Similar Characters Just Pull a Fast One at the End

A comparison and contrast of Cormac McCarthy’s novel “No Country for Old Men” and James Baldwin’s short story “Sonny’s Blues”.

“No Country for Old Men” and “Sonny’s Blues” are to stories written in different times but we can find similarities on the literary themes we find in both, an ongoing war against drugs, a desire to escape, pride & downfall and salvation appear in both. Therefore we’ll breakdown these literary themes and see how much similar are Llewelyn Moss and Sonny. First and foremost we need to know the historical background to have a better understanding of the plot “Sonny’s Blues” was written in 1957 and we can assume it takes place in its current time the 1950’s and “No Country” was written in 2005 but with help of Anton Chigurh we know it takes place in the 1980’s, “during the first coin toss he mentions the date the coin was made on nineteen fifty-eight and that’s been travelling twenty-two years to get to that place” (McCarthy 56). 30 years apart on the cannon and we can draw similarities on themes of both stories.

Drug War

The war on drugs or the criminalization of drug use, didn’t start based on scientific evidence, this policies were placed targeting groups of people based on race and in the 1980’s to the present the incarceration rates and hysteria relating drug use have skyrocketed, how can we forget all those drug PSA’s and how everyone warned us not to do drugs. On the TED talk below Ethan Nadelmann talks about how the war on drugs is not the way to solve the problem and compares it to the United States’ ban on alcohol times fifty.

Police and military drawn into an un-winnable war that violates basic rights, and ordinary citizens just hope they don’t get caught in the crossfire.

Drugs aren’t front and center on both stories but they certainly are the conflict that pushes the narrative forward, on “No Country for Old Men” Moss finds the site of whats left of a drug deal gone wrong (mexican brown dope aka heroin), he manages to find the last man with a satchel full of money and takes it setting the gears in motion for the main conflict of the novel, in “Sonny’s Blues” the very first time we hear from Sonny is a conversation he is struggling with horsey (heroin). Crime was a big issue in Harlem in 1964 the drug addiction rate was several times higher than the New York city average. In both stories we have a mention of heroine, at the time heroine was considered a dirty or hardcore drug, the process of obtaining it and consuming it (via syringe) was sketchy to say the least and that’s why it is such a good choice for both stories, it’s a highly addictive drug and still constitutes a threat, as stated by Seth Ferranti “There were 8,620 heroin-related overdose deaths in 2013" (para. 10).

Also we know Moss is a Vietnam war veteran, the U.S. Soldiers also had a drug use problem overseas while fighting in Nam, marijuana was planted in Vietnam and many soldiers had their first experience smoking it overseas, it helped them take their mind of the war and “chill”, but still marijuana use was punishable. After the media reported on this issue and light was shed on this, marijuana was harder to obtain and there was a switch to heroin. We don't know if Moss used drugs during the war but we can assume he knows about them from experience. Sidenote “The Things they Carried” a short story by Tim O’Brien talks about the Vietnam war and touches on this issue.

Desire to Escape

Escape can take several meanings, escapism of the mind; how reading makes you travel or physically escape our setting. It’s human to escape our current condition if we’re not comfortable and both stories reflect this both characters look to escape from poverty in their particular way, escaping from their environment and risking it all to find something better. McCarthy’s character Moss looks to escape both the law and the outlaws or he might be arrested or die but he is confident in his ability and sure he can make it. On the other hand Baldwin’s character Sonny looks to escape the projects “Look, brother. I don’t want to stay in Harlem no more, I really don’t.” (Baldwin 12), he sees them as a trap if you get comfortable you’ll be unable to leave and he is certain life will be terrible for him on Harlem’s projects, with no room to grow in those impoverished streets. The following article talks about how the poor children from North Carolina will not have the same opportunities as others, the root of the problem being in concentrated poverty, and segregated neighborhoods and schools much like Harlem (Sonny’s place of origin). According to Duruy & Buchma, “A child raised in the bottom fifth income level in Charlotte has just a 4 percent chance of rising to the top fifth.” (para. 4).

Pride & Downfall

On both stories the conflict is far greater than the characters and they need help but are unwilling to admit it. Both characters are given a helping hand that presents to them on some way, but they refuse to take it only till they see no other option. Sonny hangs out with a questionable group and refuses his brothers warnings on the other hand “I didn’t like the way he carried himself, loose and dreamlike all the time, and I didn’t like his friends, and his music seemed to be merely an excuse for the life he led.” (Baldwin 14), Moss refuses to be helped till its to late, his last chance was going as a martyr sacrificing himself to save his wife but he just died on some random gun fight forfeiting Carla Jean’s life, Wells gave him an out but the time he decided to ask for help it was to late “You’ll come to me sooner or later. You don’t have a choice. I’m going to give you my mobile phone number” (McCarthy 152).

A pride full lion falls to his death


We had a number of similarities and with the topic of salvation its no different from a theological point of view in the deliverance from sin and its consequences, by the end of both characters are presented with the means of redemption, Moss redemption well be in the form of sacrifice, “You bring me the money and I’ll let her walk. Otherwise she’s accountable” (McCarthy 184), he can no longer save himself, but he decides to go all in and kill Chigurh so he can save himself and his wife, but fails and is murdered by the drug dealers’ henchmen sealing Carla Jean’s fate, leaving a bad taste we thought he was the hero we were rooting for only to find ourselves mistaken. On the other hand Sonny is out of rehab he is still struggling with life, he finds salvation in his music, using it as an outlet to for his suffering. On the following podcast we hear about a very similar story Worth Long gives us an insight into Fannie Lou Hamer’s Music; “Ms. Hamer sang songs of salvation, songs of redemption, songs of struggle” (para. 3).

To sum up, even though the stories were written several decades apart, their canons and plot being very different; “No Country for Old Men” mostly talking about fate and changing times and “Sonny’s Blues” going over the topics of race, alienation, suffering and redemption, we find common ground in some themes and we can draw similarities in both stories.