The Significance for Violence in No Country for Old Men. No Country for Old Men’s violence is as common as most Cormac McCarthy novels. This novel is set in the borderland between Texas & Mexico. The story opens with Anton Chigurh, an insane psychopath, killing a policeman. It is followed by a failed and bloody drug deal. McCarthy’s many descriptions of violence aren’t gratuitous, even though they are extensive. The violence is used for literary purposes. To create the dark atmosphere and menacing setting of the novel, violence is used. The novel also depicts conflict between its characters.

Cormac McCarthy uses violence to create the ominous atmosphere and setting in his novel. Texas, the setting for the novel, was historically called the Wild West. Before Texas became state, justice in Texas was handled by cowboys and not courts. Similar to the novel’s setting, the modern day is one of lawlessness. Drug dealers are everywhere and violence associated with illegal drug trade is always frightening. It is an eerie, primitive feeling that there is no hope in a barren, vast land where people hunt one another. Llewellyn Moss, the main character, is hunting deer at the start of the novel and comes across a horrible scene of carnage. Both dogs and humans are killed and their cars are shot. The scene is filled with blood and bullets. Moss discovers a suitcase containing money that he can take. Drug dealers pursue Moss the next day. Moss escapes, after a fierce gun battle. McCarthy’s first descriptions of the barren landscape suggest a sinister mood. Red dirt. Creosote. Mountains in the middle and far distance. Nothing beyond. Heatshimmer.” (pg. 26-27). This barren, vast landscape is the perfect setting for violence to erupt. Sherriff Edward Tom Bell gives a detailed description of other acts that violence, which helps to set the scene for a violent community. In each chapter’s first-person narration, Sheriff Bell describes acts of violence and reflects on the rise and nature violent crime. Bell is concerned about the escalating violence in the country. He says that the “old boy” opened up twice more on him and shot all of the glass from one side of the cruiser. (pg. 39) Violence is a key element in the story and forces the main characters into conflicts. The novel is essentially a horror story about Anton Chigurh’s violent actions. At times, he kills or hunts for no reason. Chigurh seeks revenge against Moss and the money he took. This is the pivotal hunt in the novel. Chigurh’s violence towards others is clearly shown by Sheriff Ed Tom Bell. Although Sheriff Ed Tom Bell manages to escape the deadly and dangerous confrontation with Chigurh, Moss doesn’t. Carson Wells is another character whose murder advances Chigurh’s final showdown against Moss. Wells says that Chigurh will kill him because he knows. You goddamned psychopath. You goddamned psychopath. The novel’s exploration into good and evil is represented by the violent confrontation between Chigurh and Moss.

McCarthy wants conflict between characters to reflect the struggle between good and evil in the changing world. Sheriff Bell represents both the goodness and tradition of the older world. Sheriff Bell is in fact one of those “Old Men” mentioned in the title. He is also a narrator who reflects on the evil nature of mankind and how his morality and nature are changing. Sheriff Bell is concerned about the violence he believes are destroying society. He states that he is concerned about violence that he feels is corrupting society. 196) The sheriff compares rape and killing to chewing gum. The sheriff does not use this to suggest that they are equal, but rather to show that crimes like rape or murder are becoming more common and accepted. The sheriff also looks back at articles from the newspaper to reflect on society. 40) It’s clear that Sheriff Bell has been disturbed by the changing times and is unable or unwilling to deal with them.

McCarthy’s dependence on violence in No Country for Old Men is a memorable morality story. Although it may seem excessive and unnecessary, the violence is essential to the plot of the novel and its themes of good and evil and the changing world. The novel is filled with violent events that highlight the man’s path to evil and the changing world. These are all things that seem obvious and unavoidable to the old guard.


  • noahtaylor

    Noah Taylor is a bloger, teacher, and writer living in upstate New York. He is the author of the highly successful educational blog, Noah's World, and the creator of the popular teacher resource, Noah's Notes. He has also written for many online publications, including Parenting, The Huffington Post, and The Learning Place. Noah is a graduate of Williams College and the University of Massachusetts-Amherst.