How can I use a historical lens to interpret No Country for Old Men?

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The historical contexts of recent American wars are underlying themes in Cormac McCarthy’s 2005 novel No Country for Old Men. Sheriff Ed Tom Bell is a veteran of World War II, while welder Llewelyn Moss and hit-man Carson Wells each served in Vietnam. Parallels can be drawn between the characterizations of these men, who have been shaped by the wars in which they fought.

Sheriff Bell’s intense contemplation of the gravity of the crimes he attempts to solve is matched by the shame he feels for abandoning his unit in WWII. His character’s presence is marked by a sense of duty and honor brought to an extreme by his need to do as much as possible to make up for his actions in war.

Llewelyn Moss’s character could be described as representing the public image of the Vietnam war as a conflict which was self-serving and foolhardy. His character would have been completely separate from the plot had he not decided to take advantage of an already dangerous situation for monetary gain.

Carson Wells is a rival hit-man to the novel’s more well-known Anton Chigurh. His character also served in Vietnam, though his characterization is likely less symbolic than that of Llewelyn Moss. His status as an opposing force for the novel’s mysterious and foreign antagonist could be viewed as symbolizing the heavy-handed but sometimes necessary force of military power. While as much of an antagonistic character as Chigurh, he is considered far less terrifying because his character type and motivations are more easily recognizable.

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