No Country for Old Men

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The Coin Symbol Icon
Chigurh often tosses a coin before killing his victims. He uses the coin as a tool to demonstrate his philosophy of life, especially the ways in which fate, chance, and free will function in determining the outcome of one’s life. The novel posits the existence of free will, but only within the limits of one’s mortality—we make choices, but each choice, no matter the outcome, takes us closer to death. The fact that Chigurh forces his victims to choose in the coin toss speaks to the way in which we can only make choices within the limits of our own mortality, even though people don’t recognize this fact. We do not have a choice over our death. The coin accounts for the function of chance and choice in this journey toward death. In one sense, the act of choosing heads or tails is a hyperbolic example of the way in which each and every choice we make has outcomes, which lead us toward our end. Chigurh uses the coin to teach those he confronts that the smallest action—the toss of a coin—can have severe consequences down the road. The chance involved in the coin toss also speaks to the impossibility of know what outcomes our choices will be. Life forces us to make decisions, but we can never predict the outcome because chance is a factor that cannot be accounted for.

The Coin Quotes in No Country for Old Men

The No Country for Old Men quotes below all refer to the symbol of The Coin. 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 2 Quotes

Anything can be an instrument, Chigurh said. Small things. Things you wouldnt even notice. They pass from hand to hand. People dont pay attention. And then one day there is an accounting. And after that nothing is the same…you see the problem. To separate the act from the thing. As if parts of some moment in history might be interchangeable with the parts of some other moment. How could that be? Well, it’s just a coin. Yes. That’s true. Is it?

Related Characters: Anton Chigurh (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Coin
Page Number: 57
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Anton Chigurh, the novel's main antagonist, challenges a man to bet on the outcome of a coin toss. Chigurh spares the man's life, it's strongly implied, because the man correctly guesses the result of the toss. Chigurh gives the man a flavor of his life philosophy: as he sees it, major events can be determined by the tiniest of events. Here, for example, a man's life has been spared due to something as minor as a coin flip. Chigurh leaves the man to puzzle over his own fate: was it destiny that led him to correctly predict the toss, sparing his own life? Or was it just random chance?

The themes Chigurh raises in this passage are crucial to the plot of the novel. Chigurh seems like the embodiment of evil, and yet he also seems to abide by a strict moral code that respects the basic uncertainty of the universe. Instead of choosing to kill his victim, Chigurh honors the results of the coin toss. Even if he's dangerous, Chigurh himself is just a cog in the "machine" of life--as we'll come to see, he has no real control over his own fate.

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Chapter 9 Quotes

Every moment in your life is a turning and every one a choosing. Somewhere you made a choice. All followed to this. The accounting is scrupulous. The shape is drawn. No line can be erased. I had no believe in your ability to move a coin to your bidding. How could you? A Person’s path through the world seldom changes and even more seldom will it change abruptly. And the shape of your path was visible from the beginning.

Related Characters: Anton Chigurh (speaker), Carla Jean Moss
Related Symbols: The Coin
Page Number: 259
Explanation and Analysis:

In this disturbing scene, Anton Chigurh tracks down Carla Jean and prepares to murder her, claiming that Llewellyn Moss has doomed her by refusing to part with his money. He gives her the chance to save her life by flipping a coin--when Carla Jean makes the wrong call, Chigurh prepares to shoot her. Before dying, Carla Jean asks Chigurh how he can choose whether or not to kill someone based on a simple coin toss.

Chigurh offers Carla Jean a long, contradictory explanation for his own behavior. As Chigurh sees it, humans go through life with free will--they exercise their freedom thousands of times. And yet all these free choices can't save a human being from the inevitable act of dying, which no one can choose to escape. Chigurh sees himself as an executor of fate, neither good nor evil. Paradoxically, he describes Carl Jean's death as both fated and a product of her free will: she "made a choice" that led her here, and yet cannot escape her predetermined fate ("visible from the beginning") in the present moment.

Chigurh's philosophy, in short, is contradictory and baffling. What makes Chigurh so maddening is that Chigurh himself refuses to exercise any free will: he just lives out his dark philosophy, obeying his own word and the "law of the coin toss."

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The Coin Symbol Timeline in No Country for Old Men

The timeline below shows where the symbol The Coin appears in No Country for Old Men. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 2
Philosophy, Morality, and Ethics Theme Icon
Fate, Chance, and Free Will  Theme Icon
Justice and Higher Law Theme Icon
Chigurh asks the proprietor about the most he’s ever lost in a coin toss. The man says people don’t generally bet on coin tosses, but use them to... (full context)
Philosophy, Morality, and Ethics Theme Icon
Fate, Chance, and Free Will  Theme Icon
...has been putting it up his entire life. He tells the man the date on the coin is 1958, meaning the coin has been traveling twenty-two years to get there. Now it... (full context)
Philosophy, Morality, and Ethics Theme Icon
Fate, Chance, and Free Will  Theme Icon
Justice and Higher Law Theme Icon
Changing Times: Past, Present, and Future Theme Icon
Chigurh tells the proprietor well done and hands him the coin , telling him it’s his lucky coin. The man moves to put the coin in... (full context)
Chapter 9
Philosophy, Morality, and Ethics Theme Icon
Fate, Chance, and Free Will  Theme Icon
Justice and Higher Law Theme Icon
Chigurh pulls a coin from his pocket and holds it up for Carla Jean to see. He wants her... (full context)