McCarthy and the Coens: The Novel versus the Film No Country for Old Men: The Moral Framework of the Novel and the Film

The Moral Framework of the Novel and the Film

©2014 Academic Paper 98 Pages


This book offers an original perspective on the narrative in the film and the novel No Country for Old Men, it also gives a good account on the issue of fidelity that plays an important role in the analysis of the relationship between the film adaptation and its source text, observing whether the Coens have not eradicated the novel’s complex and allegorical essence. The narrative analysis in the book as well involves an observation of the narrator’s point-of-view and its reliability. Besides, the book undeniably proves that the relation of narrative time and narrative space is vital in the comparison of the film adapatation and its source text. The contents of the book may serve as a valuable source for aspiring students and researchers in the area of literary and film studies.


Table of Contents


1.1 Cormac McCarthy and the Coen brothers
1.2 Screen adaptation
1.3 Narratalogy:overview
1.4 Relationship of film and literary narrative
1.5 Time-space narrative
1.6 The western genre in text and film

2.1 Intertextuality
2.2 Fidelity of film adaptation

3.1 Narration and a narrator
3.1.1 Narration in literature
3.1.2. Narration in film

4.1 Focalization in literary narrative
4.2 Focalization in film narrative

5.1 Visual regime and narrative rhythm
5.2 On the frontiers of mise-en-scène

6.1 Iconographic elements of the western
6.2 Gender roles in the western genre

7.1 Transfer of the intertexts
7.2 Fidelity to the source text

8.1 The narration and the narrators
8.2 The narrative perspective and the characters

9.1 Focalization in the novel
9.2 Focalization in the film

10.1 Mise-en-scène at work
10.2. Visual regime in the film

11.1 The iconographic elements of the genre
11.2 Gender roles in the genre







The present study, entitled ‘Cormac McCarthy’s No Country for Old Men – Narative Elements in Film and Novel’, focuses on the comparison of a literary narrative and its adaptation into a cinematic narrative. In recent years theorists have made important contributions to the analysis of film and literary narrative. Many narrative theorists argue about certain distinctions and similarities in the adaptation of a literary work into a film. Since both media produce narratives, the purpose of the study is to discuss and compare the narrative mechanisms and means they employ. The comparative analysis of the novel by Cormac McCarthy No Country for Old Men and its screen adaptation by the Coen brothers is made with reference to a variety of contemporary narrative theories.

The goal of the present study is to explore the distinctions and similarities between the literary narrative in Cormac McCarthy’s novel No Country for Old Men and the Coen’s film narrative. The analysis focuses on the aspects of literary narrative and film, how its elements and conventions are created with the help of literary tools, and how they are transposed or transformed through the use of cinematic tools. In addressing the film and literature narrative studies and focusing narrowly on the issue of adaptation from one medium to the other, the paper examines the confluence and the divergence of the two media forms – textual and visual. In order to discuss the novel-film affinity and distinctiveness, the study draws attention to various aspects of literary narrative and its fidelity to the film medium. Thus, the narrative structure, the narrators, narrative time-space, the western genre and its gender dimension in both texts are compared, observing which of the narrative elements the film directors have chosen to transfer and which other visual ways and formats are employed instead.

To attain the above-mentioned goal, the following enabling objectives have been set :

1. To study theories on film and literary narrative;
2. To examine differences and similarities between a film and a literary narrative;
3. To interpret the narrative in Cormac McCarthy’s novel and the Coens’ film No Country For Old Men following the theoretical guidelines;
4. To compare the elements of the film narrative with the elements of the literary narrative;
5. To argue about No Country For Old Men as the western novel and as the western film;
6. To draw conclusions from the textual and film analysis.

Since literary and film texts have similar and different narrative elements, the research question is as follows: What are the principal similarities and distinctions between the narrative in the novel and in the film No Country for Old Men ? The expected outcome of the research is a statement of the main distinctions and similarities that the narratives of the novel and the film No Country for Old Men bear. As both works consist of two different narrative forms, the hypothesis of the study is as follows: the literary narrative significantly differs from the film narrative in inventiveness and the style of rendering the story.

In order to prove the hypothesis and achieve the goal of the research that has been set, the following methods of the research have been chosen:

1. Methods of analysis applied in text and film narratology;
2. Comprehensive textual and cultural analysis of literary and film theory interpreting post-modern literary narrative and film narrative;
3. Comparative and descriptive analysis of the film narrative and the literary narrative in No Country for Old Men, making juxtapositions and drawing conclusions.

The theoretical part covers a number of aspects that play a significant role in the relationship between film and literary fiction narratives. The concepts of narrative and its structure are scrutinized with their manifestation in cinematic and literary texts. The practical part offers narrative analysis in the novel by Cormac McCarthy No Country for Old Men and in the film by the Coen brothers with the same title.

The first chapter provides the literature review that establishes a theoretical and methodological framework for the area of the study, defining key terms and positioning the gap that the research intends to fill. The second chapter explores the issue of adaptation and fidelity in the film and in the literary fiction. The third chapter presents various theoretical aspects of literary and film narrative and narration. The fourth chapter takes up the question of narrative perspective and focalization in literary works and film media. The fifth chapter deals with the issue of time and space and visual regime, while the sixth chapter observes the issue of the western genre and its roles in a literary and a film narrative. The seventh chapter presents an analysis of adaptation in the literary and the film narrative in No Country for Old Men. The eighth chapter explores the issue of narrative construction in No Country for Old Men. The chapter nine explores focalization in the novel and the film No Country for Old Men. The tenth chapter observes narrative time and space in both media and the eleventh chapter takes up the issue of the western genre and the gender roles found in No Country for Old Men. The final part of the paper is devoted to conclusions that have been made in the course of the literary and the film text analysis according to the literary and film theories.


The present literature review provides a theoretical framework of the research. The review of the theoretical approaches towards narrative is of hallmark concern in order to organize a framework for the research of the narrative in the novel and film No Country for Old Men. The current literature review establishes the context and rationale for the study, and delineates the methodological ways, in which the formulated research question will be approached: What are the principal distinctions and similarities between the narrative in the novel and in the film No Country for Old Men ?

Many theories have been proposed that explain in what ways a literary narrative differs from a film narrative, when it has been transferred to the film medium. This question is addressed in a number of theoretical approaches, and this review will focus on the major issues of this research area. As film and literary theories present different themes in a variety of contexts, the paper primarily will focus on seven themes, namely, a literary narrative adaptation into a film narrative, narratalogy as the core study of narrative, the relation of a film and a literary narrative, time-space narrative, point-of view in films and literary texts. As both works clearly belong to the Western genre, they have been chosen for the study, observing the construction and the gender roles. Notwithstanding the importance of the theoretical background of various elements of film and literary narrative, the beginning of the literature review will be devoted to the writer of the novel No Country for Old Men - Cormac McCarthy and the film directors, the Coen brothers, that have adapted the novel into the film.

1.1 Cormac McCarthy and the Coen brothers

The author of ten novels, two plays, and three screenplays, Cormac McCarthy was born in Providence, Rhode Island, in 1933. Literary critics who have expressed much interest about McCarthy’s biography have acknowledged that his reclusive lifestyle has ensured that little is known about the novelist beyond some bare biographical facts about him, although Richard Woodward in his 1992 interview with McCarthy, published in the New York Times Book Review, states that “for such an obstinate loner, McCarthy is an engaging figure, a world-class talker, funny, opinionated, quick to laugh” (New York Times, 1992:29). The interview is much referred to by many scholars, who write on McCarthy’s corpus, since except the 1992 interview, there is not so much McCarthy commenting on himself or about his work, as it is in Woodward’s redacted overview. Thirteen years later, in August 2005, McCarthy granted Woodward a second interview for Vanity Fair, but again, McCarthy quoted little of himself or his works in his own words.

McCarthy’s oeuvre has demonstrated abiding fictional potential. George Brosi (2011) in the literary magazine Appalachian Heritage suggests that Cormac McCarthy’s life and his literary career can be divided into three distinct periods. The first era covers the period from 1933 to 1965, when his first novel The Orchard Keeper was published, the second covers the ten-year period from 1965 to 1976 that he spent in Knoxville, where he completed two novels – Outer Dark, Child of God and continued to write Suttree, his most autobiographical novel. The third period of his life and literary career can be considered from 1976 up to the present, when McCarthy influenced by Faulkner, published six novels that introduced his distinctive perspective on the American West. The novels of the third period include Blood Meridian (1985), All the Pretty Horses (1992), The Crossing (1994), Cities of the Plain (1998), No Country for Old Men (2005) and Road (2006).

Any attempt to explore the body of work as rich and varied as McCarthy’s is problematic, but it is important to review several literary critics’ references in McCarthy’s literary corpus to observe the themes that McCarthy’s novels treat. Scott Esposito (2009) in his article Cormac McCarthy’s Paradox of Choice writes that McCarthy not only concentrates on the exposition of violence in his novels, but he also carves out “the themes of the search for identity, or physical place, and of spiritual position within an existential realm of conflicting value systems” (Scott, 2009). In exploring physical places and borders, McCarthy has overseen the decline of a traditional way of life in American South and reframed the rise and fall of the American West in his novels.

The novel No Country for Old Men (2005) not only explores boundaries, landscapes and violence, it also embraces a vast array of other themes that will be explored in the present research. The novel was adapted by four-time Academy Award winning filmmakers Joel and Ethan Coen, and it was selected as the best film of the year 2007. The film adaptation No Country for Old Men (2007) brought exceptional success to the Coens, with eight Academy Award nominations. The next subchapter provides an insight in the theoretical framework of screen adaptation.

1.2 Screen adaptation

Adaptations of a literary narrative into a film narrative are often criticized, but the complex nature of the relationship between the literary and the cinematographic texts has to be explored in detail in order to see how one narrative is transferred into another. The field of adaptation has grown immensely, and changes in the study have not been left unnoticed. Linda Hutcheon states that “a considerable change in the study has been noticed since 2006, when debates of fidelity were still going on” (Hutcheon, 2012:26). Due to the growth of the issue of adaptation, new collections of essays have broadened the range of the theory and practice of adaptation.

Many theorists have contemplated on the issue of adaptation in various essays, the most recent essays can be found in Translation, Adaption and Transformation by Laurence Raw (2012) and in Pockets of Change: Adaption and Cultural Transition by Tricia Hopton (2011) and Adam Atkinson (2011). Besides newly appearing film adaptation critics, it is worth taking into account other remarkable theorists, among them Brian McFarlane (1996) and the well-known semiotician Robert Stam (2006). McFarlane (1996) has thoroughly explored the issue of adaptation and admits a gap in the process of adapting literary works to films, suggesting that there has been a long-running discourse on the nature of the connection between film and literature, and it is surprising for the theorist how little attention has been given to the processes of adaptation. McFarlane acknowledges that “central importance in the phenomenon of adaptation of the novel into film has to be devoted to narrative” (McFarlane, 1996:11). Narrative is undeniably not only the main factor that novels and films have in common, but it is the chief transferable element. The next subchapter will give an overview of narratalogy.

1.3 Narratalogy:overview

Several significant introductory works to narratalogy appeared in the sixties that can be assumed as a cornerstone of classical narratalogy and served as a precursor and inspiration for other narratalogists. The studies of the classical narratalogy of the French School by Seymour Chatman (1980), Tzvetan Todorov (1981), and Gerard Genette (1988) concentrated on the novel as the prototypical form of literary narrative. These studies have not lost their actuality in modern narratalogy debates, and they serve as a fertile ground for many other theorists up to the present day.

In recent years many other influential works have emerged by prominent narratalogists as Porter Abbott (2002), Mieke Bal (2009), James Monaco (2009), Marie Laure-Rhyan (2006), David Herman (2011), Monika Fludernik (2012), and literary and film narratalogist Edward Branigan (2006). These postclassical approaches encompass frameworks for narrative research that are built on the classical tradition, but supplemented with the concepts and the methods that were not available in the classical narratalogy studies. The postclassical narratalogy studies have experienced a ground-breaking development in recent years. Narratalogist Monika Fludernik (2012) in her most recent book affirms a veritable growth in the study, acknowledging that at the moment the research in narratalogy acquires new dimensions and evokes more interest in literary and cinematic circles. Her works certainly play an important role in encouraging literary and film theorists to take part in the investigation of narratalogy and in challenging the well-established theoretical concepts. Thus, in the twenty-first century narratology as the study of narrative and its structure is not only alive, but it is even flourishing. The next subchapter offers a theoretical framework of the relationship of film and literary narrative.

1.4 Relationship of film and literary narrative

Film and literary narrative differ in various elements, but they also share some principal similarities, therefore it is important to look at the crux of both narratives in relation. Narratalogists Seymour Chatman (1980), Mieke Bal (1997), Edward Branigan (1992) not only investigated the issue of a literary narrative, but also offered a starting point for a film narrative, viewing it as a binary opposition of a literary narrative. Chatman (1980) was one of the first critics to analyse film as a narrative genre. He initiated a line of inquiry into film as a narrative that complemented key studies by Edward Branigan (1992), David Bordwell (1985), and other theorists.

After narratalogy had experienced a veritable growth, narratalogists started investigating film and literary narrative in relation, observing translatability of narrative from one medium into another. Narralogists have given various accounts of a literary and a film narrative in relation, and many of them have testified significant distinctions, while some have acknowledged that both media share similarities. Seymour Chatman sees a noticeable difference of a literary and a film narrative, while he acknowledges that they also bear a parallel value of other experiences. Consequently, a literary narrative has a different emphasis of a film narrative; nonetheless, both mediums share certain similar experiences. Thus, transposing a narrative from one medium to another, each medium bears a distinct nature, while particular facets of narrative resemble each other.

Scholar Peter Verstraten has also observed Chatman’s opinion on the distinction of film and literary narrative in some other aspects, and he stresses the importance to realize that literary devices fundamentally diverge from cinematic devices. In Film Narratology Verstraten (2009) notes various unexplored and essentially different narrative effects that film can produce with mise-en-scène and one of its facets - continuing editing.

However, several theorists have a different opinion on whether a film narrative should be looked at as based on a new and individual work or as an adaptation of the particular literary narrative. For instance, Edward Branigan (1992) sees a direct relation of a film narrative and a literary narrative, as both narratives express temporal relationships, and they are mental constructions. Film theorist James Monaco (2009) supports Branigan’s opinion that film and novel stand close to each other, as they share the same narrative capacities.

Uncertainty about the role that film and literary narrative play makes the issue of hallmark concern for narratalogy theorists. Hence, there exists a gap for exploring the various differences and similarities between a film and a literary narrative. In order to evaluate how and to which extent the filmmakers preserve the literary narrative elements in the film adaptation, McFarlane (1996) suggests to compare the novel’s narrative and literary techniques with the film maker’s decision to display the narrative elements, taking into account the capacities and possible techniques of the screen work.

Besides the various techniques that are vital for the analysis of narrative, intrinsic nature of time and space plays an equal role in the understanding of narrative in both media.

1.5 Time-space narrative

Many literary and film theorists, when analysing the narrative structure in novel and film, have paid significant attention to the issue of temporality and space. David Herman (2007) has closely investigated both dimensions, and he stresses the importance of temporality and spatiality in a literary narrative, as time and space are more than background elements in the narrative, and they affect the readers’ basic understanding of a narrative text and of the protocols of different narrative genres. Herman acknowledges the fact that temporality and space profoundly influence the way, in which readers build mental images of what they read. He sets in opposition space and time in literature, perceiving both dimensions as completely different perspectives, while the Russian literary critic Mikhail Bakhtin does not agree with the idea. According to Nele Bemong (2010), Bakhtin created a special term to affirm that space and time are two interconnected perspectives.

Not only literary theorists dwell upon the issue of time and space in a literary narrative, but several film theorists have also debated over space and time in a film narrative. Film theorists, such as Gérard Genette (1990), David Bordwell (2008) and Kristin Thompson (2008), have developed their own concepts of time and space in a film narrative. Thus, the issue of narrative time and space is no exception in the film narrative analysis. Theorist Jakob Lothe (2000) claims that space and time operate on two axes in film, “on the one hand, film presupposes space, a film displays in rapid succession a series of images, and each image is a spatial print, on the other hand, the film has a temporal vector upon the spatial dimension of the image” (Lothe, 2000:26). Lothe stresses that film complicates and changes the image’s stable space by setting it in motion, adding sound and by introducing a sequence of images and combinations of events

When observing time and space in film narrative, it is useful to introduce the concept of mise-en-scène that signifies the control that a film director has in staging a scene for the framing of shots. It includes such elements as setting, costume, sound, lighting, and overall movement within the frame. Susan Hayward (2006) suggests that mise-en-scène is an important factor for the consideration of space in film, as it serves to explain the compositional motivation through the choices that a film director makes, and functions to establish a cause of impending actions, so that the story can proceed. Timothy Corrigan (2012) has not only paid attention to the concept of mise-en-scène, but also to continuity editing as a significant element of mise-en-scène. Corrigan states that “filmmakers rely on continuity editing, also termed a system of editing, which uses cuts and other transitions to establish credibility and to tell stories efficiently, where each shot has a causal relationship to the next shot, and the strategy of mise-en-scène, in order to ensure narrative continuity” (Corrigan, 2012:125).Thus, mise-en-scène and the continuity editing affect the experience of time and place, constructing a coherence of space and maintaining continuity of time. The next subchapter provides an insight into the issue of the western genre.

1.6 The western genre in text and film

Genre critics and theorists have laid increasing importance on the facet of genre in literature and film; they suggest that one clear generic identity cannot be attributed to any film or literary work. Barry Langford, one of the genre critics concerned with generic categories, echoing on Jacques Derrida, observes that the law of genre dictates that every text belongs to a genre, besides it also dictates that texts do not belong wholly to any one genre” (Langford, 2006:29). Linda Costanzo supports Langford’s contemplation on the generic impurity of any text, especially filmic genre, claiming that “within cinema, genre is a fairly problematic concept because films are rarely generically pure” (Costanzo, 2006:164). Inability of previous scholars to find an appropriate method of genre categorization has been the focus of the recent essays by Gunning, Knee and Rick Altman. Gunning in his essay urges the scholars to take a rigid stance in the classification of genres. It follows that genre boundaries have not been fixed up to the present, and theorists have to deal with the generic hybridity more specifically.

Many theorists have given their accounts of various types of genres, paying a significant attention to the western genre and crediting it as one of the most fascinating genres. Jennifer McMahon in her book The Philosophy of the Western has collected various essays on the genre, especially on the American Western. She acknowledges that there are few genres that capture the hearts of their audience like western, “though many westerns have simple plots and stock characters, they also have an unwavering appeal” (McMahon, 2010:2). Many theorists agree on the appeal of the western genre and also claim that the genre is as vast as the West itself, bearing different elements. Barry Keith Grant has not only reviewed the complicated issue of genre purity, but she has also taken a look at a variable combination of elements within the western genre, observing the concepts of the terms West and frontier in relation to the genre. Grant suggests that “if West is seen as a potential Eden, the garden of the world, it can also be seen as the wilderness, the great American desert” (Grant, 2012: 244). Thus, the opposition of garden and desert is at the heart of the ideas of the West. Nonetheless, westerns not only share these specific elements, they also shed light on various aspects of American culture and values. Therefore, it is crucial to observe various cultural codes that inhabit the cultural environment in films and literary works, and their relation to specific symbols. Symbolic and cultural codes are visual signs and images, which help to represent a certain genre. The iconography, namely, appearance of people, landscape, means of transport, clothes, and even soundtrack, are what the audience uses to recognize the genre. Certain genres not only involve symbolic and cultural codes but they also entail specific gender systems and roles.


The present chapter looks into the history of adaptation and the issue of adaptation as seen by various theorists of film adaptation.

The history of critical writing on film and literature’s relationship can be traced back to the mid-twentieth century, when the Russian filmmaker Sergei Einstein wrote about the connection between the novels of Charles Dickens and the filmic narrative of D. W. Griffith in his book Film Form. The honour of the first major work on film adaptation was, however, attributed to George Bluestone (1957), who was considered as the first theorist to produce a full-length study of film adaptation. The main thrust of Bluestone’s argument in his book Novels into Film was that with determined specificities of novel and film, “they must be judged as separate entities” (Shaffer, 2011:127). His ideas have not lost their actuality in modern literary and film debates. Bluestone’s shadow has been present in countless works of literary and film critics since the beginning of 1960’s and up to nowadays. Postmodern film and literary theorists regularly refer to Bluestone and view him as an honourable pioneer in cinema studies.

A literary text is, and continues to be, a primary source for narrative material in films, and the circle of adaptation theorists and critics, who inquire the issue of adaptation, has been significantly expanded lately. Linda Hutcheon (2012) in her recent book A Theory of Adaptation praises the fact that “adaptation as a field of study has been expanding its scope in recent years” (Hutcheon, 2012:16). Owing to the great expansion of the study, it has given way to new sources of debates. Most of the debates, however, are in negative terms of loss, namely, a reduction of scope of novel in the length and detail in the adapted works. Controversies around the issue of adaptation have not abated up to the present day. However, several literary theorists have taken a diplomatic stance on the issue, as for example, Linda Costanzo suggests that “the length of a novel in relationship to the length of a feature film necessitates that the filmmakers make choices what to include in the film” (Costanzo, 2006:101). Therefore, in the process of adaptation, as Linda Costanzo suggests, characters and events may be omitted and narrative gaps may be filled with different scenes and new characters.

The most negative image of film adaptation comes from the filmmaker Alain Resnais. Kathleen Brown (2009) in her book Teaching Literary Theory Using Film Adaptations points to Resnais’s critical attitude in trying to express the relationship between the source text and its adaptation. For Alain Resnais, adapting a novel for one of his own films would be “a little like re-heating an adaptation” (Kathleen, 2009:147). Notwithstanding the bulk of the negative views on the paradigm of adaptation, many theorists still view the issue of adaptation in the light of positivism. One of the most successful critical monographs of film adaptations is that of Kamilla Elliott (2003) Rethinking the Novel/Film Debate, where she extends her consideration of the relationship of narrative forms, and explores disciplinary boundaries in the relationship between film and novel. Just as Kamilla Elliott sees the importance of studying film adaptation, Robert Stam (2005), whose earlier works revised the writings of the Russian literary critic Mikhail Bakhtin, also takes the privilege to reinscribe hierarchies of film and literature value. Stam regarding the issue of film adaptation proposes to concentrate on narratalogy, and to draw attention to the issue of narrative, narrators and focalization in film and literary text to explore the specificities of adapted texts.

Many theorists have dealt with the issue of adaptation, but only several theorists have looked into adaptation concerning narrative and its units. Film adaptation inevitably loses and changes something from the source text, in its count narrative units. John Irving, who wrote the screenplay for the film The Cider House Rules based on his novel, has claimed that even if you do not have to lose much in an adaptation from book to screen, you always lose something, “you cannot be too literary wedded to the novel but you have to take advantage of what a film can do” (Irving, 2005:11). Thus, according to Irving, narrative of novel and film may differ in their storytelling. This also leads to remembering Seymour Chatman’s well-known statement - “what novels can do that film cannot” (Chatman, 1980:117) and makes to think of the differences in the modes of representation in both media. Monika Fulton (2005) stresses that the differences in the modes of representation produce two different texts, undermining the hierarchy of original literary text and secondary film text, or what Imelda Whelehan calls unconscious prioritising of the fictional origin over the resulting film” (Whelehan 1999: 3).

Andrew Dudley suggests that how a story is told depends on cultural and semiotic conventions, and the analysis of adaptation “must point to the achievement of equivalent narrative units in the absolutely different semiotic systems of film and language” (Dudley, 2000:34). Thus, in analyzing the film and literary narrative, it is important to think of the established conventions of narrative. Monika Fulton (2005) in her book Narrative and Media has summarized the most important narrative features of the novel and film, and has compared various aspects of the two modes of storytelling, which is important for adaptation. Fulton (2005) points out to the importance of story structure, description of setting, characters, focalization, chronology, spatiality, chapters of novel and scenes of film and lastly, and symbolism in the analysis of literary narrative and its adapted text.

Thus, in the analysis of film adaptation it is important to observe the established conventions of narrative and the most important narrative features.

Before starting to investigate the narrative elements, the following subchapter will look into the issue of intertextuality, which is also an indispensable part in understanding the issue of film adaptation.

2.1 Intertextuality

Various theorists, among them Andrew Dudley (2000) and André Bazin (2005), propose that film adaptation has to be analyzed not in terms of fidelity, but using the critical framework of translation or intertextuality. The term intertextuality has come into the oeuvre of film adaptation, as critics have concluded that adapted cinematic texts are essentially intertexts. Christine Geraghty in her book Now a Major Motion Picture: Film Adaptations of Literature and Drama suggests that “the appeal to intertextuality has been specifically developed as a methodolological challenge to fidelity model” (Geraghty, 2008:193). She further stresses that recent studies have demonstrated an academic productivity of intertextual approaches in the U.S. and Europe in this area. In the research of intertextuality the central task becomes “the study of the intertextual universe and to avoid the appearance of a tendency to reinscribe the superiority to the literary source” (ibid, 2008:193).

Dimitris Eletheriotis has argued in a similar debate about the importance of intertextuality in genre criticism, “The fact that everything is intertextual should not be a point of arrival but a point of departure in the investigation of different conditions and forms” (Eletheriotis, 2001:100) Intertextual critics define adaptation as a practice of cultural intertextuality, and always regard film adaptation as a reading of the source text. Robert Stam (2004) argues that “film adaptation can be seen as a kind of multileveled negotiation of intertexts” (Stam, 2004:46). Besides, Robert Stam and many other critics suggest that expanding availability of film adaptations has to be regarded not as self-contained structures, but as the transformation of other textual structures.

Despite various broad definitions on intertextuality, Gérard Genette (1997) restricts it to instances of citation and allusion, where it describes a verbal or visual evocation of another film. Pat Dowel (1992) states that the Western film Unforgiven is surely Fordian with its allusions, mood, and the signature scene – the man with his silhouette against the sunset. Various critics in terms of intertextuality not only point to allusions and mood in the adapted texts, but also to different stylistic characteristics embedded as intertexts from other films, such as doubling effects and use of point-of-view shots. Although there have been many debates on the agreement on the nature of intertextuality, many critics still regard exploration of intertexts in film adaptation as one of the most interesting approaches in the study.

Many critics use to explore Cormac McCarthy‘s oeuvre in regard to intertextuality. Cormac McCarthy (1992) himself has dwelled on the issue of intertextuality in his interview in New York Times, stating that “it is clear that books are made out of books. The novel depends for its life on the novels that have been written” (McCarthy, 1992). It serves as an indicator that Cormac McCarthy acknowledges intertextuality as an inevitable part in his works. Harold Bloom (2009) in his book Cormac McCarthy stresses that he has drawn attention to intertextuality in McCarthy’s work Suttree where his narrative style employs occasional changes of voice and the same technique is used in the novel The Road. For Bloom the relation between The Road and Suttree seems clear and intentional. Whereas John Cant (2004) in his work The Silent Sheriff: No Country for Old Men—A Comparison of Novel and Film has compared McCarthy’s Judg e from the book Blood Meridian with the Shape in John Carpenter’s Halloween, pointing out to several similarities between the characters in terms of inevitable evil that both embody. These are not the only interextualities that are interwoven in McCarthy’s works, many other writer’s novels exhibit various intertexts.

The film adaptation as a practice of cultural intertextuality is undeniably worth observing, as Cormac McCarthy himself has not denied the importance of the various intertexts in his works. Therefore, the research will explore several intertextualities found in the novel No Country for Old Men, observing, whether they have been successfully transferred to the film adaptation by the Coens.

The next subchapter looks closer at the issue of fidelity, as it is largely discussed in adaptation criticism and it will serve as a good precursor for the analysis of the film adaptation No Country for Old Men.

2.2 Fidelity of film adaptation

Adaptation criticism often focuses on the question of fidelity. Dennis Cutchins (2010) in her book Adaptation Studies: New Approaches claims that scholars in adaptation studies have addressed the matter of fidelity for more than fifty years. Analogies between source texts and their adaptation continue to direct the reading and interpretation of adaptations. Robert Stam (2005) argues that “it is important to move beyond the moralistic and judgmental ideal of fidelity” (Stam, 2005:14). He refers to the discussion of fidelity as ineffective, when valuing adaptations. Thus, for Stam fidelity as an evaluative criterion for adaptation studies is ineffective and insufficient. Notwithstanding Stam’s rejection of fidelity as a proper matter that concerns adaptation, he has found an explanation of the endurance of fidelity discourse. Stam states that “fidelity asks important questions about filmic recreation of the setting, plot, characters, themes, and the style of the novel” (Stam, 2005:34). Thomas Leitch, however, offers another explanation: “the valorisation of fidelity amounts to a valorisation of literature as such in the face of the insurgent challenge of cinema studies” (Leitch, 2003:162). Many theorists still argue what makes a good study of fidelity and which approaches in the study are the most appropriate. Some theorists favour approaches that rest more on distinctions and content and they address the issue of transference of textual spirit. Mikhail Bakhtin and Gerard Genette especially favour the approach of distinction and content, and view adaptations as sets of intersecting codes and signals, texts and intertexts.

Andre Bazin (2005) in his book What is Cinema suggests that in order to attain aesthetic fidelity, nothing has to be distorted but remain as objective as possible. For Bazin “a good adaptation should result in a restoration of the essence of the letter and the spirit” (Bazin, 2005:67). Bazin in his essay In Defense of Mixed Cinema that tackle the process of filmic adaptations, suggests that film adaptations should be less concerned with fidelity to the source material, but rather with equivalence in meaning of the forms. Andrew Dudley has made several references to Andre Bazin, concerning the issue of fidelity, though Dudley himself laments the discussion of fidelity, as it evokes only strident arguments about the differences in both media. Despite his negative attitude towards fidelity, Andrew Dudley gives a good account on Bazin’s perception of fidelity, suggesting that “freedom and flexibility of cinematic language makes a new level of fidelity available” (Dudley, 2011:114). However, without regard to the new perception of fidelity, Bazin does not deny that “transposing a narrative from written language to cinema obviously changes the technical means of presenting it” (Dudley, 2011:112).Hence, Bazin’s solution is that fidelity has to consider the differences between the available cinematic and literary techniques.

J.D. Conor in the journal Media and Culture claims that theorist Kamilla Elliott attempts to write beyond the scope of fidelity as “the fidelity debate is misguided not because fidelity asks the impossible but because at bottom critics of fidelity seek to purge cinema of its literariness” (J.D. Connor , 2007). She appears to be placed outside fidelity discourse, yet, as many other theorists, Elliott does not deny that clarification of adaptation and fidelity issue will always be important.

For Brian McFarlane fidelity approach seems “a doomed enterprise and fidelity criticism illuminating” (McFarlane, 1996:9). McFarlane and other writers on adaptation question the possibility of fidelity, and some theorists claim not to tackle it. Many critics still have maintained a belief that an adaptation has to follow the source text as closely as possible because audiences greatly admire faithfully adapted films; therefore the matter of fidelity in film adaptation is refutable. This leads to think that the study of fidelity is at a place, when observing the relationship between a literary work and a film. Notwithstanding the importance of fidelity in the study, one cannot reject the question of what constitutes a literary and a film narrative; as they serve as a background for analyzing both texts.

The following chapter outlines the issue of literary and film narrative, as it undeniably forms a framework for the analysis of the narrative in the novel and the film No Country for Old Men.


The purpose of this chapter is to provide an account of the major trends in the scholarship on narrative and to map out recent developments in narrative inquiry to understand what constitutes a literary and a film narrative. First, it looks at the concept of narrative and at the role of narrative that plays in literature and film, then; it explains why the analysis of a literary and a film narrative is of such significance.

Narrative is a topic of has retained increasing interest in literary and film studies up to the present. Linda Costanzo (2006) in her book Literature into Film: Theory and Practical Approaches claims that most films and literary works are narratives. With this in mind, it is useful to look at the definition of film and literary narrative. Many narratalogists have given their own indispensable contribution in defining the term narrative. One particularly well-known definition is that of Gerald Prince, who defines a narrative as “recounting of one or more real or fictive events communicated by one, two or several narrators to one, two or several naratees” (Prince, 2003:58). Narrative, therefore, is closely related to the speech act of narrating, and hence also with the figure of a narrator. Here it would be essential to point out that narrative is a distinctive unit from narration, which at times are confused by those, who seek to understand the issue of a literary and a film narrative. It would be useful to introduce the term of narration, to discern the difference from the term narrative. In the book New Vocabularies in Film Semiotics Sandra Lewis suggests that “narration refers not to the events recounted, nor to the text itself, but to the act of recounting” (Lewis, 2006:95). Narration, therefore, is a distinctive element from narrative. Undoubtedly, one would like to know about the roots of the term narrative. Rick Altman states that “the importance of narrative has long been recognized. From Aristotle to the present, virtually every major critic and theorist has had something to say about the art of narrative” (Altman, 2008:1). Thus, the roots of the concept of narrative can be found as far as in the time of Aristotle. Therefore, the ultimate ancestor of narratalogy is Aristotle whose Poetics, according to Paul Cobley (2013), is considered as the first survived philosophical exposition of literary theory. Cobley suggests that the term narrative was not explicitly defined within Poetics, but Aristotle’s gave a clear sense of how narrative should be constructed, with the beginning, the middle and the end. Present day narratolgists, however, argue on the distinct nature of the narrative in modern literary and film texts. The modern texts involve either the traditional structure of narrative with a linear progression, or a take the form of a non-linear narrative structure.

One way to map out the developments in narrative investigation is to make a distinction between classical and postclassical approaches to the study. The evolution of literature brought new perspective of narrative, the epoch regarded today as a classical phase of narratalogy, as stated by Monika Fludernik, “developed as a strand within structuralism in France” (Fludernik, 2009:10). The structuralists Tzvetan Todorov, Roland Barthes and Gerard Genette were considered as the most influential figures in the study of narratalogy at the time. Among the influential structuralists Vladimir Propp was famous for his investigation of folktales, but most structuralists neglected the limits of Propp’s investigation of narratalogy, and tried to extend their investigation to all narratives. Taking the cue from the Russian Formalists, such as Viktor Shklovsky and Boris Eichenbaum, the structuralists “developed their own perspective on narratalogy and structured an integrative approach to the analysis of narrative” (Herman, 2011:24). After the heyday of the structuralism, narratalogy was refined and systemized employing postclassical approaches. The frameworks for narrative researches were built on the classical tradition, but they were supplemented with other concepts and methods. The most prominent scholars in the period of postclassical tradition were Seymour Chatman, Mieke Bal and Gerald Prince.

Recently, as stated by Monika Fludernik, “narrative research has extended its scope beyond the theoretical question ‘What is ‘ narrative’ ?” (Fludernik, 2009:12). Many introductory and reference works have appeared in recent years in response to the discussions by the structuralists and other former narratalogists. Important contributions to narrative research have been made by Jakob Lothe (2007), Werner Wolf (2007), Monika Fludernik (2009) and David Herman (2011).

Film and literary narrative research has extended up to the present day. Many theorists describe film and literary narrative in different ways, but there is a general assumption among theorists that although both media operate in dissimilar ways and produce various kinds of artistic effect, they are both narrative forms.

Monika Fludernik does not deny the relatedness of the film narrative and the literary narrative, and has given a summary of the criteria on the term narrative; defining narrative as follows, A narrative is a representation of a possible world in a linguistic and/or visual medium, at whose centre there are one or several protagonists of an anthropomorphic nature who are existentially anchored in a temporal and spatial sense and who perform goal directed actions. (Fuldernik, 2009:6)

Thus, a film narrative or a literary narrative requires a human-like or anthropomorphic protagonist at the centre. Though both narratives share an anthropomorphic protagonist as one of the core elements of the story, Brian McFarlane (1996) suggests they are distinguished by different plot strategies, such as sequencing, kinetic force and cinematic devices that change the way the story is presented.

Theorists have not only paid attention to narrative in films and novels, but also to narrative in myths and folktales, and their elements found in novels. Many novels, in fact, exhibit myth elements at various levels. The need for classifying folktale narrative elements can be traced back to the nineteenth century, since then many of the elements have been employed in literary narratives. Many theorists still in the twenty-first century regard folktale elements as an essential aspect in literary works.

Lydia Cooper (2010), echoing on Linda Degh in her recent article on folklore and morality, draws attention to certain archetypes of characters taken from folktales and invested into novels, such as devil, everyman and shape shifter. Many scholars have explored these archetypes in literature, especially shape-shifter characters. Jane Garry (2005) in her book Archetypes and Motifs in Folklore and Literature states that shape shifters are folkloric characters can change their external shape while at the same time maintaining their core identity. The trope of shape shifting can be found in various modern novels. For example, in the C.S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia, where Eustace transforms into a dragon and her transformation reveals the truth of human nature. These characters explain the logic and events of novel’s narrative. The elements of folktales are vital for the current study and they will be explored in the practical part.

Besides, the elements of folktales, a lot of narratives exhibit the elements of myth. Richard Slotkin (2000) suggests that myth can be seen as the heroic quest, that involves the departure of the hero from “common-day world to seek the power of gods in the underworld, the eternal kingdom of death and dreams from which all men emerge” (Slotkin, 2000:10). The quest in myth, therefore, is linked with a search for a higher level of power. Slotkin further stresses that myth narrative has become archetypal for the American literature with the American dream of self-improvement and transcendence. One of the themes that recur throughout ages in American myth is the symbolic formulation of the American experience, which carried the view of the world from generation to generation. These aspects are vital for the analysis of No Country for Old Men, where one can find different elements of folktale and the American myth.

Since Seymour Chatman (1990) proposed to analyze film with the help of narratalogical concepts, film narratalogy has become a widespread method of film analysis as stated by Jacob Lothe (2000). Chatman’s main contribution to the field of film narratalogy is the concept of cinematic narrator, which he defines as the “composite of a large and complex variety of communicating devices” (Chatman, 1990:134). These include auditory channels, namely, sound and voice as well as visual channels, for example, lighting, mise-en-scene, camera distance and editing.

Film narratalogy has proposed its own definition of a narrative. David Bordwell in his book on Film Art suggests that “a film narrative is a chain of events in cause-effect relationship occurring in time and space” (Bordwell, 2004:75). Filmic space creates a causal relation, which is a typical temporal phenomenon. Many theorists have agreed on a certain structure of the narrative, thus, typically, a narrative begins in one situation and after a series of changes that occur according to a pattern of cause and effect, finally, a new situation arises that brings about the end of the narrative. Edward Branigan (1992) has noted that viewers’ engagement with the story depends on their understanding of the pattern of cause and effect and time and space. Therefore, all the components of the definition – causality, time and space- are important in films and other media. Bordwell (2004) suggests that a narrative relies not only on causality, time and space but also other principles govern film, for instance, a narrative may make use of parallelisms. In this case a narrative may cue viewers to draw parallels among characters, settings and situations or other elements. Viewers are invited to compare and contrast the characters’ personalities, the obstacles they have to face and the choices they make.

For Bordwell (2004) a narratalogical analysis usually revolves around narrative tactics and stylistic features. The following interaction is analogous in terms of content and form. Peter Verstraten has explained in detail the distinction of content and tactics. Verstraten states that “content refers to the bare representation of the plot, which is reduced to the question ‘What is it about?’ narrative tactics concern the shaping of contents and form denotes the furnishing of the content” (Verstraten, 2009:22). This involves the question by what means the content is conveyed and entails a choice of filmic techniques in regards of camera position, choice of colours and type of shot transitions. Style is a further specification of the formal possibilities. According to Bordwell (2004), style is connected with systematic use of film techniques. Therefore, the interaction between content and form establishes how time, space and narrative logic will be manipulated.

Thus, the literary and film narrative analysis revolves around stylistic features, and it should be taken into account that literary and film media despite different artistic effects produced, are both narrative forms.

Many theorists not only interpret the boundaries of characters and events in narratives, but also pay attention to the way stories are narrated, and to the entities, who tell the stories. Therefore, to discern the differences and similarities of both narratives in detail, it is important to observe each narrative constituent in separation. The following subchapter observes the issue of narration and a narrator in literature and film, as these are also vital categories of the narratalogy.

3.1 Narration and a narrator

The present chapter explores the crux of narration and a narrator as these are vital constituents of narrative. Literary and film studies offer indispensable definitions of the term narration. Robert Stam in his book New Vocabularies in Film Semiotics has discerned the difference between literary and film narration. Stam suggests that “in literature narration refers to the techniques, strategies and signals by which the presence of a narrator can be inferred, which takes form of certain pronouns and verb tenses” (Stam, 2006:96). However, in film “narration is associated with both voice-over and character-narration and with the more elusive concept of general cinematic narration involving all of the codes of the cinema” (ibid, 2006:96). Stam has also given a good explanation of the term narrator, which is applicable, both in literature and film studies. Stam states that “the narrator can be defined as the agent, inscribed in the text that relates or recounts the events of the fictional world” (Stam, 2006:96). The narrator should be distinguished from the real author and from the characters that inhabit the fictional world, although as many theorists claim, a character may take on the role of narrator to a certain degree.

Having considered the general difference between literary and film narration, the study will explore literary and film narration in detail in the following subchapters, as it will ease the understanding of the constituents in both narratives.

3.1.1 Narration in literature

Narration in literature comes in two forms: first and third-person, with occasional second-person addresses to the reader. A first-person narrative situation is predicated on the fact that “one of the characters in the story also functions as the narrator, in this respect it simulates autobiography; most first-person novels are pseudo-autobiographies” (Fludernik, 2009:90). A very interesting aspect of fictional first-person narratives is that the focus can be either on the so-called narrating self or the experiencing self. For example, when events are reported from the perspective of an older and wiser narrator, this narrating self often indulges in” retrospection, evaluation and the drawing of moral conclusions” (ibid, 2009:90) The narrator does not necessarily need to be the main protagonist in the story, the first-person narrator can also be a minor character. There are instances, as stated by Monika Fludernik (2009) and Mieke Bal, when “narratives though written in the third person nevertheless, have as their true instance the first-person” (Bal, 2004:82).

According to the narrator’s involvement in what is narrated, there is a distinction of homodiegetic narrator and heterodiegetic narrator. This distinction does not concern the hierarchy of levels, but it concerns the narrator’s experience; “either the narrator has experienced what he is narrating, in which case he is homodiegetic, or he has not, in which case he is heterodiegetic” (Vervaeck, 2005:84). Therefore, the narrators, who are present in the story, are homodiegetic, while the narrators who are not participants in the story and appear to stand apart from it are heterodiegetic.

Visibility is one of the narrator’s properties, which can be presented on a scale from an invisible or a visible narrator. Bart Vervaeck has given special terms for the narrators, a covert and an overt narrator, respectively (Vervaeck, 2005:87). A degree, to which the narrator is noticeable, can change throughout the whole narrative. A narrator may not be clearly noticeable in the beginning of a narrative, but he can reveal its presence later in the narrative.



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2014 (February)
Cormac McCarthy narrative the Western genre chronotope gender relations


My academic life is connected with The University of Latvia, where I am currently aspiring to make my first steps as a doctoral student. This book is as well my first step in my academic life, which I devote to all those researchers and aspiring students who are interested in literary and film studies.

Title: McCarthy and the Coens: The Novel versus the Film No Country for Old Men: The Moral Framework of the Novel and the Film