The New Law of the Land

The Monster in No Country For Old Men


  • William Callan BSU DLR



Monsters are tied to what we consider normal or abnormal in our cultures. Jeffrey Cohen’s “monster theory” states that society places its own anxiety or fear of something or someone who breaks cultural expectations into the monsters they create. The fear we have of these monsters makes them incredibly popular in our cultures. In Cormac McCarthy’s No Country For Old Men, the main antagonist and cold-blooded killer Chigurh fits the mold of the monster theory perfectly in many ways. In the novel, after stealing millions of dollars from a drug deal gone awry, Moss is hunted down by Chigurh ruthlessly. He represents both the fear and desire of our societal norms by rejecting all humanity via his brutality; however, he maintains a playfulness when it comes to deciding his victims’ fates, utilizing coin-flipping to determine whether the victims live or die. By looking at Chigurh through the lens of “monster theory,” we see that he fits the mold of the traditional villain in crime fiction stories, while also managing to surprise readers by just how nefarious he really is. Of course, it would be unwise to assume that Chigurh is without humanity; he is often given shockingly human characteristics to ground him in reality, which makes him and the state of lawlessness he brings about all the more terrifying. What we gain by applying monster theory is seeing how a society’s fear of violent crime is personified; it also lets us attempt to reassure ourselves of our own humanity in comparison to the absolute inhumanity of Chigurh. Through Chigurh, McCarthy has created one of the most memorable and remarkable monsters in crime fiction.


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How to Cite

Callan, W. (2023). The New Law of the Land: The Monster in No Country For Old Men. Digital Literature Review, 10(1), 86–94.