Saturday, September 15, 2012

Two Thoughts on the Violence in "No Country for Old Men"

1. In Blood Meridian, violence is something eternal, mythic, and something that saturates America’s history. In metaphysical and historical terms, violence is always. It is strange to me that the author of Blood Meridian would engage in so much “everything is so much worse and more violent now than it used to be and why doesn’t everybody see that?” sort of thing in No Country for Old Men. Sheriff Bell, the moral compass and regular voice of the novel, is defined by his sadness for what he sees as increasing violence and decreasing morals. Of course it is possible McCarthy wants readers to recognize something off in Bell’s thinking: the title points to it, perhaps, some of Bells thinking is muddled and contradictory, and later in the novel even he seems to realize this. But I find the tone of decline (even nostalgia) pretty overwhelming.

 2. In No Country for Old Men, I do not see any clear lines between evil killing and a moral, justified killing. Violence is human-destroying, in crime and murder, in war, in the death penalty. And it is interesting that in this novel so much about killing and so full of its burden, violence against animals comes up again and again as part of this continuum. Moss starts the novel hunting: it is while trying to kill antelope with a gun that he discovers the scene of a terrible gunfight and enters into a conflict where he will shoot at people and be shot. Chigurh uses a cattle stun gun to break locks and occasionally to murder. Bell’s explanation of how cattle are killed at a slaughterhouse horrifies his deputy. And while driving, Chigurh rolls down his window to shoot at a bird for no clear reason.  A novel saturated with violence and the ways violence can creep into the everyday does not turn away from a violence that is ingrained in society.