No Country for Old Men

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No Country for Old Men Chapter 8 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Bell thinks about friends he has lost over the past few years, and is beginning to confront the idea of death. He thinks about the legacy one leaves behind, and worries that the nine unsolved homicides won’t be solved. He notes that the men involved in the murders and drug dealing don’t even consider the law, but worse than that, there are police officers on the border that are involved in the drug trade. He notes that the cartels killed a judge in San Antonio, and feels sad about the fact that the only reason he, Bell, is alive is that the dealers have no respect for him, he isn’t even important enough to kill.
In the past, sheriffs were a symbol of law and order in American society, but Bell realizes that these men don’t even consider his presence, which is difficult for him to accept. So much of his identity has been based on upholding morality, law, and order, and the fact that these criminals don’t even consider him is devastating to his sense of self-worth.
Themes
Justice and Higher Law Theme Icon
Changing Times: Past, Present, and Future Theme Icon
Corruption, Greed, and Power Theme Icon
A few years ago, Bell was part of an investigation of a plane found used for drug running on a makeshift landing strip. The Sheriff in charge of the investigation set up a sting to arrest the dealers, but they realized nobody was coming back for the plane. He tells about a bombing method used by the Mexican drug dealers in which they’d put a grenade in a mason jar and drop them from planes. Bell states that if Satan were looking for a way to bring the human race to its knees, narcotics would be the perfect means. He is not sure if he believes in Satan, but belief in Satan provides an explanation for things that don’t have any answers.
The enormous amount of money involved in the drug trade allows the smugglers to abandon the plane. The makeshift grenade bombs show how violent these cartels can be. Here we see Bell’s belief in God and higher law waiver. He has always believed that his job was to uphold God’s higher law and fight against evil, but he begins to question whether the evil he is witnessing stems from human nature, and not some outside entity.
Themes
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Justice and Higher Law Theme Icon
Changing Times: Past, Present, and Future Theme Icon
Corruption, Greed, and Power Theme Icon
The narrative then moves to Moss and the young woman. They sit in a restaurant, talking. She asks him if he is injured because he can barely walk, and he says maybe it’s an old war injury. She asks what he does for a living, and Moss tells her three weeks ago he was a law-abiding citizen, but things happen, and they don’t ask first. They don’t require one’s permission. Moss and the young woman talk for a bit about where they are heading. Their conversation is flirtatious. Eventually, the young woman says she is going to California, but has no money. Moss gives her a thousand dollars. She asks him what she has to do for the money, but Moss tells her she doesn’t have to do anything.
Moss’s comment about things happening without asking again shows his awareness of fate. The woman believes Moss is trying to solicit sex from her, but he gives her the money out of general concern for her wellbeing. Her misunderstanding reflects her view of the world, and in a larger sense, the view of newer generations. It is difficult for her to understand altruism.
Themes
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Fate, Chance, and Free Will Theme Icon
Moss and the young woman drive until after dark. They pull into a truck stop, and once inside they order steaks and continue talking. Moss asks her if anyone knows where she is. She says he’s the only person who knows where she is, but he tells her he can’t know where she is because he doesn’t know who she is. Moss says there is always someone who knows where you are. She thinks he means God, but he says a person always knows where they themselves are. She says it would be a problem if someone didn’t know where he or she was, but Moss isn’t so sure. It is possible to not know where you were, but the real problem is that you wouldn’t know where someplace else was in relation to you, which wouldn’t change anything about where you were.
Moss can’t know where the young woman is in her life because he does not have a frame of reference for her. He suggests it doesn’t matter if you know where you are internally if you have no external reference against which to gage your position. The novel’s larger themes of morality and justice are reflected in this comment. The events of the narrative have caused Moss’s understanding of justice and morality to waver, as they have for Bell. Without a strong moral grounding, it is difficult to navigate the situations he is confronting.
Themes
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The young woman says she doesn’t like to think about the deep questions Moss is presenting to her. She says she doesn’t know what the point is. Moss says the point is that there is no point. He continues by saying that it’s not about knowing where you are, but recognizing that you are bringing your history with you. There is no starting over, he says, every step you take is forever. He tells her she can’t escape herself.
The young woman does not want to think about these difficult questions. She is leaving for California to escape some unnamed difficulty, and Moss is asking her to confront the reasons why. Moss knows that the past continues with a person into the future, and he reminds her that running from her difficulties will not make the past disappear.
Themes
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Changing Times: Past, Present, and Future Theme Icon
Moss and the young woman go to a motel in Van Horn, and Moss gets them each a room. Moss goes to a gas station and buys some beer. When he gets back, he offers one to the young woman, stating he knows she is not old enough to drink, but doesn’t mind. He tries to go back to his room, but she convinces him to stay. They sit on the steps and begin talking about why Moss is on the run. He jokingly says he just got off death row, and when she asks if the law is still hunting him, he says everybody is hunting him. He tells her he took something that didn’t belong to him, referring to the briefcase full of money. Moss tells her about Carla Jean. The young woman asks Moss if he thinks she should go to California, but he says he doesn’t know what she is supposed to do.
Moss follows his own code of morality and law as opposed to external ideas of higher law, which is why he gives the young woman alcohol, but refuses to sleep in the same room with her. The fact that Moss began as the hunter and is now being hunted shows how the chance discovery of the money and his decision to take it has turned his life in a completely different direction. He understands how actions bear consequences. Despite his poor decision, he continues to believe in free will, which is why he does not give the young woman advice.
Themes
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Later in the conversation, the young woman says she has a feeling she should be afraid of Moss, but she isn’t. Moss says he can’t give her advice about that, but most people will run from their own mother to hug death by the neck. She wonders where she would be if she hadn’t met Moss that morning, stating she has always been lucky about meeting people. Moss tells her not to speak too soon. There is a lot of bad luck out there, and if she waits long enough she will get her share. He tells her that if there is one thing she doesn’t look like, it’s a bunch of good luck walking around. She stands up, and on her way to her room, she asks him if he has changed his mind about sleeping with her. He says he hasn’t changed his mind; he likes to get it right the first time. Then he goes to his room.
As a man who believes in free will and personal choice, Moss doesn’t want to tell the young woman what to feel, but his comment about individuals pursuing death shows his awareness of bad judgment. The young woman’s comment about being lucky becomes deeply ironic after she is killed. A person’s luck can change in an instant, and there is no way to predict the moment when luck shifts. Moss understands this, as his good luck in finding the money has completely changed. Moss maintains his morality by refusing to have sex with the young woman and remaining loyal to Carla Jean. He recognizes that he has choices, and believes he is making smart moves, but he will soon discover he cannot escape fate.
Themes
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Fate, Chance, and Free Will Theme Icon
The narrative jumps to The Mexican driving the Baracuda. He pulls into a car wash. He has just left a shootout, in which Moss and the young woman were killed along with his partner. He gets some quarters from the change machine, and cleans blood from the car. Afterward he gets back in and begins driving down the highway, heading west.
Moss expects a confrontation with Chigurh, but he and the young woman meet their fate at the hands of the Mexican hit men. This fact reinforces the idea that fate is unpredictable, and can strike unexpectedly. The man’s clean getaway connects to the idea of fate. Fate delivers death and leaves no trace. The escape also shows the failure of the law to prevent fated events and bring justice to those involved.
Themes
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Justice and Higher Law Theme Icon
Corruption, Greed, and Power Theme Icon
The narrative moves to Bell as he drives out to Van Horn, where Moss and the young hitchhiker were killed at the motel. On the way, he passes a car burning on the side of the highway. It makes him nervous, but he doesn’t stop. At the scene, Bell finds the deputies questioning a witness. The local sheriff tells Bell there was a shootout. A woman has already died, and two men had been taken to the hospital. The witness told the sheriff that the Mexicans arrived and pulled the young woman from her room. When Moss saw the Mexican man with the young woman, he put his weapon down. After that, the Mexican man shot the young woman and then turned the gun on Moss. Moss fell down the stairs, then shot one of the Mexican men as they fled. Bell asks the sheriff if he will drive down to the hospital with him. They leave.
The anecdote about the killing reveals Moss’s current sense of morality. He didn’t want to kill anyone, but like bringing the water to the Mexican man in the desert, his morality leads to negative consequences. Acting morally does not guarantee safe passage through life. Moss is dealing with people who aren’t concerned with morality or justice, so it’s no surprise that the Mexican man does not honor his surrender. The young woman’s death counteracts her feeling of being lucky, which shows the changing tides of fate.
Themes
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At the hospital, Bell and the sheriff go into the mortuary. Moss is lying dead on the table, covered by a sheet. The sheriff asks Bell if Moss is a friend, but Bell says no. The sheriff tells Bell that Moss was shot several times in the face, but he has seen worse. He says the highway is a warzone. They pull back the sheet, and Bell identifies Moss. Bell immediately realizes he will have to tell Carla Jean. The sheriff tries to comfort him by saying there is nothing he could have done, but Bell says you always like to think there is. The sheriff says the young woman was “skankylooking,” and Carla Jean isn’t going to like the fact that Moss was with the young woman. Bell agrees. After leaving the hospital, Bell goes back to the motel to look around.
Bell takes Moss’s death as a personal defeat. Until this point he hoped he would be able to save him, but now he realizes that justice will likely not be served. The sheriffs misjudge the situation between Moss and the young woman, suggesting Moss was soliciting sex from the young woman. The local sheriff is used to this kind of activity. He witnesses violence and vice on a regular basis, as shown through his comment about the highway being a warzone. Bell’s decision to go back to the motel to look for leads shows that he is not completely defeated.
Themes
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Fate, Chance, and Free Will Theme Icon
Justice and Higher Law Theme Icon
Corruption, Greed, and Power Theme Icon
Later that evening, after the officers have left the scene, Chigurh goes to the motel where Moss and the young woman were killed. He knocks the cylinder out of the doorknob and enters the room where Moss stayed. He finds the briefcase in the vent, and brings it to his truck. Just as he is about to turn the truck on, he sees Bell pull his cruiser into the parking lot. Bell goes into the room Chigurh left moments earlier, and finds the vent unscrewed. He looks out into the parking lot where Chigurh is waiting. He finds the cylinder Chigurh knocked out of the doorknob with his bolt gun. Bell takes his pistol from its holster and says he doesn’t know what is out there. Immediately, he disagrees with himself, stating he knew what was here when he came here.
Unlike Moss, Wells, and Bell, Chigurh is patient and trusts fate to guide his actions. Bell does not triumph in this moment, but doesn’t accept fate in the way Chigurh does. He denies that Chigurh is present at the hotel, but immediately recognizes this denial. The complexity of this moment for Bell can be read as a refutation of free will. He doesn’t want to accept responsibility for placing himself into a situation he knows he cannot survive. Denial allows the fault to be placed elsewhere, on the influence of luck or chance, for example.
Themes
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Justice and Higher Law Theme Icon
Corruption, Greed, and Power Theme Icon
As Bell walks to his car, he asks himself if a person can feel when someone is watching them. He notes that some people think so. He drives down the highway a little ways and calls for backup. He pulls forward again, and watches the motel parking lot while he waits, deciding that if a car pulls out he will run it off the road. After the deputies arrive Bell goes back to the parking lot and checks the cars with them. They find nothing, and Bell tells the deputies they have been “outgeneraled.” It is unclear how Chigurh escapes, but he likely drove off while Bell was away from the scene, calling for backup.
Again, Bell denies the feeling of being watched by projecting his feeling into an abstract question. Instead of going after Chigurh, he calls for backup and leaves, a move that allows Chigurh to escape. This decision suggests Bell understands he is outmatched. As sheriff, Bell’s character stands in symbolically for the law, so in a large sense, this speaks to the futility of law to overcome the corruptions and evils of American society. The term “outgeneraled” brings forward the military metaphor for their situation; in this war they are fighting, Chigurh comes out on top.
Themes
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Bell spends the night in a motel on the east side of El Paso, and goes to a café the next morning. He searches the newspaper, but finds they have not written about Moss and the young woman yet. He asks the waitress when the evening paper gets in, but she says she doesn’t read the paper, and made her husband stop reading it as well. Bell says he doesn’t blame her. She says they call it news, but asks Bell when the last time he read about Jesus Christ in the news.
The lack of religion in the newspaper shows the absence of faith in American society. Because of the complexity of the violence and corruption people are witnessing in the community, people turn to biblical conceptions of good and evil to provide answers. The newspaper, however, provides secular reportage of the facts without exploring answering the question of why these things are occurring.
Themes
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Changing Times: Past, Present, and Future Theme Icon
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Bell goes to Carla Jean’s motel room and knocks on the door. He tells her he is sorry, and Carla Jean staggers back in the room and falls to the floor, saying, “Oh, God.” He goes in and closes the door. He tells her he is as sorry as he can be. She yells at him, saying her husband is dead, and if he says sorry one more time she will get her gun and shoot him.
Carla Jean does not believe that Bell can understand what she is feeling. Through Bell’s monologues and scenes, the reader understands Bell’s concern for Moss and Carla Jean, and knows he is experiencing grief along with Carla Jean. Moss’s death also connects back to his experience in WWII. Both Bell and Carla Jean accept the failure of justice in this moment, on both a societal and spiritual levels.
Themes
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Fate, Chance, and Free Will Theme Icon
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