No Country for Old Men

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The Briefcase Symbol Analysis

The Briefcase  Symbol Icon
In No Country for Old Men, the briefcase full of money is a symbol that reflects the theme of power, greed, and corruption. The question of whom the money belongs to runs through the course of the novel, and the violent events of the narrative are driven by several entities attempting to retrieve it. Individuals are willing to kill and put their lives on the line for the briefcase, speaking to the power of greed. When Moss first finds the briefcase, his entire life flashes before his eyes. As a working class individual, the money means access to a life he could only have dreamed of. He takes the money, knowing the dangers involved, but deciding the risk is worth the consequences. As the novel progresses, Moss’s motives shift away from the issue of wealth, toward the issue of power and autonomy. The question of who possesses the money becomes more important than the money itself. This struggle to keep the money ultimately leads to Moss’s death, and the downfall of several other characters, suggesting that the individual’s striving for power and wealth, signified by the briefcase, ultimately destroys those who seek it.

The Briefcase Quotes in No Country for Old Men

The No Country for Old Men quotes below all refer to the symbol of The Briefcase . For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Philosophy, Morality, and Ethics Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Vintage edition of No Country for Old Men published in 2006.
Chapter 1 Quotes

He sat there looking at [the money] and then he closed the flap and sat with his head down. His whole life was sitting there in front of him. Day after day from dawn till dark until he was dead. All of it cooked down into forty pounds of paper in a satchel.

Related Characters: Llewellyn Moss (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Briefcase
Page Number: 18
Explanation and Analysis:

Llewellyn Moss discovers a mysterious briefcase full of money. As Moss opens the briefcase, he sees millions of dollars, and feels that his "whole life" is sitting there.

What does Moss mean by "whole life?" One could say that Moss is excited by the prospect of never having to work again--with the money in the briefcase, Moss could have an easy, leisurely life, totally unlike the one he has now. More sinisterly, though, Moss's thoughts seem to foreshadow his own death. By choosing to live and die over a briefcase of money, Moss makes the choice that will eventually lead to his execution. In short, the passage suggests the duality of Moss's apparent good fortune. The briefcase has the potential to be a blessing, but in reality it is cursed.

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Chapter 4 Quotes

[Moss] thought about a lot of things but the thing that stayed with him was that at some point he was going to have to quit running on luck.

Related Characters: Llewellyn Moss (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Briefcase
Page Number: 108
Explanation and Analysis:

Llewellyn Moss discovers that there's a tracking device in the briefcase of money that he's been carrying with him. The entire time, the owners of the briefcase have been able to track Moss's movements very precisely. Therefore, the only reason Moss isn't already dead is sheer dumb luck.

Moss seems to sense--if only on a deep, gut level--that he's running out of luck, and out of time. Put another way, he seems to realize that his possession of the briefcase is going to lead to his own death. And yet Moss doesn't surrender the briefcase--his desire to assert his own independence and free will has become greater than his desire for wealth.

Chapter 5 Quotes

I guess in all honesty I would have to say that I never knew nor did I ever hear of anybody that money didnt change.

Related Characters: Sheriff Ed Tom Bell (speaker), Carla Jean Moss
Related Symbols: The Briefcase
Page Number: 128
Explanation and Analysis:

In this scene, Bell pays a visit to Carla Jean Moss, the wife of Llewellyn Moss. Carla Jean knows that Moss has run off with a lot of money, but she's confident that her husband will remain the same man--in other words, his personality and values won't change at all. Bell, who's more experienced and more realistic about human nature (on this subject, at least), insists that money changes everyone.

We've already seen plentiful evidence that Bell is right about Moss. Even after Moss senses that possessing the briefcase full of money is endangering his life, he continues to hang onto it. The love of money, so the saying goes, is the root of all evil. But the novel makes a subtler point about the briefcase--that Llewellyn keeps it even after he knows his peril not because he hopes to get rich (he seems to know that he would never have the freedom and safety to actually enjoy the money), but because he wants to assert his own survival and independence in the face of a seemingly-unstoppable murderer like Chigurh.

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The Briefcase Symbol Timeline in No Country for Old Men

The timeline below shows where the symbol The Briefcase appears in No Country for Old Men. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 1
Fate, Chance, and Free Will  Theme Icon
Changing Times: Past, Present, and Future Theme Icon
Corruption, Greed, and Power Theme Icon
...man is leaned up against a rock. A government issue .45 automatic and a leather briefcase rest beside him. Moss takes the gun and tries to wipe the blood off the... (full context)
Fate, Chance, and Free Will  Theme Icon
Justice and Higher Law Theme Icon
Corruption, Greed, and Power Theme Icon
...and the way his life ended in this place. Then Moss sets out, taking the briefcase with him, and weighing the dangers of his escape. He could be bitten by a... (full context)
Philosophy, Morality, and Ethics Theme Icon
Fate, Chance, and Free Will  Theme Icon
Corruption, Greed, and Power Theme Icon
Inside, Moss finds Carla Jean sitting on the couch. She asks what is in the briefcase. He tells her it is full of money, but she doesn’t believe him. He hides... (full context)
Philosophy, Morality, and Ethics Theme Icon
Fate, Chance, and Free Will  Theme Icon
Corruption, Greed, and Power Theme Icon
...the window toward the highway. He goes back into the bedroom and takes out the briefcase. Opening it, he reaches in and figures that it holds about 2.4 million dollars. He... (full context)
Chapter 2
Philosophy, Morality, and Ethics Theme Icon
Fate, Chance, and Free Will  Theme Icon
Changing Times: Past, Present, and Future Theme Icon
...for him there. She doesn’t believe him at first, and asks what is in the briefcase. He tells her it contains money, and says she doesn’t have a choice about leaving—she... (full context)
Chapter 3
Fate, Chance, and Free Will  Theme Icon
Corruption, Greed, and Power Theme Icon
...him. He takes a nap, and when he wakes up, he decides to hide the briefcase. He unscrews the air duct grille in the wall. He ties a length of cord... (full context)
Chapter 4
Fate, Chance, and Free Will  Theme Icon
Changing Times: Past, Present, and Future Theme Icon
...hangers, and the supplies from the hardware store to make a hook to pull the briefcase through the vent into the new room. (full context)
Fate, Chance, and Free Will  Theme Icon
Changing Times: Past, Present, and Future Theme Icon
As Moss attempts to get the briefcase through the vent, Chigurh drives through the motel parking lot with the tracking device in... (full context)
Philosophy, Morality, and Ethics Theme Icon
Fate, Chance, and Free Will  Theme Icon
Changing Times: Past, Present, and Future Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
Fate, Chance, and Free Will  Theme Icon
Changing Times: Past, Present, and Future Theme Icon
Corruption, Greed, and Power Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
Philosophy, Morality, and Ethics Theme Icon
Fate, Chance, and Free Will  Theme Icon
Changing Times: Past, Present, and Future Theme Icon
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... (full context)
Philosophy, Morality, and Ethics Theme Icon
Corruption, Greed, and Power Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
Chapter 6
Fate, Chance, and Free Will  Theme Icon
Corruption, Greed, and Power Theme Icon
...the money into Mexico it would be gone, but he understands Moss didn’t bring the briefcase over the border. He figures out that it is in the cane on the riverbank. (full context)
Chapter 7
Philosophy, Morality, and Ethics Theme Icon
Justice and Higher Law Theme Icon
Corruption, Greed, and Power Theme Icon
...willing to do anything concerning drugs. Moss tells him they are going to get a briefcase, but there is nothing illegal inside. The man says he likes money, but he likes... (full context)
Fate, Chance, and Free Will  Theme Icon
...takes the bulb from the dome light. Moss goes into the cane and finds the briefcase sitting upright, as if someone had simply placed it there. Back in the cab, the... (full context)
Chapter 8
Philosophy, Morality, and Ethics Theme Icon
Fate, Chance, and Free Will  Theme Icon
Justice and Higher Law Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
Fate, Chance, and Free Will  Theme Icon
Justice and Higher Law Theme Icon
Corruption, Greed, and Power Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
Chapter 9
Philosophy, Morality, and Ethics Theme Icon
Fate, Chance, and Free Will  Theme Icon
Changing Times: Past, Present, and Future Theme Icon
...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... (full context)