In Cormac McCarthy’s novel No Country for Old Men, Anton Chigurh, about a third of the way through Chapter VI (pp. 174-75 of the Vintage paperback) explains to Wells, another paid killer, that he once allowed a deputy sheriff to arrest him:
. . . I was pulled over by a sheriff’s deputy outside of Sonora Texas and I let him take me into town in handcuffs. I’m not sure why I did this but I think I wanted to see if I could extricate myself by an act of will. Because I believe that one can. That such a thing is possible. But it was a foolish thing to do. A vain thing to do.
This passage is significant for a number of reasons, including the following:
- It explains the horrific episode with which the novel opens – the episode in which Chigurh does indeed escape by brutally strangling the deputy with the handcuffs Chigurh had been wearing.
- It helps illustrate Chigurh’s character, which is utterly fearless, self-confident, and daring.
- It helps reveal that Chigurh, besides being evil and vicious, is also an extremely thoughtful and even philosophical man. This combination of brutality and intelligence is part of the fundamental fascination of this fascinating character.
- It shows Chigurh’s capacity for self-criticism. He is not a stupid person. He is capable of making mistakes and of admitting those mistakes. He is not simply a brainless brute.
- It reflects ironically on the present situation of Wells, who realizes that he cannot escape from Chigurh, no matter how much he might will to do so. Instead, Wells, unlike Chigurh, accepts his fate and is indeed anxious to get his death over with.
- The passage makes Chigurgh seem an even more frightening character than he had already seemed. We realize now – even more than we had realized before – that he is a relentless killer who actually welcomes challenges.