No Country for Old Men begins with Llewellyn Moss’s chance discovery of the drug deal gone wrong, and later, the briefcase full of money. From this moment forward, the novel begins posing questions about the function of fate, chance, and free will, and the extent to which human beings have choice in the outcomes of their lives. The novel does not refute the idea of free will. It does, however, recognize its limits. In a large sense, the novel suggests free will can only function within the limits of one’s mortality. We make choices that influence the trajectory of our lives, but ultimately, no matter what route we chose, life ends in death.
Chigurh embodies the idea of universal fate, and becomes the ambassador of the novel’s philosophy on fate and free will. In his interactions with other characters, Chigurh continually suggests that each and every choice we make determines our fate—even small actions bring us toward death. The novel brings forward the idea of chance and luck in connection with choice and free will. Luck and chance account for those elements of reality that exist entirely outside of free will and the power of choice. So while we do have agency over the choices we make, we are unable to control the elements of luck and chance inherent in the journey. Chigurh uses the the coin to demonstrate the way in which our choices determine our fate. The coin serves several functions. The coin toss is an extreme example of the connection between the choices we make and their eventual outcomes. At the same time, the coin represents the presence of chance inherent in the nature of decision-making.
Other characters perceive fate and free will in different ways. Moss continues to exert free will in hopes that he can overcome fate, but ultimately fails in the end. Carson Wells believes he can overcome Chigurh, refusing to admit his choice to pursue Chigurh will lead to his death. In the end, he attempts to reason with Chigurh, indicating his struggle to accept his fate. Both Bell and Carla Jean seem to accept their fates in ways other characters do not. Bell eventually accepts the fact that he is incapable of overcoming Chigurh and the new way of the world he represents, so he retires, which can be read as an acceptance of his fate. Carla Jean also accepts her fate after confronting Chigurh. Finally, even though Chigurh perceives himself as the spokesperson for fate, he is not impervious to the reality of the message he preaches. After he kills Carla Jean, he himself ends up in a car accident—a function of chance or bad luck—and though he survives the accident and escapes, this moment serves as a reminder that nobody is above the randomness of chance inherent in the universe, and nobody escapes their fate.
Fate, Chance, and Free Will ThemeTracker
Fate, Chance, and Free Will Quotes in No Country for Old Men
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.
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?
You can’t make a deal with him. Let me say it again. Even if you gave him the money he’d still kill you. There’s no one alive on this planet that’s ever had even a cross word with him. They’re all dead. These are not good odds. He’s a peculiar man. You could even say that he has principals. Principals that transcend money or drugs or anything like that.
If the rule you followed led you to this of what use was the rule?
You’ve been giving up things for years to get here. I dont think I even understood that. How does a man decide in what order to abandon his life? We’re in the same line of work. Up to a point. Did you hold me in such contempt? Why would you do that? How did you let yourself get in this situation?
Not everyone is suited to this line of work. The prospect of outsized profits leads people to exaggerate their own capabilities. In their minds. They pretend to themselves that they are in control of events where perhaps they are not. And it is always one’s stance upon uncertain ground that invites the attentions of one’s enemies. Or discourages it.
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.