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No Country for Old Men (Vintage International)


No Country for Old Men (Vintage International) Cover

ISBN13: 9780307387134
ISBN10: 0307387135
Condition: Standard
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Reading Group Guide

1. The title of the novel comes from William Butler Yeats's poem "Sailing to Byzantium": "That is no country for old men, the young / In one another's arms, birds in the trees, /—Those dying generations—at their song." The poem also contains the lines: "An aged man is but a paltry thing, / A tattered coat upon a stick, / Unless soul clap its hands and sing, and louder sing / For every tatter in its mortal dress." Why has McCarthy chosen a line from Yeats' poem for his title? In what ways is No Country for Old Men about aging? Does Sheriff Bell experience any kind of spiritual rejuvenation as he ages?

2. McCarthy has a distinctive prose style—pared down, direct, colloquial—and he relies on terse, clipped dialogue rather than narrative exposition to move his story along. Why is this style so powerful and so well-suited to the story he tells in No Country for Old Men?

3. Early in the novel, after Bell surveys the carnage in the desert, he tells Lamar: "I just have this feelin we're looking at something we really aint never even seen before" [p. 46]. In what way is the violence Sheriff Bell encounters different than what has come before? Is Anton Chigurh a new kind of killer? Is he a "true and living prophet of destruction," [p. 4] as Bell thinks? In what ways does he challenge Bell's worldview and values?

4. After Llewelyn finds the money and comes home, he decides to go back to the scene of the crime. He tells his wife: "I'm fixin to go do somethin dumbern hell but I'm goin anways" [p. 24]. Why does he go back, even though he knows it is a foolish and dangerous thing to do? What are the consequences of this decision?

5. When asked about the rise in crime in his county, Bell says that "It starts when you begin to overlook bad manners. Any time you quit hearin Sir and Mam the end is pretty much in sight" [p. 304]. Is he right about this? Why would deteriorating manners signal a larger social chaos?

6. How can Anton Chigurh's behavior be explained? What motivates him to kill so methodically and heartlessly? How does he regard the people he kills?

7. Llewellyn tells the young woman he picks up hitchhiking: "Things happen to you they happen. They don't ask first. They dont require your permission" [p. 220]. Have things simply happened to Llewellyn or does he play a more active role in his fate? Does his life in fact seem fated?

8. What motivates Sheriff Bell? Why does he feel so protective of Llewellyn and his wife? In what ways does Sheriff Bell's past, particularly his war experience, affect his actions in the present?

9. McCarthy will often tell the reader that one of his characters is "thinking things over" without revealing what the character is thinking about [see p. 107]. Most novelists describe in great detail what their characters are thinking and feeling. Why does McCarthy choose not to do this? What does he gain by leaving such information out?

10. Sheriff Bell says, "The stories gets passed on and the truth gets passed over. . . . Which I reckon some would take as meanin the truth cant compete. But I don't believe that. I think that when the lies are all told and forgot the truth will be there yet. . . . You cant corrupt it any more than you can salt salt" [p. 123]. What incorruptible truths emerge from the story that McCarthy tells in No Country for Old Men?

11. In the italicized sections of the novel, Sheriff Bell reflects on what he feels is the moral decline and growing violence of the world around him. What is the moral code that Bell lives by? What are his strongest beliefs? How has he acquired these beliefs?

12. Jeffery Lent, writing in The Washington Post Book World, described No Country for Old Men as "profoundly disturbing" ["Blood Money," The Washington Post Book World, July 17, 2005]. What is it about the story that McCarthy tells and the way he tells it that is so unsettling?

13. Near the end of the novel, Bell says: "I think we are all of us ill prepared for what is to come and I dont care what shape it takes" [p. 295]. What kind of future is Bell imagining? Why does he think we are not ready for it? How can No Country for Old Men be understood as an apocalyptic novel?

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scottharrison, April 1, 2014 (view all comments by scottharrison)
No Country for Old Men
No Country for Old Men is set in the dusty plateaus of west Texas, where the main protagonist Llewellyn Moss happens upon a Mexican Drug deal gone wrong. He finds a brief case with northward of two million inside and makes the rash decision to take the money. Then the inherently moral Ed Tom Bell and psychopathic killer Anton Chigurh struggle to determine the fate of Llewellyn. McCarthy shapes this struggle with his blunt writing style and pessimistic tone, all the while illustrating that no matter how hard we try, evil will always exist in society.
This novel is set sometime in the late 1970’s or early 1980’s, the date is not specifically mentioned, but it can be inferred by the setting. McCarthy describes the landscape in detail “to the west the baked terracotta terrain of the running borderlands.” However, he does not describe the urban environments in much detail. This gives the reader the perception that the time period is much earlier than is really is.
McCarthy utilizes a very blunt but effective writing style throughout this novel. Scenes that other authors pour details and emotion into, McCarthy would approach with a simplistic style. For example “He looked at Chigurh. He looked at the new day paling all about. Chigurh shot him through the head and then stood watching.” This line exemplifies with graphic detail how blunt McCarthy can be. The novel is also set up in a unique structural manner. There are thirteen chapters, but before each chapter there is a preface by Ed Tom Bell. Generally this preface sheds light on some aspect of Bell’s life that he regrets or provides a glimpse at the reasons Bell feels society is failing. For example “Once you quit hearing ‘sir’ and ‘ma’am’, the rest is soon to follow.”(302), this is a good representation of the pessimistic tone present throughout the novel.
The plot of No Country for Old Men is fairly straight forward. Llewellyn Moss, an ex-Vietnam sniper, stumbles upon a Mexican Drug deal, while hunting antelope on the plateaus of west Texas. Everybody is dead or near death; Llewellyn finds the last man standing holed up underneath a tree about a mile away. The man was shot through the side and had long since been dead, with him a briefcase with around two million inside, “there was a heavy leather document case standing upright alongside the dead man’s knee and Moss absolutely knew what was in the case and he was scared in a way he didn't even understand.”(17). What Moss didn't understand was that his next decision was the deciding factor in his life. The rest of the plot plays through Moss’s choice to take the money. He is ruthlessly hunted by both the cartel and Chigurh. Moss severely underestimates the people after him and pays for it dearly.
McCarthy had two main goals in mind when writing this novel; the first is that although times have changed, the west is still the west. Violence and illegal activity will always be ingrained in the culture. The second is that as hard as people might try, true evil will exist as long as humanity does. In some ways these two ideas are similar, but they can be looked at differently. The “Old West” is characterized by gunfights, gold mining and adventure. People in our time look back on the “Old West” with nostalgia, however, the reality is that people in that time did not feel the same way we do. It’s likely they felt their lives were hard and dangerous. Our modern west is really not that different. Gold mining has been replaced by drug trafficking and gunfights with murder. In one hundred years people will probably look back on our west with the same nostalgia we have now. McCarthy hammers this idea home in all respects with this novel; there are drug deals, murders and even the rare modern day gunfight. All the while Moss is on the adventure of a life time akin to the outlaws of the past. The second main point is addressed solely by the character of Anton Chigurh. He’s as cold a psychopathic killer as literature has seen and in this novel seemingly invincible. Chigurh is shot multiple times and hit by a car but miraculously survives. The reader wants him to die and fail in his quest during the entire novel, but he never does. He represents the way that evil can never truly be destroyed. You can lock up as many criminals as possible, but new ones will rise to take their place. This main idea along with Bell’s prefaces develops the pessimistic tone of the novel. Chigurh is the very definition of death and destruction, so whenever he’s present there’s a feeling of despair. This coupled with the overly negative connotation of all Bell’s prefaces forms the pessimistic tone.
Cormac McCarthy’s No Country for Old Men is a modern day twist on the traditional western novel. It covers some of the major problems with society today, such as drug use and violence. The novel teaches valuable lessons on the existence of violence in American culture. Overall this book can have a powerful effect on any reader, but is not for the faint of heart.
Scott Harrison
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Product Details

McCarthy, Cormac
Vintage Books USA
Drug traffic
Psychological fiction
Suspense fiction
Literature-A to Z
fiction;crime;texas;novel;western;drugs;thriller;american;violence;murder;literature;usa;mexico;21st century;suspense;american literature;movie;mystery;mccarthy;american fiction;crime fiction;20th century;contemporary fiction;money;2000s;drug traffic;amer
fiction;crime;texas;novel;western;drugs;thriller;american;violence;murder;literature;usa;mexico;21st century;suspense;american literature;movie;mystery;mccarthy;american fiction;crime fiction;20th century;contemporary fiction;money;2000s;drug traffic;amer
fiction;crime;texas;novel;western;drugs;thriller;american;violence;murder;literature;usa;mexico;21st century;suspense;american literature;movie;mystery;mccarthy;american fiction;crime fiction;20th century;contemporary fiction;money;2000s;drug traffic;amer
Edition Description:
Trade paper
Vintage International
Publication Date:
Grade Level:
8.03x5.18x.69 in. .52 lbs.

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No Country for Old Men (Vintage International) Used Trade Paper
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Product details 320 pages Vintage Books USA - English 9780307387134 Reviews:
"Staff Pick" by ,

No Country for Old Men includes both familiar and uncharted territory for Cormac McCarthy. His prose is lean and cadenced, but his formidable characters and intricate plot are as rich as ever. This is a novel of uncompromising beauty and power -- one of McCarthy's finest.

"Staff Pick" by ,

No Country for Old Men includes both familiar and uncharted territory for Cormac McCarthy. His prose is lean and cadenced, but his formidable characters and intricate plot are as rich as ever. This is a novel of uncompromising beauty and power -- one of McCarthy's finest.

"Staff Pick" by ,

This may not be Cormac McCarthy's best book, or even one of the best books of the year (in fact, its construction is a bit incoherent), yet I remain a sucker for the peculiar blend of melancholy and savagery that permeates all of McCarthy's work. Frightening, depressing, bleak: don't miss it.

"Publishers Weekly Review" by , "Seven years after Cities of the Plain brought his acclaimed Border Trilogy to a close, McCarthy returns with a mesmerizing modern-day western. In 1980 southwest Texas, Llewelyn Moss, hunting antelope near the Rio Grande, stumbles across several dead men, a bunch of heroin and $2.4 million in cash. The bulk of the novel is a gripping man-on-the-run sequence relayed in terse, masterful prose as Moss, who's taken the money, tries to evade Wells, an ex-Special Forces agent employed by a powerful cartel, and Chigurh, an icy psychopathic murderer armed with a cattle gun and a dangerous philosophy of justice. Also concerned about Moss's whereabouts is Sheriff Bell, an aging lawman struggling with his sense that there's a new breed of man (embodied in Chigurh) whose destructive power he simply cannot match. In a series of thoughtful first-person passages interspersed throughout, Sheriff Bell laments the changing world, wrestles with an uncomfortable memory from his service in WWII and — a soft ray of light in a book so steeped in bloodshed — rejoices in the great good fortune of his marriage. While the action of the novel thrills, it's the sensitivity and wisdom of Sheriff Bell that makes the book a profound meditation on the battle between good and evil and the roles choice and chance play in the shaping of a life. Agent, Amanda Urban. (July)" Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Review A Day" by , "[A] taut thriller that not only holds, but also rewards, close attention....'There's no such thing as life without bloodshed,' McCarthy said 13 years ago in a rare interview. And like his character Moss, McCarthy can't help peeking. The constant question underlying his fiction is how we are to live on in the face of this knowledge." (read the entire Salon.com review)
"Review" by , "Shades of Dostoyevsky, Hemingway, and Faulkner resonate in McCarthy's blend of lyrical narrative, staccato dialogue, and action-packed scenes splattered with bullets and blood."
"Review" by , "In his latest novel, McCarthy stumbles headlong into self-parody....McCarthy lays out his rancorous worldview with all the nuance and subtlety of conservative talk radio....A made-for-television melodrama filled with guns and muscle cars..."
"Review" by , "[A]n entertaining novel from one of our best writers. Often seen as a fabulist and an engineer of dark morality tales, McCarthy is first a storyteller."
"Review" by , "No Country for Old Men would easily translate to the big screen so long as Bell's tedious, long-winded monologues were left on the cutting room floor — a move that would also have made this a considerably more persuasive novel."
"Review" by , "With his stripped-down Marlboro Man prose, Cormac McCarthy knows how to write a bang-up Western thriller. But when he strives for grand mythic effect in the second half...his taut, suspenseful story quickly heads south. (Grade: B)"
"Review" by , "Mr. McCarthy is smart to keep this book short and swift. After all, one can only sit through so many...speeches before retreating into numbness. But the question remains: Should a McCarthy novel be this easy to read?"
"Review" by , "Mr. McCarthy's story is so exquisitely harrowing that the reader can forget to breathe. But it's Sheriff Bell's private meditations interspersed between the chapters that give it its heft and soul."
"Review" by , "You will not be able to put it down — the storytelling is thrilling and terrifying. But you will come away from the reading experience with something more than Grisham or Crichton or any other genre writer can provide — a look into the darkest places of the human heart."
"Review" by , "[N]asty fun...a darting movie-ready narrative that rips along like hell on wheels....Such sinister high hokum might be ridiculous if McCarthy didn't keep it moving faster than the reader can pause to think about it."
"Review" by , "Of course two-thirds of a great book is more than we'll ever expect of most writers, but with McCarthy we've learned to set the bar higher, and by that standard No Country for Old Men, while riveting for much of its length, in the end falls short."
"Review" by , "The pace is deliberately grim and airless — the book has little of the space and quiet that resonated beneath All the Pretty Horses and The Crossing. As a result, the murders are numbing rather than moving..."
"Review" by , "While No Country for Old Men surely will be welcomed as a worthy addition to border literature, it can't compete with the vast claim previous McCarthy novels have staked in that rapidly expanding territory."
"Review" by , "No plot summary will do this novel justice. There is plenty of action. Readers may need a flow chart to keep track, but the mystery is more than enough to keep any reader panting. Some of the spare, swift dialog is profound and some is wonderfully comic."
"Review" by , "[A] heated story that brands the reader's mind as if seared by a knife heated upon campfire flames. [McCarthy] is nothing less than our greatest living writer, and this is a novel that must be read and remembered..."
"Review" by , "Despite McCarthy's trademark laconic, well-tuned style, the novel reads much like any number of crime thrillers now on the market....What's missing are the depth and nuances of emotion found in McCarthy's trilogy, particularly All The Pretty Horses."
"Synopsis" by , In No Country for Old Men, Cormac McCarthy simultaneously strips down the American crime novel and broadens its concerns to encompass themes as ancient as the Bible and as bloodily contemporary as this mornings headlines.
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