Academic journal article The Cormac McCarthy Journal

Let There Be Blood: The Vein of Vietnam in No Country for Old Men

Academic journal article The Cormac McCarthy Journal

Let There Be Blood: The Vein of Vietnam in No Country for Old Men

Article excerpt

I sent one boy to the gaschamber at Huntsville.... And he told me that he had been plannin to kill somebody for about as long as he could remember. Said that if they turned him out he'd do it again. Said he knew he was goin to hell. Told me that out of his own mouth. I thought I'd never seen a person like that and it got me to wonder if maybe he was some new kind.... What do you say to a man that by his own admission has no soul?

Cormac McCarthy's No Country for Old Men begins with a passionless crime that indicates to SheriffBell that an age is passing around him: men no longer have souls or fear hell. The parable of his narrative rings almost Biblical; it ends with a question that haunts the text, embodied by Anton Chigurh. A new evil has come into the world, and Bell reflects several lines later: "Somewhere out there is a true and living prophet of destruction and I dont want to confront him. I know he's real. I have seen his work" (2). Anyone reading the novel who has also seen the Coen brothers' film adaptation can hear the crag in Tommy Lee Jones's voice-the accent ruptured by uncertainty, looking for a place to call home that used to offer certainty and stability.

We learn in the course of the novel that its action begins in 1980, and so it is not difficult to think of the book as a reflection of post-Vietnam malaise. At the beginning of a fresh decade, 1980 should have represented a chance to move on from the defeat of the American ego that resulted in a disenfranchised class of men.1 Instead, the novel's men have returned to the Texas desert full of of questions and failed aspirations. Seeking the guidance of a prophet, or at the very least, a father, out of the same waste emerges an angel of death who represents "A touch of the exotic. Something beyond Moss's experience" (112). A trinity of a kind emerges and, in the typically McCarthyian way, even the "good" characters present no real challenge to their shadows. They are victims of circumstances that are beyond their worldly control, pawns within a realm of violence that they seem unable to surmount. What Vereen Bell has appropriately coined as McCarthy's talent for "ambiguous nihilism" emerges on the horizon of a novel that is at once a journey and a destination, a tale of war and a narrative of the home front, and a story of the destruction of a group of veterans against the backdrop of the mythical West they helped to create. It is a novel in which God is palpably absent and his chosen people are lost in the abyss. McCarthy plays with the idea of temporal landscape in offering two protagonists: SheriffBell, a World War II veteran who embodies the past, and Llewelyn Moss, a former Vietnam sniper and an embattled figure of the present, as characters diametrically in conflict with Anton Chigurh, a veteran of the Special Forces who represents the world to come.

When Llewelyn Moss is first introduced, he is hunting in the desert like generations of men before him. He notices that "The rocks there were etched with pictographs perhaps a thousand years old. The men who drew them were hunters like himself" (11). By going back into the landscape of the prehistoric man, he keeps the modern world at bay. His life is in the present, but he seeks refuge in the past. While alone in the desert, he does not have to be in a trailer with his wife or answer to those who speculate behind his back about what he had to face in Vietnam. In the desert he finds solitude and a use for his instincts. The desert is a separated place, like a war zone in which distinctions such as class, race, education and other "laws that define the relations of dominance can be foregrounded and tested, in balder and more simplistic terms than would apply with the larger society" (Jeffords 183). Much like a war zone, it is a place that juxtaposes freedom from conventional laws with adherence to a far more primordial law: kill or be killed. When he comes upon a failed drug deal and a circle of dead bodies, his instinct is not to help the man who is bleeding out in his truck, but to follow the trail of blood which leads to the victor. …

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