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No Country for Old Men: an Exemplary Adaptation of a Novel

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The United States Southern border has always been quite a mess. In the year 1836, Texas gained independence from Mexico and became its own State. However, this led to border disputes and issues between the two governments. Ten years later, in 1846, a similar issue arose. This time, the United States and Mexico came to many other disagreements. These conflicts led to the Mexican American War. After the war, the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo (Officially titled as the Treaty of Peace, Friendship, Limits and Settlement between the United States of America and the Mexican Republic) stated that the Texas – Mexico border was marked by the Rio Grande.

Today, a bigger issue has been brought to the public’s attention. The Southern border has become a hotspot for murders, human trafficking, and drug trafficking. Drug trafficking issues began with former Mexican Judicial Federal Police agent Miguel Ángel Félix Gallardo (‘The Godfather’). He founded the Guadalajara Cartel in the 1980s and controlled a considerable amount of human trafficking as well as drug trading between the Mexico – U.S border. Other well known Cartel leaders such as Pablo Escobar and El Chapo also smuggled in their own drugs such as cocaine, heroine, and marijuana. Cartels such as the one that Mr. Gallardo and Escobar were apart of brought huge waves of crime to the United States endangering United States citizens in the area as well as bringing unneeded “goods” into the nation. Unfortunately, the issues that came from these cartel leaders became so immense that law enfoprcement officials began to struggle to keep the Southern States’ citizens safe. Firefights would break out at border cities endangering people and small businesses around. For almost the last forty years, the United States and Mexico have been fighting this new wave of crime and they haven’t been able to stop it.

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Publish in 2005, Cormac McCarthy’s novel, No Country for Old Men, issues such as these were the setting of this literary artwork. Set in the Texas – Mexico border in the 1980s and originally written as a screenplay, it covers the story of three main characters, Sheriff Bell, the sheriff of the county, a good man who turned to greed named Llewelyn Moss, and lastly Anton Chigurh, a man who even the devil would be afraid of. Llewelyn Moss stumbles upon a few trucks surrounded by dead men. He finds two million dollars and a stash of heroin in the back of one of the trucks. So he decides to take the money and set off however after doing so, Llewelyn Moss sets of a huge chain of events that even the law cannot control. In Cormac McCarthy’s novel, No Country for Old Men, the theme of an individual’s wants and needs leads to greed and how the outcome of greed can affect the people around you.

The novel, No Country for Old Men, had received a ton of criticism after it was published. Writers from news paper articles, such as the New York Times and the Vulture were astonished at the amazing work that McCarthy had created. In the article Remembering No Country for Old Men 10 years later, from Vulture and written by Adam Sternbergh, Sternbergh was perplexed by the type of writing style that Cormac McCarthy had used and discusses how McCarthy uses his writing style to create a masterful piece of a novel which also does an excellent job of becoming a film adaptation.

According to Sternberg’s article, No Country for Old Men 10 years later, while McCarthy was writing his novel, his book had “already been sold to the producer Scott Rudin, so perhaps it is easier to think of it as a script than as a novel.” This was an interesting approach in McCarthy’s writing style. Because McCarthy had written his novel in a cinematic and scripted style, he received loads amount of criticism about his book.

To then create a stronger argument against McCarthy’s strange and peculiar writing style, Sternbergh states that McCarthy’s novel followed the same usual plot lines and ideas. These include “the impeccability of fate; the depths of our darker human tendencies; and how we chart (or don’t) a moral path in a lawless landscape under the specter of death.” Because McCarthy’s novels usually follow this same type of story, it leads to some critics to believe that McCarthy’s novel was boring and at its lowest point, “unimportant”.

However, Sternbergh does not only criticise against McCarthy’s novel. He also compliments it as well. He states that even though there are some issues with McCarthy’s writing style, No Country did an amazing job at completing a wonderful story for a novel. Sternbergh states that when we look at No Country and what is was supposed to accomplish as a novel (“to graft the flesh of his novelistic obsessions onto the skeleton of a genre story line) it was extremely successful, almost perfect, and should not be counted as an un important novel.”

I find Sternberg’s analysis slightly flawed. Even though the novel could be hard to follow or read at times, McCarthy’s style of writing allowed for a better and more engaging reader to author connection. During the reading, the cinematic and scripted style of writing allows for the reader to also better connect with the characters of the novel. This connecting between the two is what makes or breaks a novel. You can’t have a good novel without these necessities. Something that I think was overlooked in this analysis that should have been talked about was McCarthy’s use of old southern tone and diction. The way McCarthy described places and scenes in No Country for Old Men almost felt like I was reading an old western novel. Again, his completely different use of western tone and diction allowed him to better connect with the reader and create a more compelling story.

“The deputy left Chigurh standing in the corner of the office with his hands cuffed behind him while he sat in the swivel chair and took off his hat and put his feet up and called Lamar on the mobile. Just walked in the door. Sheriff he had some sort of thing on him like one of them oxygen tanks for emphysema or whatever. Then he had a hose that run down the inside of his sleeve and went to one of them stun guns like they use at the slaughterhouse. Yessir. Well that’s what it looks like. You can see it when you get in. Yessir. I got it covered. Yessir. When he stood up out of the chair he swung the keys off his belt and opened the locked desk drawer to get the keys to the jail. He was slightly bent over when Chigurh squatted and scooted his manacled hands beneath him to the back of his knees. In the same motion he sat and rocked backward and passed the chain under his feet and then stood instantly and effortlessly. If it looked like a thing he’d practiced many times – it was. He dropped his cuffed hands over the deputy’s head and leaped into the air and slammed both knees against the back of the deputy’s neck and hauled back on the chain. They went to the floor. The deputy was trying to get his hands inside the chain but he could not. Chigurh lay there pulling back on the bracelets with his knees between his arms and his face averted. The deputy was flailing wildly and he’d begun to walk sideways over the floor in a circle, kicking over the wastebasket, kicking the chair across the room. He kicked shut the door and he wrapped the throw rug in a wad about them. He was gurgling and bleeding from the mouth. He was strangling on his own blood. Chigurh only hauled the harder. The nickel plated cuffs bit to the bone. The deputy’s right carotid artery burst and a jet of blood shot across the room and hit the wall and ran down it. The deputy’s legs slowed and then stopped. He lay jerking. Then he stopped moving altogether. Chigurh lay breathing quietly, holding him. When he got up he took the keys from the deputy’s belt and released himself and put the deputy’s revolver in the waistband of his trousers and went into the bathroom.” (5-6)

In this selection of the novel, McCarthy describes a grim and morbid scene between Chigurh and a deputy. McCarthy’s use of dark tone solidifies the themes found in the novel: inflexibility of fate, the darkness of human inclination, and how mankind creates its own moral path. These themes are repeated through the entirety of the book, however there are only a few times when they come together to create such a drastic event such as the one seen in the passage above.

In this piece, McCarthy uses cinematic syntax and dark tone to convey the horrid event that transpired be Chigurh and the deputy. Because McCarthy wrote No Country for Old Men more as a hollywood script, he had to focus more on details to ensure that producers knew what occured in the novel. This focus to detail allowed for a perfect depiction of events, such as the killing of the deputy. As stated in the passage during the fight they kicked, ”over the wastebasket, kicking the chair across the room”. They later go into greater detail in the death of the deputy and how he, “was strangling on his own blood” and how his “right carotid artery” burst. These depictions of the fight scene allows for the readers to better understand the story the author is attempting to convey.

In addition to his use of cinematic syntax, McCarthy uses a dark tone to better convey the themes found in No Country for Old Men. This dark tone is clearly stated during the attack made by Chigurh. McCarthy used morbid scenes such as, “he lay jerking”, “stopped moving”, and “blood shot across the room”. These dark scenes continue to portray McCarthy’s somber mood and support his themes of inflexibility of fate and the darkness of human inclination. This connection between the themes and morbid setting is clearly seen. As the deputy was laying on the ground dead after Chigurh had murdered him, we see how human nature is inclined to this darkness. We also see how the police officer fought for his life, however he is not in control of fate and can not change the outcome of his senario.

Because this scene is set at the beginning of the novel, it is important to understand what McCarthy is trying to convey to the reader through it. The Author’s use of dark tone and cinematic syntax sets hows the reader depicts the rest of the novel. Especially in the later scenes such as when Moss and Chigurh meet as well as when Moss and Mr. Wells meet. The dark and somber mood from the first scene is then transferred to the rest of the novel. Therefore, these uses of morbid tone and descriptive detail allowed McCarthy to better convey the themes about No Country for Old Men such as inflexibility of fate, the darkness of human inclination, and how mankind creates its own moral path.

In conclusion, the United States southern border has been part of a controversial topic in our society. However, with the open land and barren landscape, many western writers love to use this area for their novels. In the 2005 novel written by Cormac McCarthy, No Country for Old Men, the main character is set in the Southern Texas border. After reading No Country for Old Men, I view it as a literary and later, a cinematic masterpiece. No Country for Old Men’s deep and yet complex themes of: the flexibility of fate, the darkness of human inclination, and how mankind creates its own moral path; as well as its round and well developed characters allow it to be an amazing novel. What made the novel amazing for me was the cinematic writing style and western language. Some critics viewed this as an issue and did not think that a well acclaimed novel should have numerous writing errors and western language and not elegant language. Even though there were some issues in McCarthy’s confusing writing style, such as the ones pointed out in Sternberg’s article, “No Country for Old Men 10 years later.” McCarthy’s “cinematic” writing style, seems to be a style of writing that allowed for a more in-depth view of what was occurring through the entirety of the novel. The attention to detail that McCarthy had was something that most modern novels lack and something that should be incorporated back into today’s writing. By being able to see more details it was easier for the reader to understand and identify the literary novels themes. Therefore, this novel’s writing style is not only something that modern novels should adopt but should accept. This adoption of a new writing style would allow for more all novels to be more universal and easier to understand. (Something that I think many novels lack.) Lastly, this novel highlighted the themes of fate, morals, and the sinful nature of man and attempted to prove how mankind has no control over their own fate.

There are many poems that can relate to the novel, No Country for Old Men. However, the poem that seemed to fit the novel’s setting as well as it’s characters best was Backdrop Addresses Cowboy written by Margaret Atwood. In Atwood’s poem the speaker almost views the lone ranger cowboy as bad or even evil. Atwood states, “you leave behind… a trail of desolation.” As the cowboy goes on his adventures, the speaker, also the backdrop or the setting of the poem, talked about the unfortunate and upsetting repercussion of the Cowboy’s actions. As the Cowboy does what he deems right or when he goes after what he wants, the trail of terror that he is leaving behind is treacherous. He leaves behind “beer bottles”, “bird skulls” and “bones” in the wake of him trying to reach heroic fame. Later Atwood continues and writes how the Cowboy has one goal in mind, one that he cannot reach. “What about I, confronting you on the border, the thing you are always trying to cross.” These few lines from the poem highlight how Atwood views the Cowboy always going after what he wants. He never looks at the damage he causes around. Lastly, Atwood writes “I am the horizon you ride towards, the thing you can never lasso.” Atwood uses this line in an effort to show how the Cowboy tries so hard to find what is missing in his life, however the life that he lives will never allow him to capture what he is missing. In other words, he will never find the secret to his life. He can try and try but his efforts will always be in vain.

The way the poem defines the Cowboy is very similar to the character of Llewelyn Moss and his character arc through the novel No Country for Old Men. The author, Cormac McCarthy, depicts Llewelyn Moss as a poor country man who loves adventure. Once Moss found the stash of money, he did not care what he had to do to keep the money for himself and his wife. The actions of the Cowboy in Atwood’s poem are directly comparable to the actions of Llewelyn Moss. Just like how the Cowboy left behind a mess of beer bottles and bones, Llewelyn left behind is own kind of mess. As Moss tries to outrun Chigurh, he ends up affecting many lives around him. These include Southern Texas border towns being in danger from firefights, innocent people losing their lives including Moss’s wife, Carla Jean, and countless others through the entirety of the novel. Moss’s stubborn characteristics led him to chase something he can not catch. Just like the Cowboy from Atwood’s poem. As Moss’s tries and tries again, he can’t ever get away from Chigurh. Moss’s attempt to run after the money is a direct reflection of the issues the Cowboy faced. Moss wanted to find something that would make him happy in life, however, his quest for happiness was over something that was not tangible by the lifestyle that he lived. In conclusion, Llewelyn Moss’s character and the Cowboy from Atwood’s poem, Backdrop Addresses Cowboy, both share a stubborn and driven motivation to reach something that is not tangible, however, they do not realize the wake of destruction that they leave behind.


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