Friday, October 16, 2009

No Country For Old Men query

Here's a question from No Country For Old Men:
[speech by Ellis]
Bell didnt answer.
I always thought when I got older that God would sort of come into my life in some way. He didnt. I dont blame him. If I was him I’d have the same opinion about me that he does.
You dont know what he thinks.
Yes I do.
He looked at Bell. I can remember one time...

The question: who says 'I always thought when I got older...'?

I alays assumed it was Bell. Most people do. It's Bell in the film. But I don't know, now.

Firstly, it says above, 'Bell didnt answer', so why does he then immediately answer? I could understand 'Bell paused' or 'Bell waited', but not 'didn't answer'.

Secondly, "Yes I do" actually sounds more like the kind of certainty you get from Uncle Ellis than the vacillation we have come to expect from Bell. He seldom admits to knowing anything much.

Thirdly, on p. 283 we get this, from one of Bell's monologues:

One other thing he said. You'd think a man that had waited eighty some odd years on God to come ino his life, well, you'd think he'd come.

That sounds to me like he is directly putting those words into Ellis's mouth, not his own.

I'm curious.


Rose Hunter said...

This type of question drove me a little bit nuts when I read this book, although I still liked the book. I like the ambiguity, and I like that he makes you think about who might be / must be the speaker - but sometimes I had to wonder, is this for (deliberate) effect, or is some of it just sloppiness? That's the question that really drove me nuts actually....

Or is it a cheap trick, to make something that is not really that complex, seem complex, by producing what is really just a guessing game, or "intentional obfuscation" - something an editor accused me of doing once (probably rightly), in one of my short stories.

This is the only McCarthy novel I've read, so I don't think I'm right or anything. I'm curious too though.

Tom Conoboy said...

Thanks Rose.

Yes, I think it is deliberate. Faulkner used to do a lot of this too (and McCarthy had the same editor as Faulkner at the start of his career). With Faulkner, though, it feels more controlled somehow, as though it is an essential element of the style of the narrative. With McCarthy it can seem like, as you so aptly put it, intentional obfuscation.

Anonymous said...

I believe the line "Bell didn't answer" refers to the fact that Bell didn't answer directly to Ellis's line of reasoning about the toll of loss in one's life.//

Bell's next statement is a somewhat philosophical musing (verging on non sequitor) about the fact that God never came into his life.//

Ellis replies that "You don't know what he [God] thinks."//

The later reported speech of Ellis about God not coming into HIS life either (on pg. 283), tells us of Ellis point of view on the subject: "If he didn't you'd still have to figure that he knew what he was doin." The two lines just quoted show their continuity of view: Ellis's faith in spite of the loss and injustice in his life, as compared with Bell's vacillations.//

Considering that the later reported speech does not exactly follow the line of earlier conversation between the two characters, I'll agree it’s confusing, and perhaps unintentionally so. Still, given the later reported speech is contained in the italicized stream of consciousness section (established throughout the text), there's no conventional requirement of verbatim reporting.//

I have certainly re-read passages Faulkner for clarity more than McCarthy. It may be true, however, that in the case of Faulkner the lack of conventional tagging is more often stylistically justified.

Anonymous said...

Seems I should re-read my own passages for clairty too-- sorry for the typos!

Tom Conoboy said...

All in all, I think you're right that it's Ellis.

Anonymous said...

Umm, actually I meant that I thought it was Bell, but I can see that my post was unclear. No irony there... .

More to the point, the fact that we have to discuss it affirms your over-riding idea: that in McCarthy sometimes the lack of tagging is not justified on stylistic grounds and is just plain confusing.

"Yep, pret dern confusin," said How-hard-was-that.