What does Cormac McCarthy have to say in No Country for Old Men about the nature of life and the ability to survive and prosper in current times?

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aleighdavis | College Teacher

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To understand what McCarthy may be saying about the nature of life and the ability to survive and prosper, you might look to the individual characters in the novel, the roles they play and the experiences they have had before and during the plot. Death, rather than life, seems to rule the novel. Both Moss and Wells are Vietnam vets, and they each see death as a tool to gain power and money. Sheriff Bell is also a war veteran, and while he is clearly the lucid voice of morality, his war experiences serve to remind him of his own inherent cowardliness and human weakness. Finally Anton Chigurh seem to serve the role of death itself, as he haunts every character and every scene with his inevitability. The novel focuses on characters' responses to facing death in the form of Chigurh, and, as seen with Wells, death seems to reduce all to a state of indignity and reveals people's underlying cowardliness. Carla Jean provides a moment of possible hope, but even she succumbs to the inevitable useless pleading in the face of death. Survival and prosperity in the novel may be more a matter of dignity in the face of inevitable death--a dignity which no one in the novel quite achieves. Bell's dream of his father carrying the fire is an important image here. Do you think the fire is a beacon of hope and dignity, a symbol of deep goodness that is carried for us to follow by those who have walked the path of life before us, and something we can achieve if we seek it? Or do you see it as a beacon of the past, drawing Bell away from life as it has become now, a symbol of the hopelessness of life an dignity in current times?

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