No Country for Old Men

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No Country for Old Men Chapter 9 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Bell, once again issuing a monologue from the present, wishes he could have told Carla Jean that Moss didn’t sleep with the young woman he picked up, and was instead just trying to help her. He called Carla Jean to try to explain all this, but she hangs up on him. The reader is told that Chigurh kills Carla Jean before Bell gets the chance to explain, though the scene of the murder is not dramatized until later. When he got the call from Odessa that Chigurh had killed Carla Jean, he drove out and tried to get some fingerprints from the scene, but the FBI database drew a blank. Bell says that Chigurh is a ghost, and tells himself that maybe it is over, but he knows Chigurh is out there somewhere. Bell then tells about his father, who told him as a young boy to always do his best and tell the truth. Nothing will set a man’s mind at ease like waking up and not having to decide who you were. Bell says that the truth is always simple, that it needs to be simple enough for a child to understand, or it would be too late by the time you figured it out.
Bell values morality, and doesn’t want Moss’s death to be tarnished by the belief that he was acting immorally. His continued effort close the case is the only way he feels he can rectify his failures, but deep down he sees the futility of his wish. He tries to make it easier on himself by saying it is over, but he can’t fully accept this knowing Chigurh is out there. In a deeper sense, failing to capture Chigurh represents the failure of the justice system to contain crime and violence. Bell understands this as a simple truth, and is beginning to recognize the deep denial that has allowed him to become invested in a futile goal.
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The narrative moves away from the present tense, and back to the events of the narrative in the past. Chigurh returns the briefcase and its money to its rightful owner, an unnamed man working in an office in an undisclosed location. The man grows worried that he is in danger, but Chigurh tells him nobody else is coming—Chigurh is in charge of who comes and who doesn’t. Chigurh says he wants the man to consider his services in the future. He suggests the man consider how he lost the money in the first place, whom he listened to, and what happened. Chigurh says they will be dealing with new people now. The man asks about the old people, and Chigurh tells him they have moved onto other things. Not everyone is cut out for this work, Chigurh says. The old people made the mistake of pretending they were in control of things they weren’t. One’s stance on uncertain ground invites attention from enemies. The man asks about Chigurh’s enemies, and Chigurh says he has none; he does not permit such things.
Dozens of people are dead as the result of the drug money, yet it ends up in the hands of the criminals at the end. This culmination of the novel’s events offers a bleak view of the world—those who lack morality and possess power through corruption come out on top. The man, however, does not hold power over Chigurh. Chigurh’s authority comes through his philosophy and principals, which are based on his understanding of fate. Chigurh’s philosophy concerning fate and free will allows him to see the ways in which the money went missing in the first place. He recognizes that the feeling of control leads to missteps and death. Chigurh does not make the same mistakes because he is deeply aware of the pitfalls.
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Carla Jean’s grandmother passes away, and she goes to her funeral. She is surprised by the number of people who show up, and stands with her family members. The entire time she feels like someone is watching her. She gets home after dark and sits at the kitchen table crying over her grandmother. When she goes upstairs, she finds Chigurh sitting in the bedroom. She tells him she doesn’t have the briefcase, but Chigurh tells her it is too late. She says she hasn’t even paid for her grandmother’s funeral. Chigurh tells her not to worry about that. Carla Jean tells Chigurh that he has no reason to hurt her, but he tells her that he gave his word to Moss that he would kill her, and he intends to stand by it.
The other deaths in the novel, including Moss’s, do not include traditional mourning, ceremony, or respect. Carla Jean’s feeling of being watched echoes Bell’s feeling at the motel earlier in the novel. She wants to believe the struggle has come to an end, but a part of her is aware of her approaching death. When she meets Chigurh, she believes he is after the money, but for Chigurh it is about principles. Chigurh stands by his word, and because of Moss’s refusal to cooperate, he believes she has been fated to die.
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Carla Jean tries to reason with Chigurh. She tells him that her husband is dead, and the promise Chigurh made to Moss to kill her should no longer matters. Chigurh disagrees, saying that his word is not dead, and nothing can change that. He tells Carla Jean that Moss had the power to remove her from harms way, but he chose not to. Carla Jean doesn’t understand what she has done to deserve this, but Chigurh tells her there is a reason for everything.
Moss had the choice to save Carla Jean, but chose not to cooperate with Chigurh on his own. Even after death, Moss’s actions have left a lasting impact on the trajectory of Carla Jean’s life: the past, present, and future all influence one another. Chigurh believes that at some point in the past, Carla Jean made a choice that led to this moment, sealing her fate.
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Chigurh asks Carla Jean if she has any final words. She says she has nothing to say to him. Chigurh tells her not to worry about dying, that it doesn’t make a difference whether she thinks he is a bad person or not. Death is hard to understand, he tells her. He has seen many people struggle with it. They all tell him he doesn’t have to kill them, but he does. He tells her it is not her fault; it is just bad luck.
Chigurh acknowledges that death is a fact of life. It is not good or bad—it’s just a fact. Because he considers himself an enforcer of fate, he doesn’t perceive himself as good or bad either. He sees no point in fighting this fact.
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Chigurh pulls a coin from his pocket and holds it up for Carla Jean to see. He wants her to see the justice of it. He flips the coin and puts it down on his wrist. He tells her to call it, but she refuses at first, saying God wouldn’t want her to do such a thing. Chigurh says of course God would want her to try to save herself. She calls heads, but the coin reads tails. She tells Chigurh that he makes it out to be the coin’s fault, but he is the one making the choice. Perhaps, he says, but the coin arrived the same way he did.
Chigurh and Carla Jean have two different philosophies with regard to fate, chance, and free will. Chigurh believes in free will, but the outcome of any choice is beyond one’s control. For Chigurh, the chance involved in choosing constitutes justice, but the eventual end is always death. Carla Jean believes in God’s will, but in calling the coin flip she goes against what she imagines God’s will to be.
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Before shooting Carla Jean, Chigurh tells her that every moment in her life is a turning and every one a choosing. At some point, she made a choice and all of this followed. The accounting is scrupulous. He tells her he could have told her how all of this would end, but he wanted to give her a glimmer of hope before killing her. She begs him to spare her, but he says that would make him vulnerable, and he can never do such a thing. He tells her this is the end, despite her belief that things could have turned out differently. He asks her if she understands, and she says she truly does. He says that is good, and kills her.
Chigurh explains the way in which choice determines fate, and how the past influences the present. Because Chigurh believes Carla Jean has been fated to death by his hand, he knew that she would lose the coin toss. Free will only exists until a person reaches their fate in death. Chigurh recognizes that even he is not powerful enough to stop fate. Once Carla Jean accepts her fate fully, Chigurh delivers.
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As Chigurh drives away from the house, a Buick runs a stop sign and strikes his truck. His arm breaks in two places, ribs break, and he is cut on his forehead and leg. Two teenage boys stand there looking at him. He asks one of the boys what it would cost to buy his shirt. One of the boys, David DeMarco, gives him his shirt for free. He asks the boy to tie the shirt in a sling around his arm. Chigurh takes some money from his money clip and gives it to the boys. He tells them not to tell anyone what he looks like. One of the boys tells the other that part of the money should be his, and they squabble over who gets what. As they walk away, they see Chigurh’s pistol lying on the floorboard of the truck. They steal the gun, and leave.
The accident shows that even Chigurh is subject to chance and fate. DeMarco’s willingness to give Chigurh his shirt suggests he has a sense of morality, but the extent of his morality is limited by greed. The boys are willing to break the law for the hundred-dollar bill. The conflict around who gets what portion of the money is a micro example of the larger conflicts over the money in the novel.
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The narrative jumps to Bell as he visits his Uncle Ellis who still lives in the family homestead. His uncle Ellis is a former sheriff, and someone who Bell looks up to. The house smells of bacon grease, wood smoke, and urine. Ellis is sitting in his wheelchair the kitchen. He was shot in the line of duty, and now must use the wheelchair. He looks at Bell with one clouded eye he lost years ago after being thrown from a horse onto a cactus. Ellis tells Bell that Loretta has been writing him letters, and he has heard that Bell is thinking about quitting his job as sheriff. Ellis rolls a cigarette and lights it with a zippo lighter that is worn through to the brass. Bell tells Ellis he looks older, and Ellis says he is older.
Ellis and the family homestead are Bell’s connection to the past. Bell looks up to Ellis as the embodiment of the values he hopes to uphold and sees fading with the new generation. Ellis’s wheelchair and clouded eye subtly suggest that the past was not as romantic as Bell believes, and stand as reminders that the past determines the present.
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Bell asks Ellis what his biggest regret in his life is. Ellis tells him he does not have many regrets. He thinks by the time a person is grown, he or she is as happy as they are going to get. Despite good and bad times, you end up as happy as you were before the good or bad times. Ellis tells Bell that if he quit because he didn’t know where the ride would take him, that is one thing, but if he quit because it was rougher than he thought, that would be another. Ellis asks what it would take for Bell to lose his marriage to Loretta. Bell says it would take a lot more than things getting a bit rough.
Bell has lived most of his life with immense guilt about his role in WWII, but Ellis chooses not to live that way. The values of the older generation are reflected in Ellis’s distinction between quitting because things are hard and quitting because the job has taken him someplace he didn’t expect. Ellis understands that everyone is responsible for their own decisions, and resilience in tough times is of the highest value to him.
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Bell and Ellis continue talking while they drink some coffee out of the same porcelain cups that had been in the house before Bell was born. Bell asks if the man who shot Ellis died in prison. Ellis says he died in a prison called Angola. Ellis says he wouldn’t have done anything to the man if he were released. Ellis tells Bell it wouldn’t have been worth it, that while you are trying to get back what has been taken, everything else is leaving out the back door. After a while you just need to get a tourniquet on it.
The family homestead and the objects inside, such as the cups, connect Bell to his family and familial history. Ellis’ moral and judicial orientations are depicted in his comments about the man who shot him. He believes justice was served by the man’s incarceration, and he knows retaliation doesn’t change anything. Anger would just take his attention off of what is important. The tourniquet analogy relates to the idea of acceptance. Instead of lamenting and resenting the loss, the only thing to do is move forward.
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Ellis tells Bell that his grandfather did not ask him, (Ellis) to become a sheriff. Instead, Ellis signed on because he had nothing better to do, and it paid as much as being a cowboy. He was too young for WWI and too old for WWII, so policing became his outlet. Ellis states that you can be patriotic and still see the costs of war and disagree with it. He tells Bell to go talk with the mothers that lost their children in battle, suggesting they paid too much.
Bell perceives the older generation as more righteous and moral than younger generations, but Ellis challenges this idea. He did not become a sheriff for the reasons Bell thought. On one level it was for the money, and on the other it was the next best thing to joining the military. Ellis is critical of the American propensity for war; he does not feel the sacrifice of lives is justified.
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Ellis tells Bell that he thought God would come into his life when he was older, but he never came. Ellis doesn’t think God has a good opinion of him, but he doesn’t blame God. He doesn’t feel worthy. Bell says Ellis doesn’t know what God thinks, but Ellis tells him he does know. Bell asks Ellis if he ever thinks about his brother Harold who was killed in WWI. Bell has been reading some letters that Ellis’s mother wrote to his brother. Ellis says his mother never got over his brother’s death, and that he still can’t make sense of his brother dying in a ditch at the age of seventeen. Ellis says he expects God knows what is happening in the world, but He can’t do anything to stop it.
Ellis and Bell have a different view of God’s role in human affairs. Bell has always believed that God is the source of higher law and looks after human beings, but Ellis, while believing in God, feels God is indifferent toward human affairs. Ellis’s comments about his brother Harold show the way in which war not only impacts soldiers, but also their families. He and his mother could not see the justice in his brother’s death. This loss has contributed to Ellis’s belief that God does not intrude on human affairs.
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Ellis tells a story about another relative whom Native American’s killed in 1879. This story clears up the untruth of a family myth. The story suggests the man was heroic in battle, but the truth is that he was killed on his porch, and his wife buried him the next day. She couldn’t pay the taxes on the land, so she left. The house burned down, but the chimney remained standing. Bell doesn’t remember the woman, but he wishes he could. Ellis tells him this country is hard on its people, but people do not criticize the country for it, they remain loyal. This country will kill a person in a heartbeat, Ellis says, but people still love it. He admits that he still loves it, but he also admits he is as ignorant as a box of rocks.
Ellis’s stories complicate Bells romantic view of the past. Ellis’s story shows that violence was present in America from the start. A propensity toward greed and corruption has always existed in America. Despite his awareness of unjust elements of America’s past and present, Ellis continues to loves his country. In his old age, Ellis realizes his patriotism is foolish, and challenges Bell’s conception of the older generation, and his own love of America.
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Bell tells Ellis about how we got his decoration as a war hero. He was in an abandoned farmhouse in Europe with his squad. They were listening for the enemy with a radio, and could hear nothing but the rain. Suddenly a bomb exploded, and Bell woke up outside the house. His men were buried in the fallen structure. When he looked up, a group of German riflemen were approaching from the woods. He fended them off with a .30 caliber machine gun. Once night fell, Bell abandoned his men and ran to safety. Ellis asks whether running seemed like a good idea at the time. Bell says it did, that he would have died if he stayed.
Though Bell acted heroically by fending off the Germans, he feels immense guilt over abandoning his men. This experience has shaped his identity, and conceptions of justice and higher law. It remains difficult for him to understand why he was spared and his men were killed. Ellis is able to see the experience with more objectivity, and suggests that Bell made the best choice he could to save his life.
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Bell tells Ellis about the shame he feels about receiving the bronze star for his heroics in battle. He tried to refuse the medal, but the sergeant would not let him turn it down. Bell guesses the military had to make it look like the death of his men, and the war in general, counted for something. So, he accepted the medal.
Bell feels he didn’t deserve the medal because he was unable to rescue his men. He believes that the military forced him to accept the medal to cover the true extent of the tragedy, which has impacted him morally and shaped his view of justice. Bell’s comments reflect the way in which war is romanticized, while society refuses to confront the true horrors of war.
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Ellis tells Bell he didn’t have a choice, but Bell says he could have stayed behind. Ellis reminds him he couldn’t have helped the men. Bell says he thought after all of the years the shame would go away, but he has realized it won’t, so he tries to make up for it other ways. Ellis tells him he ought to ease up on himself. Bell says that going into battle is a blood oath to stick by your men, and he didn’t. He believes that if he was supposed to die and had given his word to stick by his men, he should have died. He feels like he stole his life, and though he has done his best to live well, his life is not his.
Bell recognizes the element of free will involved in his decision to leave his men. The shame has shaped his personality, and it becomes clear to him that his dedication to saving Moss was driven by this experience. Bell made an oath to stick with his men, and based on his dedication to truth, his decision to leave broke his moral code. He feels like he has cheated fate by his decision to leave his men, which has continued to haunt him for years.
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Bell asks Ellis what he thinks his father would have done in that situation. Bell thinks he would have stuck it out and died with his men, and Ellis agrees. Ellis asks if Bell thinks that makes his father a better man than he. Bell does. Ellis says he could tell Bell some things about his father that might change his mind, but Bell doubts if he could. Ellis says Bell’s father lived in a different time, but if he had been born fifty years later Bell’s father might have had a different view of things. Ellis asks if he is going to tell Loretta he is quitting. Bell says yes, and Ellis says it will likely go better than he thinks.
Bell returns again to his idealized view of the past in his comments about his father. Ellis recognizes the way in which changing times have created the need for different views of the world. This comment suggests that it is not valid to judge the actions of one generation against the actions of an older generation because the reference points for morality, ethics, and justice change with time. Ellis recognizes the way in which Bell’s duty to the community has impacted his marriage, and he knows that Loretta will be happy if Bell decides to retire and spend more time with her.
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