No Country for Old Men: a search for masculinity in later life

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Benjamin Saxton
Thomas R. Cole


As several recent studies have shown, contemporary scholarship on masculinity in later life is beset with significant limitations that mirror social and cultural aspects of the very subject that it is meant to study. Reflecting the culture at large, studies of masculinity have presupposed an unspoken, static image of midlife men as the criterion for manhood. This essay reads the protagonist of No Country for Old Men, Sheriff Ed Tom Bell, in the context of masculinity studies, age studies, and the evolution of the American Western. Both Cormac Mcarthy’s novel and the Coen brothers’ film adaptation will be addressed. We argue that, as a man who becomes deprived of the traditional props of ageless male identity, Bell offers an unexpected and intriguing instance of the search for late-life masculine identity. By the end of No Country for Old Men, Bell has departed from the traditional masculinity scripts of the American Western. He is an aging, ineffectual cowboy who has retired, renounced the violence that sustained his male dominance, and lost the moral certainty that ensured his identity. Bell is no longer certain of who he is - which leaves him free to find out what it might mean to be an old man.


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