No Country for Old Men

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No Country for Old Men Chapter 4 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Bell reminisces about his service as sheriff. He was elected when he was twenty-five. His father was not a lawman, but his Grandfather was, and they were proud to be sheriffs together. He tells how he had just returned from WWII with some medals, and campaigned hard for his position as Sherriff. He ran a fair campaign, and his grandfather told him if talking badly about other candidates means you are losing.
Law enforcement is a tradition in Bell’s family, and has always been a source of pride. Bell’s service in WWII was a part of his success, but as the novel progresses, the complication and corruption involved in his election becomes clear. Despite the corruption involved in his military decoration, Bell was inspired by his grandfather to run an ethical campaign.
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Changing Times: Past, Present, and Future Theme Icon
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Bell talks about his thirty-one year marriage to Loretta. They lost a little girl, he says, but he doesn’t want to talk about it. He says Loretta is a better person than he, but that isn’t saying a whole lot. He suggests that people think they know what they want, but generally they don’t, but sometimes, if you’re lucky, you get it anyways. He says that he has always been lucky. The luckiest day of his life was when he first saw Loretta, tipped his hat at her, and almost got a smile back. He says that people usually complain about bad things that happen to them, but don’t mention the good. He doesn’t think he has given God much reason to smile on him, but he believes God has blessed him anyway.
Bell loves and respects his wife for her morality and her faith in God, which are places in his life where he perceives weakness in himself. The loss of his daughter has been painful and challenging to his faith, as shown through his refusal to talk about it directly. He speaks about the role of luck, but Bell clearly thinks of luck in terms of God. He chooses to recognize the good things in life along with the bad, and believes that God has blessed him, even though he has not deserved it. Bell’s understanding of luck may actually be closer to grace.
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The narrative moves to the past. Bell sits in a café, reading the newspaper. There is a picture of Lamar’s deputy (the one whom Chigurh killed) on the front page. He notes that the deputy’s wife was only twenty years old. There is nothing he can do for her. He notes that Lamar would always be remembered for this tragedy.
Bell confronts his powerlessness as sheriff to do anything about the murder, which is a challenge for him morally and ethically. He must confront the failure of justice in this moment. The death of the deputy seems senseless. The fact that Lamar will be remembered for this tragedy points to the way in which the past follows an individual into the future.
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Bell and Wendell go to Moss’s trailer. They enter cautiously, and Bell notes that there is no reason in the world not to be careful. They find the cylinder Chigurh knocked out of the doorknob on the floor, and see that it left a dent in the wall. They realize that Moss and Carla Jean left in a hurry. Bell opens the refrigerator and closes it, then looks in the freezer. They reflect on the situation, and Wendell wonders if Moss understands the nature of the dangerous people pursuing him. Bell notes that Moss and Carla Jean are in a world of trouble.
Bell’s comment about being careful shows recognition of his vulnerability. Just as Chigurh entered the house and the refrigerator, Bell and Wendell enter the house and breach the boundaries of personal space. This raises questions about the power of law enforcement. The police are granted power by the law, and Chigurh is granted similar power by his disregard of the law.
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On Wednesday, Bell is sitting in the café reading the newspaper. A reporter from the San Antonio Star approaches and asks what is going on. Bell lies, telling the reporter the murders were a hunting accident. The man obviously knows this is not true, and lets Bell know this. Bell tells him that last year only two of the nineteen charges filed in the county court were not drug charges. He says he has a county the size of Delaware and the people need his help. He tells the reporter he has a full day ahead of him and he needs to eat his breakfast.
Throughout the novel, it becomes clear that most people don’t read or watch the news anymore because of how violent and upsetting modern American society has become. Bell’s defensiveness toward the reporter suggests his concern about his reputation; he worries that the news will present the situation in a way that casts his department in a negative light. In this way, Bell too is unwilling to honestly confront the changes and violence within in his community, and still feels he has the power to overcome it.
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Bell and Torbert drive back out to the scene. Torbert says ten people are dead, including the man murdered on the highway, and Bell says there are ten that they know about. A helicopter arrives, and a DEA agent named McIntyre arrives on the scene. Bell is agreeable, but it is clear that he doesn’t like McIntyre. McIntyre examines Moss’s truck, and notes that the vehicle is not full of bullet holes like the others. Bell agrees facetiously to McIntyre’s simple observation. He is unwilling to pitch in any additional help for McIntyre. McIntyre says that Bell isn’t going to make this easy for him, but Bell says he is just messing around.
Bell’s comment about the number of casualties suggests that he recognizes the killing is not over. Bell’s conflict with McIntyre rests in the fact that Bell wants power over the investigation, and doesn’t think he needs other agents interfering. Bell has already figured out that Moss arrived on the scene after the shooting took place, so he responds to McIntyre’s comment sarcastically.
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McIntyre walks around the scene with Bell and Torbert. He holds a handkerchief to his nose to block the smell of the dead bodies. He takes notes on a clipboard, and draws a rough sketch of the scene. He notes that there aren’t many guns. Bell tells him there weren’t as many as there should have been, but they have two in evidence. They talk about the missing heroin and money, and McIntyre says someone made off with it. Bell says that’s a reasonable guess, and McIntyre tells Bell he knows he didn’t understand that before he showed up. Additional law enforcement agencies are on their way, including Border Patrol, the rangers, and the DPS drug unit. Bell notes that this event will draw a bigger crowd than the flood of 1965. McIntyre lists the guns on scene, including a nine-millimeter Parabellum. Torbert repeats the name of the gun, and Bell nods, telling him to put that in his file.
Bell responds sarcastically because he has already figured out everything that McIntyre deduces. Bell is not happy about the fact that additional agencies are getting involved and wants to solve the situation on his own. The reference to the flood of ’65 speaks to the monumental nature of this event, and also references a time in the past where challenging situations like these were not caused by humans, but by nature. The repetition of the gun named “parabellum”, which is Latin for, “prepare for war”, alludes to the larger social context and the drug war on the border.
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The narrative shifts to Chigurh. He picks up a signal on the tracking device as he crosses the Devil’s River Bridge. His headlights shine on a large bird sitting on the bridge rail ahead. He rolls down the window and fires a shot at the bird. His pistol has been fitted with a makeshift silencer. The shot misses, hitting the guardrail, and the bullet ricochets off into the night. The bird flies away. Chigurh rolls the window and continues on.
In this moment, it becomes clear that Chigurh is using a tracking device to find Moss. Moss is still unaware of the device, a major oversight that again shows a flaw in his perceived self-sufficiency. Chigurh’s action of shooting at the bird opposes Bell’s earlier reverence for the dead hawk. Chigurh does not have respect for life the way Bell does. On the contrary, his mission is to destroy life.
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The narrative then moves back to Moss. He pays the cab driver who brought him back to the motel, and enters the lobby. He tells the woman behind the counter he needs another room. She pulls a map of the motel from under the counter with a picture of a car from the fifties on it. She offers him the room next to the original room, but he picks on the opposite side of the building, knowing that the two rooms share the same air duct. In the new room, he uses the tent poles, some clothes hangers, and the supplies from the hardware store to make a hook to pull the briefcase through the vent into the new room.
The picture of the car on the map refers to a time in the past. The 1950’s are often thought of as a positive period in American history, but with start of Vietnam, and later, the drug war, the nation was changed and the good times ended. Moss’s decision to pull the briefcase into the room is a function of free will, but the fact that Chigurh ends up at the other room stems from chance.
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As Moss attempts to get the briefcase through the vent, Chigurh drives through the motel parking lot with the tracking device in his lap. He goes into the motel office. It 12:42 am, and the woman looks like she has been asleep. Chigurh rents a room, goes to it and drops his bag off. Before he leaves he takes off his boots, then he goes into the hall, holding the tracking device and his shotgun, an automatic with a military stock and a parkerized finish. The shotgun has a special silencer that is a foot long and as big around as a beer can.
Moss is not in the room Chigurh is casing, but in the adjacent room, retrieving the money in the nick of time. The suitcase is in the vent between the two rooms, and it is only by chance that Chigurh chose the wrong room. The military stock and parkerized finish of his rifle allude to war in a larger context. Parkerizing was a process for weapon manufacturing popularized during WWII.
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Chigurh walks by the doors, listening to the signal from the tracking device. After he finds the room, he goes back to his room and makes a mental note of the room’s dimensions. He gets his boots on, grabs his bolt gun and goes back. Using the bolt gun, he punches out the lock cylinder and kicks the door open. He finds a Mexican man who was waiting for Moss to return. The man reaches for a gun, but Chigurh shoots him three times, so quick it sounds like a single shot. He shoots another man through the bathroom door. When he goes into the bathroom, he finds the man slumped against the tub with an AK47, badly bleeding from his chest and neck. The man begs for his life, but Chigurh shoots him in the face.
Chigurh is patient in his approach, taking time to return to his room and study the dimensions. As an expert hit man, he does not leave any room for mistakes in his approach The Mexican men’s presence reveals the larger context of the situation. It is by pure chance that they become the victims and not Moss. Chigurh is a heartless killer, and emotion plays no part in his decision on whether to let any of his victims live: they are all fated to live or die, and he’s just carrying out the order.
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Chigurh searches the room, finding Moss’s machinegun resting on the sink. He wipes the blood from the soles of his boots onto the carpet, and as he does, he sees the air duct. He bashes in the grate with the base of a lamp and looks inside. He can see the drag marks in the dust from the briefcase. Moss has already pulled the briefcase out through the vent in the other room and escaped. Chigurh takes his bloody shirt off and goes into the bathroom where he washes himself off.
As mentioned before, Moss escapes Chigurh by pure chance. The machinegun and drag marks in the vent leave an actual trail behind as he flees, but also symbolize the way in which actions leave a trail that continue into the future. The fact that Chigurh sticks around to clean himself up with two dead men in the room shows his calm emotionless response to the extreme violence of his “work.”
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The narrative moves to Bell as he enters his office. Torbert lays the coroner’s report on the desk in front of Bell. Bell tells him he knows how Chigurh killed the man on the highway. He asks Torbert if he’s ever been to a slaughterhouse. Torbert says he snuck into one when he was a kid. Bell asks how they killed the cows, and Torbert says a man would hit the cows in the head with a maul. Bell explains that nowadays, they have an air powered bolt gun they use to shoot the cows between the eyes. Torbert says he wishes Bell hadn’t told him that. Bell says he knows, and that he knew what Torbert was going to say before he said it.
The understanding that Chigurh is using a bolt gun to kill his victims is profoundly disturbing to Bell and Torbert. The changes in technology in the beef industry are a micro example of the larger societal chances these men are confronting. Torbert’s wish that Bell hadn’t told him holds meaning on two levels. In one sense, it is difficult for these men to confront the deranged violence they are encountering. In a larger sense, this moment illuminates the societal desire not to confront violence, especially the ways in which violence is a part of our daily lives through things like our diet and shopping habits.
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The narrative switches to Moss. He takes a cab to the Hotel Eagle in Eagle Pass, Texas. The clerk is waiting at the desk as if he has been expecting him. Moss pays and goes to his room. The room has old-fashioned pushbutton light switches and old oak furniture. Suddenly, he realizes that the briefcase may be bugged. He finds the sending unit in the middle of a packet of bills, and realizes he is going to have to quit running on luck. He understands what is coming for him, he just doesn’t know when. In the bathroom, he looks at himself in the mirror. It has already occurred to him that he will never be safe again in his life, and he wonders if it is something that a person could get used to.
Moss thinks he is acting freely and choosing as he goes, but according to Chigurh’s philosophy, the extent of choice and free will is limited by fate. The room’s décor points us back to the idea that elements of the past continue into the present. Moss’s perception of fate, chance, and free will is changing. The discovery of the tracking device lowers his self-confidence, though he still holds to the idea that he can overcome his situation through self-will. Regardless, he understands that his greedy decision to take the money will haunt him for the rest of his life.
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Moss goes to the front desk and gives the night clerk a hundred dollar bill. He tells the man he isn’t asking him to do anything illegal, and the man says he is waiting to hear his description of that. Moss says someone is looking for him, and he needs the man to call him if anyone checks in. The night clerk agrees.
This moment shows the power of money in influencing people to make foolish decisions. The clerk immediately assumes Moss is asking him to do something immoral, which draws a connection between immorality and money, but the clerk agrees to help Moss without asking what the consequences might be.
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The phone doesn’t ring, but something wakes Moss a couple of hours later. He gets up and presses his ear against the door. Hearing nothing, he goes into the bathroom, turns on the shower, and closes the shower curtain. He pulls out his bag of supplies and puts it on the chair in the corner. Realizing the phone might ring, he takes it off its cradle. He rumples the blanket and pillows on the bed, and realizing the phone off the hook might look conspicuous, hangs it back up and unplugs the chord. He goes back to the door, and getting down on his stomach, he puts his ear to the crack below the door. A cold wind comes through, as if a door has opened somewhere. He asks himself what he has done, and what he has failed to do.
Moss mysteriously wakes just as Chigurh arrives at the motel, which can be thought of as a function of chance, which ultimately saves his life. He intuitively knows something is wrong and prepares for a confrontation, though he second-guesses himself with the phone. Again, chance is involved in this decision. If he leaves it off the hook it will look strange, if he leaves it on, it may ring. The chance inherent in this choice demonstrates the impossibility of knowing the outcome of any decision. The question he asks himself at the end shows his sense of doubt about whether any of the decisions he has made have been right.
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Moss hides under the bed and waits with the shotgun facing the door. Chigurh enters the room, and pauses. Moss realizes Chigurh is not going to go into the bathroom, and decides it is too late to make any more mistakes, that it is too late do to anything at all, and he is going to die. He tells Chigurh from under the bed that he will blow him to hell if he turns around. He crawls forward, and commands Chigurh drop his gun. Moss does not know who Chigurh is, and notes that he seems oddly untroubled, even with a gun on him. Moss finds something about him faintly exotic, and notes that Chigurh is beyond his experience. He asks Chigurh what he wants, but Chigurh remains silent.
Moss accepts his fate, but he does not give up his drive to overcome death through sheer will. Moss recognizes that Chigurh is “beyond his experience” which has a dual meaning. In one sense, he is unable to place Chigurh’s appearance and reactions. In another way, he fears Chigurh is more powerful than he is. Chigurh’s lack of response and his unwillingness to tell Moss what he “wants” points toward his character, principals, and philosophy. He is not afraid of death, and he doesn’t “want” anything in terms of money or material things. Ultimately, his only desire is to settle Moss’s fate.
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Moss pushes the bed to the side, and grabs the briefcase. Moss notes that Chigurh doesn’t even seem to notice. Keeping his gun on Chigurh, he tells him to leave the room. Outside the door, Moss sees Chigurh’s tracking device on the floor, but he leaves it there, deciding he’s taken enough chances. Moss tells Chigurh to stay where he is. Moss backs down the stairs, and then runs. He hasn’t thought far enough ahead to think about where he is going. In the lobby he sees the night clerk’s feet sticking out from behind the desk.
Moss’s philosophy of thinking moment by moment and his moral code fail him. He does not have the foresight to take the tracking device or kill Chigurh. Moss does not want to kill anyone, as he sees this as morally reprehensible. He does not understand that Chigurh will never stop hunting him. He realizes Chigurh’s willingness to kill without strong reason when he sees the dead clerk. In this moment he recognizes his mistake.
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By the time Moss reaches the other side of the street, Chigurh is on the motel balcony. Moss feels a bullet tug at the bag on his shoulder. The next shot hits him in the shoulder, but he continues running. The final shot hits him in the side. He notes that Chigurh is quite a shot. Further down the road, Moss turns and fires his shotgun toward Chigurh, striking him with buckshot in the leg. Suddenly, a Cadillac spins out in the intersection. Two men get out and start firing at him. He fires two shots back and continues running. On the next street over, he sees himself in the storefront windows. Delirious, he looks up and finds himself sitting on the sidewalk. He tells himself to get up and survive.
Moss’s admits that Chigurh is a worthy opponent when he states that Chigurh is “quite a shot.” Moss was a sniper in Vietnam, and is an excellent shot, so this recognition is poignant. By returning fire, however, he sends the message that he will not give up easily. Like Chigurh, the men who arrive in the Cadillac completely disregard the law and innocent community member. Near death, Moss almost gives up, but his desire to survive and overcome his situation drives him to get to his feet and continue forward.
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Moss packs his gun in his bag, and crosses the bridge into Mexico. He feels cold and nauseous from blood loss. He pays a dime at the turnstile, and enters Mexico. Half way across the bridge, he meets a party of four young men coming back into the U.S. He pulls five hundred dollars from his pocket, and asks to buy one of the young men’s coats. They pass him before one man turns and asks what he will pay. He offers five hundred, but the young man doesn’t believe him. He tells him to show him the money. Moss hands him a hundred dollar bill and offers the rest when he hands over the coat. The man asks why there is blood on the money and Moss tells him he’s been shot. Nervous, the young man’s friends say let’s go, but he demands the rest of the money. Moss hands the money over, they give him the coat, and leave.
Like other scenes involving the exchange of money, the attitudes of the young men change once compensation is offered. Again, greed becomes a factor in the moral dynamics of the situation. Instead of trying to help Moss, which would be the morally correct thing to do, the young men are focused on the money. The young man’s greed becomes even more apparent after he demands the rest of the money. Despite knowing that Moss is seriously injured, the young man is only focused on the money, showing the way in which greed overpowers the capacity for empathy.
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Moss stops on the bridge between the U.S. and Mexico, directly over the river. He throws the briefcase over the railing into some cane on the riverbank. He slides to the ground, and sits in a puddle of his own blood. When he finally motivates himself to survive, he continues into the town of Piedras Negras, Mexico. He goes to a park, and sits on a bench as the sun rises. Birds are calling in the eucalyptus trees, and a church stands in the distance. It seems very far away from him.
Moss understands the danger of carrying the money into this economically depressed and corrupt area. The money would make him a prime target. In noting the perceived distance between him and the church, moss metaphorically alludes to the distance between himself and God or himself and his moral center. The fact that the distance is a matter of perception—it “seems” far away—points to the difficulty in defining the moral boundaries of his situation and actions.
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An old man approaches with a broom, and Moss calls out to him, asking if he speaks English. The man shrugs his shoulders. Moss tells him he needs a doctor, but the man doesn’t respond until Moss lifts himself up and shows the blood on the bench. The man asks in Spanish if he can walk, making a walking motion with his fingers. Moss nods, and the man asks if he has money. Moss hands him a hundred dollar bill, and the man takes it reverently.
The man demonstrates a sense of morality by helping Moss, and his question about money is not based on a personal sense of greed, but whether or not Moss will be able to pay for medical attention. His reverence toward the money suggests he did not expect it, but is grateful to be receiving it.
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A short while later, Chigurh comes out of the motel with a towel wrapped around his bullet-wounded leg. The Cadillac is still in the intersection, and he hears the gunfire of automatic weapons hitting the buildings. The two men firing the weapons are wearing raincoats and tennis shoes, which surprises Chigurh. They don’t look like men one would find in this part of the country. He climbs back up the steps and opens fire on them, killing one man and wounding the other. The man returns fire, shooting out windows and lights. Chigurh realizes that all of this is taking place one block from the Maverick County Courthouse, and knows that the authorities will soon arrive.
Chigurh often seems above the law and beyond the rules of fate, but the fact that he is wounded reminds the reader that he still human and vulnerably. The attire of the men in the center distinguishes them from the Mexicans. These men have been hired by high-powered executives involved in the drug trade, which becomes clear later in the novel. The boldness of these men firing guns so close to the courthouse demonstrates their lack of concern for the law.
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Chigurh goes down to the corner and shoots the remaining man in the back. He picks up an Uzi machine gun and rifles the dead man’s pockets for the clips. When he looks up he sees the man he shot in the back looking at him. The man asks Chigurh to help him. Chigurh looks the man in the eye, but the man looks away. Chigurh tells him to look at him, and the man looks, but quickly looks away again. He asks the man if he speaks English, and he says he does. Chigurh tells him not to look away—he wants the man to look at him. He shoots the man in the head and watches his own image degrade in the man’s consciousness. Then he leaves.
Chigurh has no concern for morality and ethics, and doesn’t care about fairness or rules of engagement, as shown by his willingness to shoot the man in the back. Chigurh does his best to make sure his victims understand his philosophy around fate. He wants his victims to confront and accept their fate, which is why he demands the man look at him. Those who look him in the eye don’t live long enough to provide a description of him, so Chigurh, like fate, always prevails.
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