In Cormac McCarthy's novel No Country for Old Men, how does the author's use of imagery and symbolism create or reveal theme?

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vangoghfan | College Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

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One example of an effective use of imagery and symbolism in Cormac McCarthy’s novel No Country for Old Men occurs near the end of Chapter I when Moss is hiding in the desert from a truck with armed killers in it who are pursuing him:

He flattened himself in the rocks. In addition to the other bad news his thoughts ran to scorpions and rattlesnakes. The spotlight kept rowing back and forth across the face of the ridge. Methodically. Bright shuttle, dark loom. He didnt move.

The opening sentence here foreshadows Moss’s efforts to hide himself throughout the book. His hiding here, then, symbolizes his constant hiding later in the novel. The fact that he hides himself by lying on rocks can be taken to symbolize the pain and discomfort he will suffer as he tries to conceal himself later in the book. If he were hiding here by lying on soft sand, his life would seem both literally and symbolically softer and less hard. His fear of scorpions and rattlesnakes symbolizes the dangers he faces here (and will face later) from natural threats. However, such threats will prove far less dangerous to him than threats from other humans. The constant alteration of light and darkness here may symbolize the alteration of good (associated with Bell) and evil (associated with Chigurh) in this novel. The idea that light can be dangerous is one of the many paradoxes evident in this book. Finally, the allusion to a shuttle and loom symbolizes the theme of fate that seems such a major motif in No Country for Old Men.

 

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