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In Cormac McCarthy’s novel No Country for Old Men, the love between Sheriff Bell and his wife is a major motif of the book. It is stressed in practically every one of the sections in which Bell himself speaks (in italicized prose). At the very end of the opening section of Chapter II, for instance, Bell comments,
My wife wont read the papers no more. She’s probably right. She generally is.
This comment is significant for several reasons, including the following: (1) it shows Bell’s respect for his wife, particulary for her values and intelligence; (2) it shows Bell’s own humility; (3) it shows Bell’s simple, plain-spoken nature; (4) it implies the length and success of Bell’s marriage.
Later, at the beginning of Chapter IV, Bell comments about his wife,
She’s a better person than me, which I will admit to anybody that cares to listen. Not that that’s sayin a whole lot. She’s a better person than anybody I know. Period.
This comment is significant for several reasons, including the following: (1) it shows Bell’s respect for his wife as a moral person, not simply an intelligent person; (2) Bell’s praise of his wife’s morality implies his own strong moral sense; (3) it implies the contrast between the values of Bell’s wife and the lack of values of many of the other characters in the book.
Later still, Bell describes his wife’s generous treatment of prisoners at his jail, particularly the way she feeds them. Later, some prisoners, having reformed their lives thanks in part to his wife’s kindness, would return with their own wives and children:
They didnt come back to see me. I’ve seen em to introduce their wives or their sweethearts and then just go to bawlin. Grown men. That had done some pretty bad things. She knew what she was doin. She always did.
Here as so often in this novel, Bell speaks of his wife with genuine affection and respect. In his mind, she exemplifies all the positive values – including compassion and kindness – so lacking in so many of the other characters in this book. She is an increasingly rare person in the kind of culture the novel depicts.
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