No Country for Old Men

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No Country for Old Men Chapter 5 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Bell tells about his family coming west to Texas from Georgia by horse and wagon. He recognizes that lots of things in a family history aren’t true—the stories get passed through the generations and changed. Some people say the truth can’t compete, but he doesn’t believe that. He believes the truth is always there and can’t be corrupted. He’s heard about the truth being compared to “the rock” from the Bible, meaning Peter; upon whom God said he would build his church. Bell believes the truth will outlast “the rock”. Bell states that in his role he would always show up for social events and cemetery cleanings. These actions were part of ensuring he got reelected, but at the same time, it was doing something good for people who couldn’t do things for themselves. He says he does it out of a sense of community and respect. The dead, he says, have more claim on the living than one might admit.
Bell believes in God, but he recognizes that humans fail in understanding and interpreting the truth. The church has been built upon human imperfection, but even if the church fails, Bell believes the truth will remain. The complexity of Bell’s character is highlighted in his mention of his campaign for reelection. While he is dedicated to his community, he also recognizes ulterior motives for his service.
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Bell tells about a newspaper article he read last week about a couple from California who was killing elderly folks, and taking their social security checks. The couple would torture their victims before killing them and burying them in the backyard. The torture confuses Bell. He says maybe the couple’s television was broken. The couple was caught when a neighbor saw an elderly man run from the premises wearing only a dog collar. He says you can’t make this sort of thing up. He laughed to himself after reading that part, stating there isn’t a whole lot else one can do about these things.
Bell is able to understand killing for money, but the fact that the couple was torturing their victims before killing them does not make moral sense to him. He recognizes the role of the media in sedating the masses and fulfilling a human need for violence. Bell understands he is powerless over this kind of evil, and feels the only thing you can do is laugh at the absurdity of human nature.
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The narrative shifts to the past as Bell drives out to Odessa to talk to Carla Jean at her grandmother’s house. When she answers the door, Bell takes off his hat, and is immediately sorry he did. Carla Jean puts her hand to her mouth, thinking Moss is dead. Bell assures her Moss is still alive. Carla Jean asks him if he is lying, and Bell tells her he doesn’t lie. They go to the Sunshine Café and have coffee. Bell asks about the money, but Carla Jean doesn’t answer. He tells her to just pretend he isn’t the sheriff, but she asks him what she should pretend instead. He asks if he can call her Carla, but she says she goes by Carla Jean. He tells her that Moss is in trouble with very dangerous people, but she trusts that her husband can take care of himself, even after Bell tells her the people looking for him won’t stop until Moss is dead. Carla Jean says Moss won’t quit either.
As a man dedicated to truth and morality, Bell feels guilty about leading Carla Jean to believe that Moss is dead. His statement about lying is complex. Bell is determined to uphold truth and justice, but he does not account for the fact that, though he is acting in good faith, he may not be able to see the whole truth. Later he asks Carla Jean to pretend that he isn’t the sheriff, but pretending can be read as a denial of what is true. Like Moss, Carla Jean does not trust the law to help her. She believes in Moss’s will to survive, and she knows he will fight until the end.
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Bell looks at his face reflected in his coffee, noting the way it shifts and loses shape, an omen of things to come. He tells her that the situation is not in Moss’s favor. Carla Jean replies that Moss will not change. Bell asks if they were having marital trouble, but Carla tells him they don’t have problems, and when they do they fix them. Bell says they are lucky people, and Carla Jean agrees. Carla Jean asks Bell if he thinks Moss has left her. He says he doesn’t know, but Carla Jean is confident he hasn’t, she knows him too well. Bell tells her she used to know him, but money changes people. Carla Jean insists that Moss never changes. Bell suggests that the money may change him if he lives long enough, and Carla Jean says Moss isn’t dead yet.
The shifting of Bell’s image in the coffee connects to his shifting beliefs around God, truth, and justice. His recent experiences inspire him to rethink his beliefs. Bell holds traditional values with regard to marriage, which distinguishes him from newer generations. Both Carla Jean and Bell have experienced strain in their relationships due to the situation at hand, and this provides a small moment of connection between them. Bell’s aware of the way in which money can corrupt one’s values, but Carla Jean continues to have faith in Moss to overcome the corrupting influence of greed.
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Bell says if he turned the money in, they would put it in the papers. This may be Moss’s only chance at survival. Carla Jean says they could put it in anyways, but Bell says he couldn’t. Carla Jean corrects him, saying that he could, but he wouldn’t. Bell agrees. He asks her how she thinks this will end. She says she doesn’t know how anything will end, and asks if he thinks he does. He says it won’t end happily ever after, and Carla Jean she should be more worried than she is. She says she is just as worried as she needs to be.
Being a man dedicated to truth, Bell is unwilling to lie in the papers to save Moss’s life. Carla Jean’s experiences, both recent and in her youth, have shown her that the future is unpredictable. Bell struggles to recognize this fact, as his Judeo-Christian view of justice and fate is more deterministic than Carla Jean’s. Bell does not believe that Moss can overcome the forces of evil he is confronting with free will, but Carla Jean disagrees.
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Bell and Carla Jean continue talking about Moss. Bell says he is going to end up killing someone. Carla Jean says he never has, but Bell asks about Vietnam. Carla Jean corrects herself, saying he has never killed as a civilian. She tells Bell that her grandmother is sick. She was raised by her grandmother and calls her, Mama. She tells him how lucky she was to have her. Bell asks if she has a gun, telling Carla Jean she is in a bad situation. She says she does. Bell tries again to convince Carla Jean to call him if she hears from Moss, but she says she would die and live in hell before snitching on him.
As a veteran, Bell understands the realities and outcomes of war in a way Carla Jean doesn’t. He knows that Moss is capable of violence. Carla Jean’s nontraditional upbringing points to changes in American society. In Bell’s day, the nuclear family was the norm, but things have changed with Carla Jean’s generation. Like Moss, Carla Jean is driven by an internal allegiance to her husband, as opposed to an adherence to structures outside of their relationship, such as the law. Ultimately, she is skeptical of the law’s ability to fix the situation, and remains loyal to her husband.
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Carla Jean tells Bell about the job she had at Wal-Mart before she met Moss. The night before she started the job, she had a dream that she would meet a man when she went to work. She had the feeling she would know the man when she saw him. She marks ninety-nine days on a calendar before Moss walks in. That day, Moss asked her what time her shift ended, and there was no question in her mind, then or now, that it was the man from her dream.
Although Carla Jean admits she cannot know the future, she believes that she was fated to meet and fall in love with Moss. This belief adds to her determination to wait for him and trust that he will survive.
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Before they leave, Carla Jean asks Bell if he really cares about Moss. He says that the people of the county hired him to look after them. He gets paid to be the first one hurt, or killed if it comes to that. He insists that she recognize the trouble that she and Moss are in. Bell says he will have to live with himself if Moss gets killed, which he can do, but he doesn’t want to have to. As they leave Bell asks Carla Jean how old she is. She tells him she is nineteen, and she has been married to Moss for three years. Bell tells her his wife was eighteen when they got married, and marrying her made up for every stupid thing he had ever done. Carla Jean tells him that nineteen is old enough to know that when something means the world to a person, it’s more likely to be taken away. Bell tells her that thought is familiar to him.
Bell’s sense of moral responsibility to his community is reflected in his comments to Carla Jean. He has experience with failure in this area based on his experience in the war (which is explained later). He knows he will feel immense guilt if Moss dies, so he continues to urge Carla Jean to work with him. Bell and Carla Jean find common ground with their experiences of marrying young, but Carla Jean’s outlook on love and marriage is different from Bell’s. Bell believes marrying Loretta was the best thing he has ever done, but Carla Jean recognizes the risk in loving someone because there is the chance of losing him or her. Bell understands this concern based on the loss of his infant daughter thirty years ago.
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Bell is in bed that evening when the phone rings. The caller informs him about the shootout in Eagle Pass. Bell says it’s just out and out war. He doesn’t know what else to call it. He arrives in Eagle Pass the next morning and sits with the sheriff, looking at photographs of the crime scene. The sheriff tells Bell there are days he just wants to give the whole damn place back to the criminals. Bell understands. They go over to the crime scene, and look over the wreckage. Bell asks who was in the motel. The sheriff says it was a drug dealer. They examine the blood trail Moss left on his way to Mexico, and then inventory the guns involved—a shotgun and two machine guns. Bell asks if they were fully automatic, and the sheriff says they were, and asks why they wouldn’t be.
The events in Eagles Pass are so violent and extreme that they remind Bell of war. Both he and the sheriff recognize their powerlessness as lawmen to prevent such events, and feel hopeless. The violence around the drug trade leads the sheriff to believe it was drug dealers; they are still unaware of the details of the situation. Bell is not used to the kind of artillery at the scene, but the presence of fully automatic guns is standard for the sheriff of Eagle Pass. The changing nature of crime and corruption along the border has made the presence of this kind of artillery the norm.
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Bell and the sheriff go over to the motel and find the murdered night clerk. The sheriff says it’s about as bad a piece of luck as one could get. Bell asks where he was shot, and the sheriff tells him right between the eyes. Bell says he wasn’t shot. The sheriff asks him what he is talking about, and facetiously asks if Bell thinks the killer drilled into the clerk’s brain with a Black and Decker. Bell tells him that’s pretty close, referring to Chigurh’s bolt gun.
Again, Bell clings to the idea of bad luck, but knowing Chigurh’s philosophy about fate, the novel offers two different viewpoints around the issue, leaving it up to the reader to decide. Chigurh’s strange method of killing is outside of the Eagle Pass sheriff’s frame of reference, so he makes the joke about the drill. It is difficult for these old school sheriffs to get their heads around such heinous violence. Bell, however, understands Chigurh is a new kind of killer, and is completely capable of such strange methods of killing.
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Bell goes to the courthouse and does some paperwork, and on the way home it begins to snow. He finds Loretta looking out the kitchen window when he pulls in. Inside, they eat dinner while listening to a violin concerto. Bell is surprised that the phone doesn’t ring, and says the wires must be down. She asks if he remembers the last time it snowed. Bell says he doesn’t, but Loretta says it will come to him. When it does, she smiles. Bell says it’s nice to be home with her. Loretta asks if he thinks Carla Jean was telling the truth. He says yes. Then she asks if he thinks Moss is still alive. Bell says he doesn’t know, but he hopes so.
The snow suggests a change in the typical West Texas landscape, which is arid and oppressively hot. This change reflects back on Sheriff Bell, as he is beginning to enter a new stage in his life, letting go of old philosophies, and beginning to consider retirement. The snow provides an opportunity for Bell and Loretta to spend time away from the recent events, and reflect on their relationship. Though the reader never finds out what happened the last time it snowed, it is clear that whatever happened was important to them, and shows a side of Bell’s life that is overshadowed by his work. This moment is short lived, however, as Loretta’s question brings Bell’s thoughts back to Moss and Carla Jean.
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Toward the end of dinner, Loretta tells Bell he might never hear another word about all of the trouble that has happened. He says it is possible, but that doesn’t mean it will be the end of it. He says these people will just continue killing each other until a cartel steps in and starts dealing directly with the Mexican government. There is too much money in drug dealing. Loretta asks how much money Bell thinks Moss has. He says it’s hard to say, but it could be millions. She gets him a cup of coffee and when she comes back she tells him not to come home dead some evening, she will not put up with it. Loretta asks if he thinks Moss will come back for Carla Jean, and Bell says he would be a damn fool if he didn’t.
In his monologues, Bell continues to ponder the limits of the criminal justice system. He recognizes the evil and corruption in the world will not disappear; it will only get worse as the money involved leads to corruption at the level of government and politics. Loretta’s jokes about Bell coming home dead, but this is a very real recognition of the danger involved in his work, and subtly acknowledges that she would support his retirement. Bell’s comment about Moss returning to Carla Jean points to his value of love and marriage, which can be read as a respect for values that are changing in, and in some cases vanishing from, American society.
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The narrative shifts to Carson Wells, a Vietnam veteran and hit man, as he goes up to the Matacumbe Petroleum Group office on the fourteenth floor of a building in Houston. The office overlooks the skyline, and in the distance the open low lands, a ship channel, colonies of silver tanks, and gas flares. The man in the office doesn’t turn around in his chair; he simply watches Wells’ reflection in the window. When the man turns in his chair, he asks Wells if he would know Chigurh by sight. Wells says he would. He last saw him on November 28th of last year. The man asks how he remembers the date, and Moss tells him he has a memory for numbers and dates. The man tells Moss that they are missing the heroin and the money.
The tanks of oil and gas flares foreshadow an American future that will see extensive violence over natural resources. The man’s power is evident by the way he greets Wells. We learn that Wells used to work with Chigurh, but he sees the ways in which they differ. Wells is a man who does not believe in luck and chance, which is suggested by his attention to numbers. As the narrative continues, it becomes clear that Wells mistakenly believes he can overcome his fate through free will and paying close attention to each move he makes.
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He gives Wells a credit card to cover his expenses. The man asks for Wells’ opinion Chigurh. Wells tells him nobody is invincible. The man says that, statistically, the most invincible man is out in the world, just as the most vulnerable man is out there. The man asks how dangerous Chigurh is, and Wells asks him compared to what, the bubonic plague? Wells states that Chigurh is bad enough for the man to have called him, Wells, for his services. They talk about the shootout at Eagle Pass, and the man tells Wells that Chigurh has killed two of his men, as well as three others at Eagle Pass. The man then tells Wells to leave, wishing him happy hunting.
The man’s comment suggests that Wells may be underestimating Chigurh, which turns out to be true. Wells recognizes Chigurh’s dangerous nature by comparing him to the bubonic plague—which killed 1/3 of the people in Europe during the 14th century—yet he believes he can overcome the threat. This conversation also clarifies the events in Eagle’s Pass. The men in raincoats were not drug dealers, but hired hit men. Like Chigurh, the man does not value human life.
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Before Wells leaves, he tells the man that he counted the floors from the street, and there seems to be a floor missing. The man says he will have to look into it. Wells smiles, and asks the man if he would be willing to validate his parking ticket. The man asks if that is an attempt at humor, and wishes him a good day.
The thirteenth floor is left out of the floor numbers because it is considered bad luck. Being a man who does not acknowledge luck, he does not understand the reason for this kind of superstition.
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Wells goes to the hotel in Eagle Pass and asks for a room. While he fills out the paperwork, he asks what happened in the hotel the other night. The clerk says he can’t discuss it. Wells asks if the clerk was there when the shootout took place. The clerk says he only started working yesterday. The clerk grows nervous, and his eyes dart around the lobby as if there might be something out there to help him. Wells asks when the man who was working during the shoot out will be back. The clerk says he is no longer alive. Then Wells asks for the newspaper, but the clerk says they threw it out. Before leaving Wells tells the man to send him a couple of whores and a fifth of whiskey. The clerk grows concerned, but Wells tells him he is just joking. He tells the clerk to relax. He guarantees the shooters will not be back.
The societal reluctance to acknowledge violence is reflected in the clerk’s unwillingness to talk about the incident, and also in the fact that they threw out the newspaper. It is clear that the clerk is nervous, and his glancing for something to help him, which could refer to the law or God, suggests a belief in some protective outside force. The events of the narrative have proven this kind of hope is futile. Wells’ flippant comment shows that he does not recognize the sincere lack of ethics and morality he will confront with Chigurh. His guarantee that Chigurh will not return furthers this point, showing that his self-confidence is flawed.
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Wells goes to his room and falls asleep with his gun beside him. He wakes at dusk, and goes to Moss’s former room. He enters without disturbing the police tape and looks around. He checks the carpet under the bed and smells the pillows. Then he checks the wardrobe. In the bathroom, he takes note of what towels were used, and notices the soap in untouched. Then he goes to Chigurh’s former room. The bed had not been slept in. The bathroom door is open, and he finds a bloody towel and bloody handprints. He hopes Chigurh is still alive, stating he would like to get paid.
Wells’ crossing of the police tape shows his disregard for the law. His thorough examination of the rooms and attention to details depicts his skill as an investigator and hit man, but hoping that Chigurh is still alive shows his cockiness. He is driven by greed, and continues to underestimate Chigurh, believing he can overcome Chigurh, and in turn, overcome fate, through self-will.
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The next morning, Wells walks through the center of Eagle Pass taking mental notes of the crime scene, noticing Moss’s blood on the sidewalk, bullet holes in the buildings, and teardrop smears of lead bullets. Two bullet holes catch his eye in one of the building’s second floor windows. He goes into the apartment, and finds an old woman dead in a rocking chair. He notices a bullet hole in a calendar behind the woman that is three days in the future. He takes a few photographs of the dead woman, and notes that this wasn’t what she had in mind.
Wells’ keen observations depict him as a skilled investigator, more skilled, in fact, than the police, who failed to notice that the woman had been killed in her apartment. The stray bullet in the calendar offers an opportunity for Wells to pay attention to the significance of that date. If he were superstitious, he would take this as a sign, but Wells does not believe in luck or chance, and this oversight later leads to disaster.
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Moss wakes up in a Mexican hospital and finds Wells sitting beside his bed holding a bouquet of flowers. Moss asks who he is, and Wells tells him his name is Carson Wells. Wells tells Moss he can make Chigurh go away. Moss says he can do it himself, but Wells tells him that is unlikely. He tells Moss that if the men in the Cadillac didn’t show up, he wouldn’t have made it out so well. Moss says he didn’t make it out well, but Wells corrects him, saying he made it out extremely well.
Wells brings flowers in attempt to feign concern and win Moss’s trust, but it is already clear to the reader that Wells is in this for the money. As a man who is determined to achieve autonomy, Moss does not give in. He is confident he can overcome Chigurh on his own. Wells disagrees, and his comment about making it out extremely well shows that he understands the risk in dealing with Chigurh more fully than Moss.
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Moss tells Wells he looks like an idiot sitting there with the flowers. Wells puts them on the table beside his bed. Moss says Wells must have nothing better to do if he is sitting there, but Wells says he likes to do one thing at a time. Wells asks if Moss knows who Chigurh is. Moss says no, and Wells tells him he is not somebody he wants to know. People who meet Chigurh have very short futures, Wells says, or no futures at all. Wells tells Moss that Chigurh won’t ever stop looking for him, even if he turned over the money. Chigurh will kill Moss just for inconveniencing him.
Moss makes it clear he does not want Wells there, but leaving the flowers suggests that Wells is not going to give in so easily. His comment about doing one thing at a time reflects the comment by Moss earlier in the novel; they share the same belief that through careful action and attention they can survive. Wells clarifies Chigurh’s philosophy and his role as the representative of fate. Once Chigurh decides someone has been fated to die, he feels an obligation to follow through.
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Wells asks Moss how he knows Chigurh is not on his way to Odessa to Kill Carla Jean. Moss says Wells doesn’t know what he is talking about. Wells hands Moss two pictures of the old woman killed in the shootout, telling him that the body is still there. Moss doesn’t believe him. Wells then asks Moss if he took the heroin. Moss says no. Wells then asks Moss what he plans to do, but Moss turns the question back on Well. Wells tells him he doesn’t plan to do anything but wait for Moss to come to him for help. He tells Moss he doesn’t have a choice.
Wells uses the photographs to make his point about the danger Carla Jean is in. The photos work effectively as leverage, as shown through Moss’s willingness to reveal that he didn’t take the heroin. Through their interaction, Wells is establishing power in the situation; he does not need to do anything but wait until Moss is ready for help. He contrasts Moss’s belief in free will by suggesting he doesn’t have a choice in asking for help.
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Moss tells Wells he may just disappear. Wells tells him it only took three hours to find him, and Moss won’t be so lucky next time; Chigurh will catch him. Defiantly, Moss suggests he will just cut a deal with Chigurh. Wells tells him he is not paying attention to what he has told him. Moss tells Wells he doesn’t believe him. Wells asks Moss if he is in pain, and when Moss says yes he offers to get the nurse. Moss tells him he doesn’t want any favors. Wells tells Moss that he won’t be able to make any deals with Chigurh. There is nobody on earth who has even had a cross word with Chigurh and survived. He tells Moss his odds are bad. Wells says Chigurh is a peculiar man, that he has principles that transcend drugs or money.
Moss attempts to reestablish his autonomy and gain power in the situation by stating he will cut a deal with Chigurh. Wells knows this will not be possible, as Chigurh has already decided Moss is fated to die. Moss refuses Wells’ attempt to get the nurse, as this small gesture would mean a loss of autonomy. Wells talks about Moss’s fate in terms of odds, which is in line with his attention to numbers and his philosophy of fate, chance and free will. Wells understands that Chigurh is not driven by greed the way other characters are, but by a personal philosophy and a belief that he must deliver Moss’s fate.
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Moss asks Wells why he would even tell him about Chigurh. Wells says that he is hoping to make his job easier. He says Moss is not cut out for this kind of situation. Wells asks Moss what he did with the money, but Moss says he spent it on whiskey and whores. Moss barely glances at a pitcher of water on the table, and Wells asks if he’d like some. Moss says that if he wants something from Wells, Wells will be the first son of a bitch to know. Wells tells him the tracking device is not the only means Chigurh has to find him. Again, Moss says he doesn’t need any help. Wells offers water again, but Moss tells him to go to hell.
Realizing his feigned concern is not working with Moss, Wells is honest about his intentions, admitting he just wants to make his job easier. Moss comment about whiskey and whores is similar to the one Wells made at the motel, showing the similarities in their characters. This comment is not true, but it suggests an awareness of the immorality of the world in which they live. Wells attention to detail allows him to notice Moss glancing at the water, and twice he offers to help, using this opportunity to gain power. Moss continues to exert his autonomy, denying him Wells the opportunity to help.
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Wells asks Moss what he does for a living. Moss tells him he is retired, but he used to be a welder. Wells shows that he has knowledge of the trade, and that he fought in Vietnam. Moss asks him if that is supposed to make them friends. Wells goes on to tell him he was a lieutenant colonel in the special forces. Moss doesn’t believe him, and asks what he does for a living now. Wells tells Moss he finds people, and settles accounts. In other words, he is a hit man.
Wells takes a different approach in this moment. He attempts to connect with Moss through their shared experience in Vietnam. Wells continues to hold a position of authority by stating his high rank in the special forces, but Moss doesn’t budge. Moss has been disillusioned by the war, and no longer cares about the structures and codes of respect within the military.
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Wells tells Moss that he works for people who won’t give up on finding the money. Even if Moss killed Chigurh, the people who lost their heroin and money in the deal will continue looking for Moss, not to mention the DEA and other law enforcement. Moss asks Wells if he is afraid of Chigurh, but Wells says he would use the word ‘wary’. Moss brings up Sheriff Bell, but Wells calls him a redneck sheriff in a hick town, county, and state. He gives Moss a card with his phone number on it, telling him he doesn’t think he will use it, but he will need it later. Wells tells Moss he will let him keep some of the money if he hands it over, and if he doesn’t it will mean his life and also Carla Jean’s. After Wells leaves, Moss looks at the photographs of the dead woman Wells gave him.
Wells attempts to gain power over Moss by frightening him. Moss is driven by an internal sense of morality, justice, and self-will, so Wells’ scare tactics don’t work. Wells understands that fear would cause him to make wrong moves, but being wary will help make him pay better attention to his actions. Wells’ comment about Bell suggests that he does not respect the law, and sees its ineptitude in dealing with situations like the one at hand. Moss still refuses to help Wells, even after money is offered. In this moment, it becomes clear that Moss is no longer driven by greed, but by a desire for autonomy and freedom. It is no longer about the money, but who controls the money.
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