals he should have been fearing—it's other humans, who are much more ruthless.

He'd been sitting up and had slid over sideways. His eyes were open. He looked like he was studying something small in the grass. (1.3.45)

Here, there is a strange tenderness in the way death is described. That's a motif that will be drawn in more as we progress through the novel. This strange tenderness calls attention to the fact that death is a big deal, and it's something that transcends whatever is happening on the streets of Texas border towns. Life seems to be cheap here, but that doesn't mean that life actually is cheap.

He placed his hand on the man's head like a faith healer. The pneumatic hiss and click of the plunger sounded like a door closing. The man slid soundlessly to the ground, a round hole in his forehead from which the blood bubbled and ran down into his eyes carrying with it his slowly uncoupling world visible to see. Chigurh wiped his hand with his handkerchief. I just didn't want you to get blood on the car, he said. (1.2.11)

As if the choking-a-deputy-with-a-chain part weren't awful enough, this scene emphasizes how coldblooded Chigurh is when it comes to murder. He kills a stranger, yet he's concerned about upholstery. Well, that's what he says, anyway. It's more likely that he just got a kick out of toying the guy.

Chapter II

He pulled the pistol from the waistband of his trousers and turned around to where the two men were standing and shot them once each through the head in rapid succession and put the gun back in his belt. (2.5.130)

Once again, we see Chigurh murder people in cold blood. This is almost more shocking than his murder of the deputy, because we thought these people were on Chigurh's side. But he has only one side—his own.

Chapter IV

With the next shot he felt a stinging pain in his side. He fell down and got up again leaving Chigurh's shotgun lying in the street. Damn, he said. What a shot. (4.2.193)

Ouch. Llewelyn is pretty hurt, but here he learns firsthand what a ruthless rival Chigurh is. Next time, Chigurh isn't going to miss.

Chapter VI

Everything that Wells had ever known or thought or loved drained slowly down the wall behind him. (6.2.13)

This is another one of those strangely poignant moments that remind us that the people who die aren't just cannon fodder, like Star Trek red shirts. They have thoughts and feelings, histories and families. Why does McCarthy choose to illustrate this with Wells in particular here? Does he do this with other characters?

You think them holes are big enough? (3.3.122)

This is a short line, but it emphasizes the overkill in these killings, and how shocking it is to law enforcement. There's something really monstrous about the casual way in which all these killings happen; it's scary.