"I hope it has a nice endin": Rewriting Postmodern Play in Cormac McCarthy's No Country for Old Men
Cormac McCarthy Journal
Playing God In McCarthy's border fiction, games and game playing are often associated with the work of narrative production. The workings of chance concern not only players engaged in parlor games, but also the serious storytellers populating McCarthy's fiction as they carefully-and strategically-craft their tales. McCarthy's narrators construct stories of "biblical gravity" to emphasize issues of life and death-the hallmark, according to McCarthy, of all "good writers" (Woodward, "Venomous").
... owhere in McCarthy's border fiction are the concerns of gaming, death, and narrative production so prevalent as in No Country for Old Men. 1 The plot focuses on Llewelyn Moss, a thirty-six-year-old welder and Vietnam War veteran from Sanderson, Texas, and the various parties searching for him after he accidentally finds the site of a botched heroin deal and a document case containing $2.4 million. The two principle characters in this search are Terrell County Sheriff Ed Tom Bell and a mysterious assassin named Anton Chigurh, whom Bell thinks of as "a true and living prophet of destruction" (No Country for Old Men 4). At the carnage-laden scene of the heroin deal, Moss encounters a wounded man, dehydrated and asking for water. Moss does not have water, nor does he offer the man any other form of succor, but instead continues his examination of the scene, determined to find "the last man standing" (15). A seasoned hunter, Moss successfully tracks the "last man" (whom he finds dead nearby) and recovers the money-filled case. However, once Moss returns home to his nineteen-year old wife, Carla Jean, he suffers a crisis of conscience. Unable to sleep, Moss immediately understands that "it wasnt the money that he woke up about. Are you dead out there? he said. Hell no, you aint dead" (23). After returning to the site of the drug deal-an action admittedly "dumbern hell"-in order to bring water to the dying man, Moss discovers that the situation has changed since his initial visit (24). The dying man has suffered a series of fresh gunshot wounds from drug dealers who presently realize that someone has stolen their money. Discovered at the scene, Moss narrowly escapes-only to be pursued through southwestern Texas and northeastern Mexico. Roger Hodge's poetic conclusion to his essay on McCarthy's fiction effectively describes the tragic tone of No Country for Old Men: "Not all art will comfort us as we age, and McCarthy's least of all. His fiction, like so much of our oldest literature, is tragic, and as such is held together by the very warp of the world" (Hodge 72). In No Country for Old Men, says Hodge, "we witness the drama of householders and peaceful folk who wish to be left alone, but who are drawn into inevitable strife with the world's hidden powers" (72). The novel's villain, Anton Chigurh, embodies the world's "warp" as well as its "hidden powers" and "inevitable strife." A professional killer, Chigurh stalks his prey with a pneumatic weapon described by one deputy as "some sort of thing on him like one of them oxygen tanks for emphysema or whatever. Then he had a hose that run down the inside of his sleeve and went to one of them stunguns like they