Violence, murder, greed, drugs, and coldhearted villains play major roles in McCarthy’s No Country for Old Men. But the theme that ties them together is the pessimistic belief that there is little anyone can do about any of these negative sides of human nature. There is evil in the world, McCarthy’s Sheriff Bell continues to remind readers, and wishing it away just will not get it done. Surprisingly, Bell does not appear to be a cynical man. Neither is he unenthusiastic about life. Rather he comes across as having resigned himself to the inherent evil of human beings.

Three different wars are alluded to in this novel. One could argue that McCarthy uses these wars as background to demonstrate where evil is born. Through warfare, people are taught to hate their enemy enough to kill them. When they come home, that killing instinct remains inside them. This seems especially true of the Vietnam vets, Moss and Wells. Killing is a way to survive, to make money, and to gain power. So when the drug wars take hold in southwestern Texas, Moss and Wells feel quite at home. These characters look at their activity as a sort of game. They are in some kind of championship to see who can outlast and outsmart the other. With a lack of remorse, or what Bell might refer to as a lack of morals, nothing but death can stop them.

Even Bell, who is one of the good guys in this novel, has a dark secret. For as hard as he works to protect his citizens from evil, he recognizes evil inside himself. Or at least, this is how he analyzes his actions when he was in the midst of war. Bell believes that he betrayed his fellow soldiers, when he deserted the soon-to-be-bombed shelter they were all staying in. The other soldiers were all already injured. Bell was the only one not injured in the first attack. He could not rescue the others, so he ran away to save his own skin. This, in Bell’s mind, puts him on the same level as the drug runners. He was weak...

(The entire section is 504 words.)