UNIVERSITA’ DEGLI STUDI DI BOLOGNA Sede di Forlì SCUOLA SUPERIORE DI LINGUE MODERNE PER INTERPRETI E TRADUTTORI CORSO DI LAUREA IN TRADUZIONE
TESI DI LAUREA in Linguistica Inglese I - Prima Lingua
THE PARADOX OF THE WESTERN HERO/ANTIHERO IN AMERICAN LITERATURE AND CINEMA: A STUDY ON CLINT EASTWOOD
CANDIDATO Giuliana Sana
RELATORE Prof. Samuel Whitsitt
CORRELATORE Prof.ssa Raffaella Baccolini
A.A. 2000/2001 Sessione II
I miei ringraziamenti vanno in primo luogo al Prof. Sam Whitsitt per avermi seguito con pazienza durante la preparazione di questo lavoro (ormai sono due anni!) e alla Prof.ssa Raffaella Baccolini per la sua disponibilità. Ringrazio gli amici e le amiche che mi sono stati vicini (e che soprattutto mi hanno sopportato!) in questi anni... In effetti c’è anche chi mi sopporta (e “supporta”) da una vita: un grazie particolare alla mia famiglia... non c’è bisogno di specificare il perché!!!
TABLE OF CONTENTS vii
1. The Significance of the Myth of the Frontier in American History
1.1. The Closing of the Frontier and the Formulation of “Frontier Theses” 1.1.1. Frederick Jackson Turner’s “Frontier Thesis” 1.1.2. Theodore Roosevelt’s Interpretation of the “Frontier” 1.2. The Origins of the Myth of the Frontier 1.2.1. The Origins of the Literary Mythology of the Frontier: Indian War Narrative and Captivity Narrative 220.127.116.11. Indian War Narrative (1625-1682) 18.104.22.168. Captivity Narrative (1682-1700) 1.2.2. The Passage from “Exorcism” to “Initiation”
13 15 17 21
2. The Image of the Western Hero/Antihero in American Literary Mythology: from the “First Stage of Acculturation” to the Final Frontier
2.1. The “First Stage of Acculturation” and the Myth of the Hunter 2.1.1. The Literary Origins of the Myth of the Hunter in Benjamin Church’s “Entertaining Passages” (1716) 2.1.2. The Sources of the Myth of the Hunter: an Indian-American Mythology? 2.2. What is an American? The Emergence of a National American Hero (1716-1790) 2.2.1. The First American Hero: John Filson’s Daniel Boone (1784) 22.214.171.124. Boone’s Adventures as Myth 126.96.36.199. Boone’s Adventures as Archetype 2.2.2. Boone’s Paradox: Empire Builder or Philosopher of Primitivism? 188.8.131.52. The Emergence of Western Literature (1820-30) and Timothy Flint’s Image of Daniel Boone 184.108.40.206. Boone’s Paradox as the Characterizing Feature of American National Identity 2.2.3. A Deeper Glance in Western Literature: David Crockett as the Perfect Embodiment of the Western “Style” (1834) 220.127.116.11. Crockett as Hunter, Warrior, and Settler 18.104.22.168. The Significance of Crockett’s Image and of His Death at the Alamo (1836) 2.3. An Example of Myth-Conscious Literature: J. F. Cooper’s Leatherstocking Tales (1823-1841) and the Codification of iii
1 2 6 10
25 27 30 37 41 43 46 50
50 53 54 57 60
the Western Genre 2.3.1. The Hero’s Troubling Identity: Leatherstocking as the “American Adam” 22.214.171.124. Leatherstocking between Civilization and Wilderness: the Hero’s Inner Conflict 126.96.36.199. The Question of Race 188.8.131.52. The Question of Duplicity in The Last of the Mohicans (1826) 2.3.2. The Codification of a Genre: Leatherstocking and His Companions of Adventures 2.4. From the Heroes of the Agrarian Frontier to the Heroes of the Urban Setting: Indian Haters, Conquistadores, and Vigilantes (1830-1860) 2.4.1. The Changing Image of the Western Hero and the “Southwestern School” (1835-50): Indian Haters and Vigilantes 2.4.2. The Opening of New Frontiers and the Return of the Frontiersman (1845-50) 2.4.3. The Inversion of the Frontier Hero (1855-60) 184.108.40.206. “The Gray-Eyed Man of Destiny”: William Walker and Filibustering 220.127.116.11. The “John Brown Legend” and the VigilanteGuerrilla Fighters 2.4.4. The Western Hero in the Dime Novel: Outlaws and Detectives, and the Image of the Outlaw/Detective (1875-1900) 2.4.5. The Two Sides of the Hero as a Reflection on American National Identity 2.5. The Final Frontier: General Custer and Buffalo Bill as Promulgators of Their Own Myth 2.5.1. General Custer as the Hero of the Final Frontier (1868-76) 2.5.2. Buffalo Bill: the Last of the Great Scouts
3. The American Hero/Antihero in Western Movies 3.1. The Emergence and Development of the “Western”: from the “Wild West” show through the Golden Age to Revisionism 3.1.1. The Significance of “Buffalo Bill’s Wild West” (1883-1916) 3.1.2. The Western is American History 3.1.3. The Evolution of the Western 3.2. The Western Hero as Embodiment of the Frontier: from John Ford’s Classic Westerns to Jim Jarmusch’s Dead Man 3.2.1. The Twentieth-Century American Hero par excellence: John Wayne 18.104.22.168. The Indian Hater: Wayne’s Characters in John iv
63 64 66 70 71 73
76 78 82 84 87 89 91 93 96 97 99 103
103 103 106 109 116 118
Ford’s Stagecoach (1939) and The Searchers (1956) 22.214.171.124. The Hero Split in two: The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962) 3.2.2. The Mythical Image of the Gunfighter 126.96.36.199. High Noon (1952) 188.8.131.52. A Good Man With a Gun: Shane (1953) 3.2.3. The Hero and Heroine’s Masquerade in Johnny Guitar (1954) 3.2.4. A Man Who Could Kill His Own Brother: Anthony Mann’s Hero in The Man from Laramie (1955) 3.2.5. Sam Peckinpah and the Death of the West: Guns in the Afternoon or Ride the High Country (1961) 3.2.6. The First Wave of Revisionism (1960-80) 3.2.7. The Hero’s Question of Identity in Two Revisionist Westerns of the 90s: Dances with Wolves (1990) and Dead Man (1996)
4. Clint Eastwood and the Western Hero/Antihero 4.1. The Significance of Clint Eastwood’s Persona and Movies 4.2. Clint Eastwood’s Westerns: Revisionism within Tradition 4.2.1. Eastwood Directs His First Western: High Plains Drifter (1973) 4.2.2. The Humanization of the Western Hero: The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976) 4.2.3. Pale Rider (1985) as the Remake of Shane 4.2.4. The Hero as Victim of His Own Past: Unforgiven (1992) 4.3. Dirty Harry: the Western Hero in the Urban Setting 4.3.1. Callahan’s Code of Frontier Justice in Dirty Harry (1971) 4.3.2. Dirty Harry and Lynch Law: Magnum Force (1973) 4.3.3. Dirty Harry as a Necessary But Uncomfortable Myth: The Enforcer (1976), Sudden Impact (1983), and The Dead Pool (1988) CONCLUSION BIBLIOGRAPHY AND FILMOGRAPHY APPENDIX RIASSUNTO RESUMEN
120 131 135 138 141 147 152 158 161
163 171 171 175 177 182 187 192 201 203 208
212 217 219 225 235 237
When I started to work on this thesis, my aim was to focus exclusively on the image of the Western hero/antihero in American movies. Since I was a little girl I have always been fascinated by Western movies with their spectacular landscapes and their heroes riding magnificent horses and ready to kill the “bad guy” of the situation Indian or outlaw. Then, when I grew up, I realized that the scheme followed by Western movies - “good” cowboy against “bad” Indian, or more in general, “good” against “evil” - was extended also to other American movie genres - even if, unfortunately, most of the times there were no horses around. War movies - many of them starring actors like John Wayne, whose presence led to an immediate association with his Western roles, action movies, and detective movies were united by a thread, a constant which could be easily adapted to different environments and to different situations. What gave continuity to all the different genres was exactly the conflict between “good guy” and “bad guy,” and the movies focused in particular on the image of the “good guy” and on his role, in other words on the image of the “hero,” who would without a doubt defeat his antagonist, representing not only a threat to his life, but also a dangerous presence within civilized society. Since I have been taught that most of the times things are not as simple as they seem, I wanted to know more about this hero: why does he always act according to a certain scheme? Where does he come from? Why are Americans so obsessed with this figure, to the extent that most of the Hollywood movie production is centered on his representation and analysis? Which is his role in American culture? These were the main questions I wanted to find an answer to. My work is divided into two main parts: the first two chapters deal with the image of the hero in American literary mythology up to the advent of the cinema at the very beginning of the twentieth century; and in the third and fourth chapters I will focus on the image of the hero, particularly as far as Western movies are concerned. vii
The first chapter, The Significance of the Myth of the Frontier in American History, is not organized chronologically. Since the understanding of the image of the American hero depends on the understanding of the historical and mythological meaning of the “Frontier,” I discuss briefly the concept as it has been understood from the moment of its official closure in 1890 (1.1.). I refer to its interpretation by two post-Frontier historians, Frederick Jackson Turner and Theodore Roosevelt who, immediately after the closing of the agrarian Frontier, recognized its ideological implications and its significance not only as “a moving line bounding the un-won wilderness” (Turner, 1945:41), but also as the dividing line between civilized and non-civilized world, between the concepts of “civilization” and “savagery.” In other words, they recognized how the “Frontier” became after that date a term of ideological rather than geographical reference, and how easily Americans could give a mythological reading to the historical Frontier experience. In the second part of the chapter (1.2.) I try to demonstrate how American history lends itself to a mythological interpretation, starting from the origins of the American literary mythology - where the image of the Western hero/antihero originated. However, since Colonial writing reflected the settlers’ approach towards the New World and the new way of life, it took more than a century to complete the “first stage of acculturation” and to replace the passive figure of the captive-victim of the seventeenth-century Indian war narrative and captivity narrative with the introduction of the active figure of the hunter-hero, culminating in the emergence of the first American hero at the end of the eighteenth century. In the second chapter, The Image of the Western Hero/Antihero in American Literary Mythology: from the “First Stage of Acculturation” to the Final Frontier, after concluding my analysis of the mythological origins of the American hero (2.1.), my purpose is to provide a “gallery of types” leading us from the eighteenth-century literary image of the first American hero to the heroes of the late nineteenth-century Final Frontier. In the first two parts of the chapter (2.2.&2.3.) I suggest a viii
“route” exploring the literary images of half-mythical and half-historical heroes like Daniel Boone and David Crockett, and the fictional Hawkeye of J. F. Cooper’s Leatherstocking Tales, through which the “Western” genre was codified. In the following sections (2.4.) I deal with a few post-Frontier heroic characters, focusing on the changes in the image of the Western hero/antihero which occurred at the turn of the century. As we shall see, during the Age of Industrialization not only Western heroes will be transferred into a post-Frontier and urban setting, but their antiheroic qualities will be emphasized. I use the term “emphasized” because one of the main features of the Western hero/antihero on which I draw my attention in my thesis is the hero’s possession of both heroic and antiheroic qualities, characterizing him from his origins, and deriving from his condition of being constantly “on the edge” between civilization and savagery - in other words, of embodying the Frontier experience. Even if the hero’s aim is to defend civilization and subjugate savagery, in order to accomplish his mission, he must be “the man who knows Indians,” and must be able to think and act like an Indian. Only his possession of “dark” knowledge, of a side of his nature which is akin to the savages’ and which allows him to act as if he were savage - or simply “bad” - will make good triumph over evil. As a consequence, to be heroic, the Western hero must necessarily be antiheroic. In a postFrontier context, originated from the triumph of civilization over savagery, the presence of the Western hero becomes problematic: the hero’s antiheroic qualities can be no longer accepted in a civilized society, where characters with traditional heroic qualities such as John Murrell, William Walker, and John Brown are labelled as outlaws, enslavers, and dictators - in other words, as enemies of civilization. Although on the one hand the thought that a future closure of the Frontier would deprive America of its “safety valve,” and the changes in the nineteenth-century historical and social context led to the emergence of “antiheroic” figures, on the other hand the Frontier continued to provide fertile ground for the creation of heroes. A demonstration of the ongoing significance of the Frontier as the American “land of myth” par ix
excellence, is the emergence at the end of the nineteenth century of the figures of General Custer and Buffalo Bill, which I analyze in the last section of the chapter (2.5.). These heroes revived the Myth of the Frontier, but their significance lies above all in their high degree of consciousness of the importance of the Myth in American culture, to the extent that they became promulgators of their own myth. The image of Buffalo Bill is of particular interest to my purposes, since with his “Wild West” show he created the first visual re-enactment of episodes of life in the Old West, an idea which will be exploited in the twentieth-century movie production with the invention of the “Western” (3.1.). In the third chapter, The American Hero/Antihero in Western Movies, I deal with the twentieth-century Hollywood production of Westerns, focusing of course on the image of the hero/antihero, whose characterization will demonstrate the continuity between his literary and cinematic images. Although the Western is not the only movie genre dealing with the mythical image of the hero, I decided to focus my analysis exclusively on it, since the genre clearly inherited the mythographic function of the nineteenth-century production of popular literature. It must be highlighted that the presentation of the Western hero/antihero in each one of the movies I analyze - from John Ford’s classic Westerns, such as Stagecoach, The Searchers, and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance to the revisionist Westerns of the 90s, such as Costner’s Dances with Wolves and Jarmusch’s Dead Man - is in itself a thorough and critical study of the classic image of the American hero, deriving from the historical and social circumstances of the period in which the movies were produced. Therefore, through the directors’ approach to the “land of myth,” I hope to give an idea of the development of the image of the Western hero/antihero in the twentiethcentury scenario of American popular culture, from John Wayne’s embodiment of the American Adam during the Golden Age of the Western to the revisionists’ “death of the hero” - or, better, the discovery and the acknowledgement of the true identity of the hero as an idealized and entirely illusory character (3.2.). x
Finally, the fourth and last chapter, Clint Eastwood and the Western Hero/Antihero is dedicated, as the previous one, to the cinema, and in particular to the work of Clint Eastwood, which, as we shall see, summarizes the twentieth-century contradictory approaches to the Western and to the image of the American hero. I first analyze some of the Westerns he directed and in which he acted (4.1.) - High Plains Drifter, The Outlaw Josey Wales, Pale Rider, and Unforgiven - and then I deal with the episodes of the Dirty Harry series (4.2.), a urban crime drama produced between the 70s and the 80s - just to note that the image of the Western hero/antihero has been transferred to the urban setting not only in literature, but also in the cinema. Eastwoodâ€™s movies are of particular interest because they are middle ground between Western classicism and Western revisionism, as if on the one hand his characters seem to embody traditional Western heroes, on the other hand Eastwoodâ€™s thorough analysis of their personality leads to the revisionist definition of the Western hero/antihero as an illusory character - although in the end, after acknowledging this reality, he lets him live, demonstrating once again the necessity of his presence in American culture.
From the Dakota’s canons, Lands of the wild ravine, the dusky Sioux, the lonesome stretch, the silence, Haply to-day a mournful wail, haply a trumpetnote for heroes. The battle-bulletin, The Indian ambuscade, the craft, the fatal environment, The cavalry companies fighting to the last in sternest heroism, In the midst of their little circle, with their slaughter’d horses for breastworks, The fall of Custer and all his officers and men. Continues yet the old, old legend of our race, The loftiest of life upheld by death, The ancient banner perfectly maintained, O lesson opportune, O how I welcome thee! As sitting in dark days, Lone, sulky, through time’s thick murk looking in vain for light, for hope. From unsupected parts a fierce and momentary proof, (The sun there at the center though conceal’d, Electric life forever at the center,) Breaks forth a lightning flash. Thou of the tawny flowing hair in battle, I erewhile saw, with erect head, pressing ever in front, bearing a bright sword in thy hand, Now ending well in death the splendid fever of thy deeds, (I bring no dirge for thee, I bring a glad triumphal sonnet,) Desperate and glorious, aye in defeat most desperate, most glorious, After thy many battles in which never yielding up a gun or a color, Leaving behind thee a memory sweet to soldiers, Thou yieldest up thyself.
Walt Whitman, “Death-Sonnet for Custer”
CHAPTER 1 The Significance of the Myth of the Frontier in American History
1.1. The Closing of the Frontier and the Formulation of "Frontier Theses" In the United States the mythological interpretation of the concept of the “Frontier” originated from the historical experience of the nation, and is therefore deeply rooted in history; however, at the same time it has always been “capable of transcending the limitation of a specific temporality, to speak with comparable authority and intelligibility to the citizens of eighteenth-century colonies, a nineteenth-century agrarian republic, and a modern industrial world power” (Slotkin, 1993:4). Frederick Jackson Turner and Theodore Roosevelt’s formulation of “Frontier Theses” immediately after the closure of the agrarian Frontier at the end of the nineteenth century is a demonstration that the Frontier became after that date a term of ideological rather than historical reference. However, as we shall see, the “Frontier” has always had for Americans - since the Colonial period - not only the historical meaning of “a moving line bounding the un-won wilderness” (Turner, 1945:41), but also an ideological meaning transforming the “moving line” into the mythic space where American identity was shaped and where Americans could seek refuge if historical events - among which the closure of the Frontier itself was the most feared - would threaten the life of the nation. Therefore, the analysis of the two theses will show how mythical and historical language melt when it comes to the interpretation of the concept of the “Frontier.”
1.1.1. Frederick Jackson Turner's "Frontier Thesis"
In 1893, Frederick Jackson Turner delivered his address on the Significance of the Frontier in American History at a meeting of the American Historical Association in Chicago. Three years before, in 1890, the "closing of the frontier" had been announced in a bulletin of the Superintendent of the Census:
Up to and including 1880 the country had a frontier of settlement, but at present the unsettled area has been so broken into by isolated bodies of settlement that there can hardly be said to be a frontier line. In the discussion of its extent, its westward movement, etc., it can not, therefore, any longer have a place in the census reports. (quoted in Turner, 1945:1) The end of the century thus marks a turning point in American history and in the interpretation of it. Up to that moment, according to Turner's "Frontier Thesis," the existence of an area of abundant free land and the consequent westward expansion had shaped American development and had been the basis of the "exceptionality" of the American character (Slotkin, 1985:33-47), a feeling drawing the pioneers further away from Europe. The Pilgrim Fathers' desire to leave the oppressing Old World behind and to begin a new life could become reality in a New World offering unlimited opportunities to the strong and self-reliant individual who was able to overcome the obstacles the American environment placed before him and finally master the wilderness. The promise of extraordinary wealth resulting from the exploitation of the resources of the continent, whose richness was praised by traders and scouts exploring the inland areas, led the pioneers to venture beyond the early settlements on the Atlantic coast, and, decade after decade, the frontier line dividing settled from unsettled territories continuously advanced. As Grund declared in 1836:
It appears that the universal disposition of Americans to emigrate to the western wilderness, in order to enlarge their dominion over inanimate nature, is the actual result of an expansive power which is inherent in them, and which by continually agitating all classes of society is constantly throwing a large portion of the whole population on the extreme confines of the State, in order to gain space for its development. Hardly is a new State or Territory formed before the same principle manifests itself again and gives rise to further emigration; and so is it destined to go on until a physical barrier must finally obstruct its progress. (Grund, Americans, ii p. 8, quoted in Turner, 1945:7) As a matter of fact, from the first official attempt to locate the Massachusetts frontier in 1690 to the end of the nineteenth century, when the closing of the national frontier was announced, distinct waves of settlement occurred, each characterized by the peculiar experience of the Frontier, which influenced so much the course of American history and shaped American national identity. Therefore, Turner placed at the core of the interpretation of American development two main elements: the Frontier as the "line of Americanization," and the West as the territory beyond this line, whose features were strongly determined by the Frontier experience (Turner, 1945:1-4). The fact that the term "frontier" itself assumed a different meaning in the New World demonstrates the significance of this unique experience in American history: while in Europe it referred, as it still does, to the concept of political boundary, in America it came to signify "edge of settlement" or, better, it was thought as "a moving line bounding the un-won wilderness" (Turner, 1945:41), and dividing civilized from non-civilized world. In two hundred years, this "moving line" advanced from the Atlantic to the Pacific coast, forcing a radical transformation both of the American environment and of the pioneers who accepted the challenge of frontier life. If they wanted to exploit the potentialities of the continent, the colonists had first to overcome a number of difficulties, in particular the hostile conditions of the environment and the opposition of the Native Indians who inhabited the territories they were going to conquer. 3
Therefore, in the attempt to master the wilderness, they were also mastered by it; at the "Frontier school," they learned how to adapt themselves to the new conditions and to a completely new way of life. Each stage of the frontier shared basic common features, so that the way the colonists coped with difficulties and settled questions on the Atlantic frontier was useful as a guide for the next frontier experience and for later settlements. However, although each new settlement found in the older ones material for its own organization, each frontier presented to the pioneers different realities, according to the time and place elements, which made them return each time to the simplicity of primitive conditions of life (Turner, 1945:9-11). The Frontier experience played thus a significant role as a rite of passage, marking the colonists' transition from the old European way of life to the new American way of life, from the old European identity to the new American identity, with all the difficulties and contradictions this transition implied. The result of this process was the creation of a new society in the free lands of the West, a society which gradually
loses its primitive conditions, and assimilates itself to the type of the older social conditions of the East; but it bears within it enduring and distinguishing survivals of its frontier experience. (Turner, 1945:205) Therefore, according to Turner, it is in the West where the distinguishing features of the American character took shape: far from European influence, marked by the unique experience of the Frontier, and provided with unlimited resources and opportunities, the colonists could develop a new society with its own ideals and institutions. Given the abundance of land which characterized the New World, it is not surprising that Turner assigned to farmers the leading role in this process of social regeneration and believed in an agrarian Utopia promoting democracy and economic growth. Moreover, his thesis on the importance of the agrarian frontier in American development was backed up by a strong tradition of agrarian philosophy, which saw among its 4
most known theorists St. John de CrĂ¨vecoeur and Thomas Jefferson, who shared the belief that the westward expansion would be indefinite and that the agricultural society was at the basis of the creation of the American republic. According to them, the forces which were to control the future were to be found in the communities devoting themselves to the cultivation of the earth and to the transformation of vast areas of the continent into the "Garden of the World" (Smith, 1995:123-132), an image which became one of the dominant symbols of nineteenth-century American society. What is surprising is that Turner, in Roosevelt's words, "put into shape a good deal of thought that [had] been floating around rather loosely" (quoted in Slotkin, 1993:29), and did it exactly when he realized that the closing of the agrarian Frontier marked the beginning of a period of crisis in American history and led to social and political changes. On the one hand, Americans could no longer rely on the physical presence of the agrarian Frontier as the safety valve of the inexorable development of the continent; on the other hand, as a consequence, the mythological significance of the Frontier was beginning to fail. Turner assumed that democracy was threatened by the disappearance of the material conditions which made it possible, that is the free lands, and believed that it was the task of the American Universities to preserve and bequeath to the new generations the vanishing pioneer ideals - that is the ideological importance of the past Frontier experiences - adjusting them to the requirements of a modern society:
The time has come when University men may well consider pioneer ideals, for American society has reached the end of the first great period in its formation. It must survey itself, reflect upon its origins, consider what freightage of purposes it carried in its long march across the continent, what ambitions it had for the man, what role it would play in the world. (Turner, 1945:281) In other words, for Turner, the time had come when the Frontier had to be considered as a term of ideological reference, embodying the â€œpioneer 5
idealsâ€? which had made America great and whose inheritance would ensure the future development of the nation.
1.1.2. Theodore Roosevelt's Interpretation of the â€œFrontierâ€?
At about the same time Turner formulated his "Frontier Thesis," Theodore Roosevelt was completing the publication of the seven-volume work The Winning of the West (1885-94), an historical account of the settlement and the development of America. Both historians shared the belief in the crucial importance of the Frontier in American history, and consequently, they also shared the same anxiety for the possible problems rising from its closure; but their approach to the subject was quite different. While Turner emphasized the agricultural aspect of the Frontier, transforming the farmers and the small entrepreneurs into heroes who built the future of the nation, Roosevelt focused on a much more contradictory frontier issue, the Indian wars, where the hero is one who engaged in a war of extermination or subjugation against the savage races. As "...before the land could be settled it had to be won" (Roosevelt, 1906:IV,7), the Indian wars were to be considered the central matter in American history, and the Frontier a place of "racial" rather than "social" regeneration, where the Anglo-Saxon race would have proved its superiority gaining control over the savages, as it had already happened in the past in Europe. Roosevelt considered the Frontier experience as a re-enactment of the "stages of civilization," a sort of "Darwinian arena in which 'races' representing different phases or principles of social organization contend for mastery" (Slotkin, 1993:39), where the fittest race replaces the weakest one and civilization triumphs over savagery. His heroes are not Turner's farmers, but hunters and scouts, "men who know Indians" and defend their racial character through "savage war." From this perspective, the problems caused by the closing of the Frontier were not linked to the exhaustion of free lands, and as a 6
consequence, according to Turner, to the destruction of the core values of Western democracy and to the concentration of economic and social power in the hands of a few people. For Roosevelt, the end of this historical period meant not only the loss of a source of wealth, but also the loss of the conditions of hunting and Indian-fighting which tempered the American character and developed Americans' "leadership virtues." Therefore, the real concern of a post-Frontier American society would be the preservation of such virtues in a completely changed environment where wilderness and savages belonged to the past. So Roosevelt's response was to recreate "primitive conditions" with the establishment of national hunting parks, as he suggested in The Wilderness Hunter (1893). As a matter of fact, in these parks the new generations could experience the adventurous life of the hunter, "with its rugged and stalwart democracy, [and] wild surroundings, ... [which] cultivates that vigorous manliness for the lack of which in a nation, as in an individual, the possession of no other qualities can possibly atone" (quoted in Slotkin, 1993:56). Roosevelt himself went West to live a regenerative experience through ranching and hunting, and this immersion in the wilderness was essential for him in acquiring the capacity for a "strenuous life," that is the life of toil and effort, labor and strife, which would have helped the whole society to maintain the virtues of the American character formed on the Frontier and leading to the achievement of economic and political power (Slotkin, 1993:36-56). Therefore, while Turner saw one possible solution of the crisis of the post-Frontier society in the commitment of the "University men" to preserve the ideals of democracy, Roosevelt was convinced that only the presence of a ruling social class regenerated by the recreation or reenactment of the Frontier experience - of which he was a representative could grant America a bright future. However different might be their theses, they agreed on the importance of their role as historians in the interpretation of the contemporary crisis and in the projection of its solutions with the help of their historical knowledge. Both came to the conclusion that America had to "reflect upon its origins" and gain 7
awareness of its own past in order to draw from it a useful lesson to face contemporary difficulties. What Turner and Roosevelt did, was to consider the Frontier as the most important experience shaping American history up to that moment, and consequently as the source of "exemplary tales" which should be followed by their contemporaries as models of social behaviour, helping them to preserve values and virtues of the frontiersmen. It is at this moment, â€œwhen historical fact is transformed into precedent for future action (...)â€? that their histories begin "to function as myth" (Slotkin, 1993:54): both Turner and Roosevelt formulated what Slotkin defines "historical mythologies," where the significance of the Frontier as a mythic space outweighs its importance as a geographical reality. To develop their "historical mythologies," they drew on the pre-existing language of myth: Turner referred to the myth of the "Garden of the World," and Roosevelt turned to the hero-centered Myth of the Hunter and of "race war." However, while Turner's thesis became an essential starting point in American academic historiography, it was Roosevelt who influenced more the field of mass-culture mythology, drawing on the literary mythology of the past and at the same time shaping the cultural and political discourse of the twentieth century. To understand the degree to which Roosevelt considered literature and history inseparable, and believed in the role of the historian in conditioning the course of events, it is interesting to read the Annual Address of the President of the American Historical Association, delivered by Roosevelt in Boston, in 1912. In this address, he argues that historical works should have literary qualities, and that a good investigator is the one who "from his study of a myriad dead fragments is able to paint some living picture of the past," combining in his work wisdom with knowledge, and the power of expression with the gift of imagination. He therefore rejects the assertion that imagination tends to inaccuracy, as "only distorted imagination tends to inaccuracy." Moreover, he declares:
History which is not professedly utilitarian, history which is didactic only as great poetry is unconsciously didactic, may yet possess that highest form of usefulness, the power to thrill the souls of men with stories of strength and craft and daring, and to lift them out of their common selves to the heights of high endeavor. The greatest historian should also be a great moralist. Without a doubt, the "stories of strength and craft and daring" function in Roosevelt's works as "exemplary tales," and result from the interplay of history and the rich literary mythology of the Frontier, in which American heroes - from half-historical and half-mythical figures like Daniel Boone and David Crockett to the fictional Hawkeye of Cooper's Leatherstocking Tales - offer far more appealing models to follow than the farmers of Turner's histories, as it can be demonstrated analyzing the development of the Myth of the Frontier, and particularly the image of the Western hero.
1.2. The Origins of the Myth of the Frontier After its closing in 1890, the Frontier became a term of ideological rather than geographical reference, and
no historian who lived in the heyday of the real Frontier saw as much significance in it as the theorists of a postFrontier historiography, Frederick Jackson Turner and Theodore Roosevelt. (Slotkin, 1985:16) Since then, the Myth of the Frontier has been constantly invoked to explain or justify American decisions in national and international politics; it has been revised to fulfill the requirements of a modern society, it has been exploited by the rich and ruling class to assert its position, and it continues to shape American cultural and political discourse down to the present time. However, as both Turner and Roosevelt drew on the already existing literary mythology to formulate their theses, it is evident that the Frontier had always been considered in mythical terms also before this date. As a matter of fact, the origins of the American Myth of the Frontier can be traced back to the Colonial period, and since then its development has gone hand in hand with the growth of the country, in continuous interplay with the course of historical events. American myth and history are so much entangled that sometimes it becomes difficult to understand if it has been history to shape myth or if it has been myth to create what Slotkin calls the "fatal environment of expectations or imperatives," in which "a whole political culture can be entrapped" (Slotkin, 1985:20). Myths, at least in origin, are stories created by the human mind and derive from the necessity to give coherence to historical events and to justify the social behaviour of a community, especially when there are difficult situations to face. Although they have their roots in archetypal myths, which address universal conditions and concerns of men, each of them is drawn from history, and necessarily depends on the peculiar 10
experience of the community, reflecting its psychology and world view. Slotkin talks about what Northrop Frye calls "myths of concern," in other words
the central myths [which] refer to those issues that concern society most deeply, and most persistently over time. (Slotkin, 1985:23) This explains the importance of the Myth of the Frontier in America: the process of mythogenesis was a necessity of the Founding Fathers, whose behaviour and ideas were influenced by the peculiar experience of the Frontier, and whose hopes and fears are the "foundation stones" of American mythology. From the moment they left Europe to the moment they "conquered" a piece of land and established a proper settlement "with a church, a school and a courtroom," where women and children could be safe, they had found but obstacles and "frontiers" to overcome, and the Myth of the Frontier embodied without a doubt their greatest fears and their strongest hopes. The overcoming of the Frontier represented for the colonists the possibility to affirm a new identity and to build a better society, but it also implied the loss of their European identity and the danger of regression to a primitive condition, due to the hostility of the environment they had to adapt to and to the threat represented by the contact with the savages who inhabited the continent and who were seen as personifications of the devil. They were therefore torn between the desire of asserting their difference from Europe and the necessity of maintaining their cultural background as civilized people, which provided them with the basis for the establishment of the new settlements and for the development of the new communities. At the same time, the colonists also showed a contradictory attitude towards the Indians: they couldn't think of a peaceful way of living with the savages, but they knew they would have to learn to behave like them if they wanted to survive in the wilderness. This set of contradictions forms part of the American experience itself; it constitutes its most problematic aspect and it is the 11
cause of Americans' continual preoccupation of defining or re-defining their national identity through a continuous activity of myth-making. As myths reflect the communities' characteristic approach to life and as the source of the American Myth lies in the opposition between two different worlds and cultures, the European and the Indian, the colonists' contradictory attitudes toward the one and the other will also be reflected in the development of the Myth, in which the "Frontier" is a metaphor of the colonists' condition of being constantly on the "edge." As a matter of fact,
all of a culture ideology is contained in myths: the most opposite sides and contradictions of belief are registered in mythic discourse and brought within the frame of its narrative. (Slotkin, 1985:23) Therefore, the colonists' contradictory feelings and their reactions to the experiences of emigration, starting anew, mastering an unknown environment, and facing hostile conditions and savage enemies, all became part of the rich American mythology. These historical experiences acquire here a symbolizing function, and terms like "Frontier," "savage war," and "cowboys and Indians" are not only considered as historical references, but as metaphors which conjure up the whole American cultural system lying behind them, and which connect the past with the present, so that the present is seen as a repetition of past structures recurring in history. In this way, the distinction between past and present is lost, and the very first experiences of the community are used to interpret and face the historical events of the present (Slotkin, 1985:23-26). As a result, the experiences of emigration and Frontier life have been at the core of the American Myth from the beginning and have shaped American national identity, providing a pattern to follow up to present times:
Emigration was the necessary prelude to any truly American story, since without such a 'coming out' there could be no America. (Slotkin, 1985:35) The physical removal from Europe was the first step in the steady process of transformation the colonists would experience: it would be complete only after undergoing a temporary regression to a primitive state on the Frontier, where through the war of extermination against the savages and the establishment of settlements on the "virgin land," civilization would acquire vigour and gain control over savagery. This process became cyclical, as there was a great availability of free lands and the immigrants arrived every day in larger numbers, opening new frontiers. As Slotkin explains, the different phases of Frontier development had a recurrent structure, based on the alternation of "leaps forward" of the Frontier line for the acquisition of new land and "slow filling in" of the new territories, during which the settlement was established, and the peculiar psychology of the Frontier economics, along with the Frontier mythology as its most significant means of cultural expression, emerged (Slotkin, 1985:36-38). Moreover,
important recurrent aspect of the Frontier experience was without a doubt the transformation it implied: the chance of "coming out" given to the pioneers by the discovery of the New World was so great that they could start a new and comfortable life, as the resources were unlimited and wealth was guaranteed. The regenerative power of the land they felt entitled to and of the violent experience of the war against the savages for its conquest would make a nation out of different European groups knitted together by the common experience of the Frontier.
1.2.1. The Origins of the Literary Mythology of the Frontier: Indian War Narrative and Captivity Narrative
The culture and literature we call American was born out of the confrontation between cultures that embodied two distinctly different phases of mythological evolution, two conflicting modes of perception, two 13
antagonistic visions of the nature and destiny of man and the natural wilderness. (Slotkin, 1973:25) American history and culture are pivoted on the conflictual meeting of Europeans and Indians on the Frontier, and so is American mythology. As a matter of fact, the first examples of American literary mythology were the Indian war narrative, which drew on the unique experience of the war against the savages, and the captivity narrative, or stories of white captives among the Indians. Both kind of narratives originated in the opposition between Indian culture and European culture, which were centered on very different approaches to life. In my opinion, to understand the distance between the two cultures it is necessary to mention briefly the myths of Creation with which Indians and Europeans tried to give an explanation to the genesis of the human race, and which contributed to the creation of the American Myth. According to the Delawares' version of the Creation, also common among other Indian tribes, in the beginning the people lived under a lake without being satisfied with their condition; one day, the tribal hero saw a deer, and during the hunting the animal passed through a hole which led in the world. After killing the deer and eating its meat, the hunter perceived the goodness of the Earth and returned to the underworld. When his people ate the meat, they awakened and followed the hunter through the hole, populating and enjoying the world (Slotkin, 1973:4648). On the contrary, the Puritan myth of Creation begins with the Old Testament version of the fall of man who, after disobeying his God and eating the forbidden fruit, had to leave the Garden of Eden to live a life full of pain and difficulties. The difference between the two versions of the same myth lies in the fact that
whereas the Christian myth deplores [the fall of man] as a fall from a gracious satisfyingly womblike condition, the Indian myth rejoices in the discovery and in the movement into the world. (Slotkin, 1973:46)
These beliefs were of course reflected in the attitude towards the wilderness or nature in general, and in the relationship between Puritans and Indians: while for the Indians the wilderness was a god which deserved worship, even if it could be both good and evil, for the Puritans the evil was of nature, and the good could only be supernatural. Consequently, it was not immoral for Puritans to destroy the wilderness and the Indians who were part of it, and therefore evil by nature: on the contrary, they considered this task as a divine mission to be carried out by any means, including violence and extermination. Indian war narrative and captivity narrative originated from these mythological premises, from the fact that Puritans saw the culture of the New World as "a darkened and inverted mirror image of their own culture, their own mind" (Slotkin, 1973:57). Consequently, their duty was to transform the wilderness and savage life of the Indians into a "sanctified civilization," and at the same time, to avoid the degeneration of their civilized society into a primitive and sinful condition. As D. H. Lawrence wrote: "people in America have always been shouting about the things they are not" (D. H. Lawrence, 1971:10). In other words, Puritans tried to achieve their own sense of identity through the rejection of the Indians, who represented the opposite of what they wanted to be. This rejection took the form of racial warfare, and, as a consequence, the Indian wars became the distinctive feature of American history and the first object of literary mythology.
184.108.40.206. Indian War Narrative (1625-1682)
Indian war narrative (1625-1682) functioned first of all as an account of the historical Indian wars, which shaped the course of American development, but for Puritans this kind of narrative was without a doubt much more significant as an expression of their anxieties for the changes the life on the Frontier could lead to, and of their dual attitude towards the Indians and the New World. As a matter of fact, although the war against the savages was justified because it was 15
necessary to defend the settlements and to rescue the captives, it implied the immersion in the "corrupting element" of the wilderness, and therefore the risk of degenerating and losing one's soul to the devil. It is at this point that the Puritans' approach to the New World reveals its ambivalence, which can be explained analyzing an image used by Benjamin Tompson in one of his poems on King Philip's War (1675-78):
The flames like lightening in their narrow streets Dart in the face of everyone it meets, Here might be heard an hideous indian cry Of wounded ones who in the Wigwams fry . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Had we been Canibals here might we feast On brave Westphalian gammons ready drest. (quoted in Slotkin, 1973:90)
The concept of cannibalism has always been associated with primitive cultures, where it had a strong meaning, as in "eating a bit of one's slain enemy (...) was to primitive men a ritual means of taking on the strength of that enemy" (Slotkin, 1973:90). Tompson, as Slotkin suggests, may have linked this concept to the Puritans' wish to "cannibalize the Indians," that is to learn from them anything they needed to survive in the wilderness and to take into themselves the strength necessary to master it, but at the same time to extirpate savagery through subjugation or extermination of the Indian race. However contradictory these statements may be, they are interdependent, as from the beginning Americans understood that learning the laws of the wilderness and behaving like savages was the only way to gain control over the Indian's world, as well as becoming part of the Indian's world was the only way to transform or destroy it. The Puritans' purpose was to replace savagery with civilization, they came to America to experience a radical change and to create a new world, sometimes becoming even worse than savages to reach their aim, to the extent that in his Letters from an American Farmer (1782), referring to those who live on the Frontier, CrĂ¨vecoeur notes that "the manners of the Indian natives are respectable compared to this European medley." 16
However, savage war was for Puritan writers not only a historical conflict between two different races, but it also became a useful metaphor for representing the strife between good (Puritan) and evil (Indian) within the soul of man, and Indian war narrative was above all a vehicle of Puritan propaganda and doctrine rather than an historical account. It is significant that Puritans structured this kind of narrative in the form of sermon, as their main purpose was to be functional, to "inculcate moral principles through precept and example" so that "the product would remain true to the Puritan vision of the nature of human experience" (Slotkin, 1973:66-7), and as it was important to continue to see the Indians as an evil threat which should be eliminated.
220.127.116.11. Captivity Narrative (1682-1700)
Another form of narrative which originated from the New World experience and developed between 1682 and 1700 resumed, amplified, and re-formulated the beliefs and the principles Puritans had expressed in Indian war narrative. Captivity narrative was in fact based on the premise that war against the savage races was inevitable, but it manifested both a slightly changed attitude towards the Indians and a more marked inward turn from the Puritans. This is demonstrated by the fact that in captivity narrative, the contradictory question of contact with the Indians was dealt with more directly than it was in Indian war narrative, where the possibility of a close relationship with the savages was avoided by the violent struggle between the two parts: according to the Puritans' point of view, it was much more desirable to be killed during the war than to be captive among the Indians, as death should be preferred to the abandonment to the animal instinct they would have experienced living among the savages. On the contrary, even if the concept of "save the last bullet for yourself" remained unchanged, captivity narrative actually dealt with the "trials" of white captives forced to live among the Indians, particularly of helpless white women awaiting rescue by the grace of God (Slotkin, 1973:94-5). 17
The fact that Puritans tolerated the idea of a possible captivity experience reveals a significant, even if imperceptible, shift of attitude. On the one hand, it is as if Puritans unconsciously began to look for a closer relationship with their enemy, as they realized that their desire of "cannibalizing the Indians" could be fulfilled not through their massacre, but only through a deeper knowledge of them and of their way of life. Of course, since they could not accept the possibility of living with the Indians willingly, the only experience which could justify a contact was to be taken involuntarily as captives among them. On the other hand, Puritans considered the captivity experience as a necessary trial to wash their sins away, because the temporary bondage to the Indians was a metaphor both for the bondage of the soul to human temptations and for their self-exile from England, which made them feel guilty for breaking the ties of blood, custom, and religion with their native country. The experience would therefore result into a figurative rebirth, a conversion and renewal of the soul, and captivity narrative would function as a myth: the story of the individual's captivity represented for Puritans their collective experience of â€œsalvation-through-afflictionâ€? (Slotkin, 1973:96102). The primary model of captivity narrative was Mrs. Mary Rowlandson's The Soveraignty and Goodness of God, Together with the Faithfulness of His Promises Displayed: Being a Narrative of the Captivity and Restauration of Mrs. Mary Rowlandson, first published in 1682. In it, we are given the first-person account of her captivity experience after an Indian attack on her village, during which most of the members of her family were killed. Despite the sorrow for the death of her children and relatives and the difficult conditions she had to bear, Mrs. Rowlandson never lost her faith in God's mercy, and strongly believed that without His help she wouldn't have been able to overcome the countless obstacles she found on her path. She says:
the Lord renewed my strength still, and carried me along, that I might see more of his Power; yea, so much 18
that I could never have thought of, had I not experienced it. (Rowlandson, 1682:174) Moreover, she argues that the Indians were strengthened by God, as
our perverse and evil carriages in the sight of the Lord, have so offended him, that instead of turning his hand against them, the Lord feeds and nourishes them up to be a scourge to the whole Land. (Rowlandson, 1682:171) As a matter of fact, the Puritans were convinced that the experiences of Indian war and captivity were used by God for "His holy ends," that is to help people realize their weakness and their absolute dependence on Him. Mrs. Rawlandson is grateful to the Lord for the captivity experience which positively affected her, as she declares: "And I hope I can say in some measure, As David did, It is good for me that I have been afflicted" (Rowlandson, 1682:174): the most important thing for her is not to have been returned safe to civilization - the account ends with Mrs. Rowlandson's restoration to her old life - but to have been restored to it with "newly opened eyes," realizing the vanity of the material world and of all the "outward things," and that "we must rely on God himself, and our whole dependence must be upon him" (Rowlandson, 1682:174). The importance of Mrs. Rowlandson's account lies in the fact that it was the first captivity narrative ever written, and that it functioned as an archetype for later works on the same subject - in other words, as â€œthe initiator of a genre of narrative within American cultureâ€? (Slotkin, 1973:102). Moreover, captivity narrative marks the starting point of American literary mythology: the first representation of personal and collective history, which
provided the effective means of assimilating the colonial inheritance of primitive and EuropeanChristian mythology to the circumstances of American life, of making the universal mythology applicable to a special cultural situation. (Slotkin, 1973:103) 19
However, the term "representation" must be carefully used in the American context, because the image of America we draw from captivity narrative, as well as from literary mythology in general, is often an inaccurate representation, or a misrepresentation of reality seen through the filter of Puritanism. The distorted image of American wilderness and of the Native Indians as a dark and evil environment and as evil creatures originated in the Puritans' projection of their need to suppress human natural and wicked impulses in the subjugation of the savage race which represented them par excellence, the Indians. This image remained the central issue of the subsequent American literary mythology, in which it has developed and has been variously interpreted according to the cultural moment. It is significant for instance the role played by captivity narrative during the social crisis of 1688-1692, when a series of dramatic events culminated in a collective hysteria (Slotkin, 1973:116-128). During this period, the ambivalent attitude of the Puritans towards the New World slightly changed: the idea of the western wilderness as a place of temptations, where civilized people could degenerate into a primitive condition prevailed over the image of a new Garden of Eden, where colonists could start a new life. There was a growing belief that "the only acceptable communion between Christian and Indian, civilization and wilderness, was the communion of murder, hunger, and bloodlust" (Slotkin, 1973:125). This belief was strengthened first of all by the assumption that the presence of the Indians and the war against them was God's punishment for breaking the ties with England and with civilization; secondly, by the ignorance of the Indians' ways, to the extent that Puritans mistook the harmonious relationship between savages and wilderness with a sort of demonic power, whose sources had to be discovered and employed against the Indians themselves in order to extirpate them and their savagery. Once again, "cannibalism" was necessary to the colonists' survival, even if they could not accept it as a voluntary choice. It will be enough to say that Puritans thought that who went willingly into the wilderness inevitably became an Indian, and that 20
a similar fate awaited the ransomed captives who were restored to civilization, as the captivity experience alienated them from civilized people. An exemplification of the Puritans' fears was the tragedy of the frontier village of Salmon Falls, in New England, which was destroyed by the Indian raids in 1690: most of the people were killed, the others carried into captivity. Among the captives there was a girl, Mercy Short, who was later ransomed and who became a patient of the spiritual physician Cotton Mather, because at her return she was possessed by the devil, and she began accusing of witchcraft many innocent people, spreading the terror of witches throughout the community (Slotkin, 1973:128-145). The case of Mercy Short became for Mather and for Puritans in general a plain manifestation of the captivity psychology which pervaded the whole society, and it made him realize that the pattern of the captivity experience had been the common pattern in his culture's history. Therefore, in Mather's works, especially in his Magnalia Christi Americana (1702), he highlighted that throughout American history, the constant pattern had been that of captivity narrative:
a devilish visitation, an enforced sojourn in evil climes under the rule of man-devils, and an ultimate redemption of body and soul through the interposition of divine grace and the perseverance of the victim in orthodox belief. (Slotkin, 1973:130) The psychotic form of the neurosis from which Mercy Short and many other captives suffered was therefore considered as a representation of the whole society's malaise caused by the presence of the Indians, and Mather's goal was to exorcize the girl and extirpate from her mind the impulses of her unconscious - the "Indians" - with his psychoanalytic technique, and in this way he also symbolically eliminated the real Indians from the wilderness. Once again, the Puritan anxieties about their soul were manifested through their fear of the Indians, and the struggle between good and evil was expressed through the only conceivable 21
relationship between white and Indian, that is the relationship between captive and captor.
1.2.2. The Passage from "Exorcism" to "Initiation"
Despite the cultural differences dividing European colonists from Indians, and although the experiences of savage war and captivity only contributed to intensify the conflictual relationship between them, the meeting of their worlds in the same hostile environment led both of them to endure a constant struggle for survival. The Puritans' need to exorcize the fear of the captivity experience, and with it the unavoidable direct contact with Indians originated in the colonists' lack of acculturation: they were completely ignorant of Indian culture and way of life, and although they wished to learn from the savages, they refused to live like them. Consequently, their incompetence in the wilderness was clearly a result of the refusal to practice the wilderness life, which was the only possibility of survival in the New World. However, until the beginning of the eighteenth century, they continued to think that being willingly implicated with the Indian world could only lead to degradation and wickedness, and that, even if the experience was unwilling like in the case of captivity, the consequences would be disastrous: at their return to civilization, the ransomed captives would feel alienated from the rest of society, and in the worst cases they would suffer from serious forms of psychosis, like Mercy Short. It is interesting to note that the "exorcism-through-re-enactment" psychology was also practised among Indian tribes, where
the warrior, newly escaped from death in battle or on the trial, had to reassert the masculine powers that recent experiences had tested and threatened. He did so by inflicting on his defeated enemy the very torments he had feared for himself, thus exorcizing his fears for the moment. This, as we have seen, was also a Puritan response to stress: the massacre of those who threatened massacres, the magical exorcism of those who used black magic. 22
(Slotkin, 1973:144) However, for Puritans, the most significant response to crisis remained the exorcism carried out in literature, which, between 1682 and 1716 exclusively focused on the theme of captivity. As I have already mentioned, this kind of narrative offered only one possible relationship between white and Indian, that is the relationship between captive and captor, which was characterized by "passive submission" or "violent retribution." For the colonists it still was inconceivable to think about the issue in different terms, they felt insecure and lacked self-confidence, they could only think about the wilderness as a dangerous and evil place, full of enemies. It will be necessary to wait for the beginning of the eighteenth century to see a slight change of attitude, a movement towards a different idea of the wilderness, portrayed in more realistic terms, which coincided with what it may be called the "first stage of acculturation" of the colonists in the New World (see 2.1.): during this stage, culminating in the creation of the Myth of the Hunter, they became aware of the necessity of a more direct contact with the Indians, and they began to enter the wilderness willingly (Slotkin, 1973:147-157). As we shall see in the next chapter, this shift implied the substitution of the concept of exorcism with the concept of initiation, and of the passive figure of the captive-victim with the active figure of the hunter-hero, together with the introduction of the idea of heroic agency replacing divine agency in the course of history.
CHAPTER 2 The Image of the Western Hero/Antihero in American Literary Mythology: from "the First Stage of Acculturation" to the Final Frontier
2.1. The “First Stage of Acculturation” and the Myth of the Hunter As we have seen in the previous chapter (see 1.2.), until the beginning of the eighteenth century the Puritans were so inexperienced in "wilderness life" and feared so much the consequences of entering an unknown world, that they viewed the wilderness as, in Mrs. Rowlandson's words, a "lively resemblance of hell," and that the Indians' ability to live in harmony with the surrounding environment was considered as an impossible condition to achieve for civilized people, unless they possessed like the savages a sort of demonic power which made them strong enough to adapt to a primitive way of life. This negative attitude was embodied in the literary production developing throughout the seventeenth century, which was mainly constituted by accounts of missionary work, of warfare, and of captivity among the Indians, and in which a "dark" view of the experiences in the New World prevailed. According to this point of view, which originated from the Puritan obsession with the forces of evil, the process of conversion on which the narratives focused could only be violently accomplished through exorcism: the conversion of the soul of man through the exorcism of sins which are inherent in human nature, and the conversion of the society through the extermination of the Indians - evil by nature or, in other words, through their exorcism from the wilderness. In literary mythology, conversion of the soul and conversion of society went hand in hand, as both in Indian war narrative and in captivity narrative the 25
Indian had always been considered as a scapegoat, as the "outward type of the beast that is in every man" (Slotkin, 1973:154). Of course, this image had always been functional to the structure of the story: in Indian war narrative, the struggle against the savages was seen as a mirror image of the inner process of conversion each Puritan should experience, and their subjugation as a repression of the natural and wicked impulses which characterize human nature; in captivity narrative, the Indians became instruments of God, through which the conversion of the captives would take place after the trauma of experiencing primitive conditions of life among the savages. Therefore, the passage from Indian war narrative to captivity narrative was marked by an inward turn: if during an Indian war the Puritan had to hunt down the Indians as the beasts embodying evil qualities, during the captivity experience the captive had to realize that the evil principles were within himself, and that he had to "hunt out the inner beast and slay it" (Slotkin, 1973:154) before redemption could take place. With the beginning of the eighteenth century, the Puritan stance towards the wilderness and the Indians underwent a significant change, due to a greater knowledge of the New World, and consequently to a growing self-confidence of the colonists, whose negative attitude towards the environment was replaced by a more positive way of looking at things. Although the wilderness continued to represent a threat for them, during the "first stage of acculturation" the Anglo-Americans learned to get closer to the Indian-like view of the environment, according to which all the things of the world have a divine, and not evil, nature. The settlersâ€™ shift of attitude was represented by the substitution of the captivity/rescue frame with the hunting narratives, in which, as we shall see, the European settler/hunter will undergo a metamorphosis leading to an identification between him and the prey representing â€œthe spirit of the wilderness,â€? and therefore to a significant acclimatization of the Europeans in the New World. The introduction of the Myth of the Hunter into the American literary mythology marks the beginning of the creation of the American identity. 26
2.1.1. The Literary Origins of the Myth of the Hunter in Benjamin Churchâ€™s Entertaining Passages (1716)
The turning point in the literary mythology of Indian wars was marked by the publication in 1716 of Benjamin Church's Entertaining Passages Relating to Philip's War, a narrative of the author's hunt for the Indian king. Church's hunting experience became a metaphor of the process of acculturation the colonists felt the need to go through, and, as Mrs. Rowlandson's narrative had established the archetype of the captivity myth and narrative, Church's Entertaining Passages - despite the author's unawareness of the mythic implications of his work established the archetype for the narratives centered on the Hunter Myth, which embodied the new attitude of the first generation of colonists born in America and raised on the frontier, of which Church himself was a representative (Slotkin, 1973:157-158). Although he had been educated as a Puritan, his approach to the wilderness was characterized by openmindedness and spirit of adaptation. As a matter of fact, Church's establishment of an analogy between the Indian wars and the hunting experience created first of all the premises for the process of acculturation which had to take place: the hunt of the Indian - like every hunt - was undertaken willingly by the white man, as the struggle with the savages ceased to be considered a ritual exorcism of the evil and of the fear of the wilderness, and acquired a new meaning, becoming the essential condition to gain knowledge and start a new life. It became, in other words, a rite of initiation leading to a higher state of being, the achievement of which was possible only through the recognition that "cannibalizing the Indians" (see 18.104.22.168.) was necessary for the survival of the white race in the New World and for the mastering of the wilderness. With these premises, the Myth of the Hunter provided Church with the main metaphor of the American process of acculturation: the experience of "cannibalism" occurring during the chase, through which 27
the transfer of identity between hunter and prey would take place, and through which the hunter/settler would learn the brotherhood with all life. As the hunter must learn the habits of his prey in order to seize and kill it, Church himself, during his literary experience, must undergo a radical change, becoming more and more like the Indian he is hunting (Slotkin, 1973:156-179). The acceptance of the possibility of an identification of the white man with the Indian - to be absolutely avoided according to seventeenth-century beliefs - was given by the fact that in the eighteenth century the symbiosis between Indian and wilderness was no more considered as the result of the Indians' possess of demonic power allowing them to survive among such dangers, but it was seen as the more realistic result of the ability of these people to adjust perfectly and completely to the surrounding environment. Therefore, becoming more and more like the Indians was the essential condition to learn how to blend in with the wilderness, and at the same time to acquire strength and to gain control over the natives. As a matter of fact, after Philip’s defeat, “Church accepts, with perfect willingness, an Indian’s acknowledgement that he personally (rather than Jehovah) was the means to his country salvation” (Slotkin, 1973:171):
The Moon now shining bright, he saw him at a distance coming with something in his hands, and coming up to Capt. Church, he [the Indian Annawon] fell upon his knees before him, and offered him what he had bro’t, ... “Great Captain, you have killed Philip, and conquered his Country for I believe, that I and my company are the last that War against the English, so suppose the War is ended by your means; and therefore these things belong unto you.” (...) Then opening his pack, he pull’d out Philips belt, curiously wrought with Wompom, being nine inches broad wrought with black and white Wompom, in various figures, and flowers, and pictures of many birds and beasts. This, when hanged upon Capt. Churches shoulders, reach’d his ancles. And another belt of Wompom he presented him with, wrought after the former manner, which Philip was wont to put upon his head, ... and another small belt with a Star upon the end of it, ... edged with red hair, which Annawon said he got in the Muhhogs country. 28
(Slotkin, 1973:171-172) These radical literary changes were a faithful representation of the consequences of the colonists' thorough acclimatization to the wilderness, and the substitution of the captive with the hunter in the narratives was the most significant evidence of the fact that Europeans were beginning to create themselves a new identity which would be adequate to the New World they were living in. As they were leaving their fears behind, they got ready to master the wilderness and at the same time to be mastered by it. The image of the hunter-hero in Church's narrative represented thus the first draft of what will become the American hero of later literature and mythology, since
Church's greatest accomplishment lies in the fact that his attitudes, his values, and his images of men, Indians, and God are woven into a work of literature in which the character and deeds of a central human hero provide both thematic and structural unity and a herocentered vision of the American experience. Heroic agency replaces divine agency in historical causation (...) (Slotkin, 1973:164, my emphasis) The substitution of divine agency with heroic agency is expressed in the Passages by the substitution of the point of view of the captive, helpless among the savages and awaiting the rescue by the grace of God, with the point of view of the hunter, acting willingly and courageously against the enemy. The victim-hero of captivity narrative either passively survived and converted or succumbed, according to God's will, and his passivity never led to the fulfillment of his own wishes. If the colonists wanted to create something new in America, they had to refuse to go on playing the victim, and the Puritan virtues of obedience, humility, and asceticism had to be replaced by the hunter's courage, strength, open-mindedness and ability to live with the Indians, if necessary through the adoption of some of their habits. This was the most significant step carried out during the first stage of acculturation, and the only way for the colonists to achieve 29
a new sense of identity. However, despite the awareness of the necessity of these changes, the colonists were not willing to completely abandon civilization for savagery: they had come to America to exploit new opportunities and to improve their condition, not to go back to a primitive way of life, and if they had to accept a temporary regression on the Frontier, it was only in view of a better life in the future. The hunter-hero created by Church and personified in his narrative by himself embodied the colonists' ambivalent attitude which will be the dominant theme in American literary mythology, that is their acknowledgement of the necessity to be able to adapt to the new environment and to the new condition of life without losing their background culture, in other words the ability to employ the best of both European and Indian cultures for their own purposes.
2.1.2. The Sources of the Myth of the Hunter: an Indian-American Mythology?
The colonists' shift of attitude about the New World occurring at the beginning of the eighteenth century marked therefore another step in their gradual process of removal from Europe - a process that will be completed only at the end of the century, with the achievement of the Independence of the colonies in 1776 - and the first step in the equally steady process of acculturation with the American wilderness, which coincided with the shaping of the American national identity. This process aimed at helping Americans to have a clearer idea of themselves, and it led to the necessity of creating:
a clear concept of a representative American - a hero who could be set off against the cultural heroes of Europe and express the Americanized Englishman's new sense of himself, his new perception of his place in the wilderness and the world. (Slotkin, 1973:189) This need was fulfilled in literary mythology with the introduction of the image of the hunter-hero by Church in 1716, an image which reached its 30
completeness in 1784 with the publication of John Filson's The Discovery, Settlement and Present State of Kentucke, containing the life of Col. Daniel Boone, and which has been subsequently elaborated in the endless list of American heroes up to present times. However, before analyzing the development of the image of the hunter-hero in American culture, it is important to understand where the Myth of the Hunter comes from. A brief analysis of its sources is necessary first of all to demonstrate that it is not a mere invention of an eighteenth-century American writer, but something much more complex, and secondly, to explain the reason why it plays such a significant role in American mythology. The Hunter Myth is a variation of a universal mythical structure, and derives from what Joseph Campbell in The Hero with a Thousand Faces (1993) calls the "monomyth," that is the archetypal hero-centered myth, based on the recurring structure of the adventures of the hero, which consist in a process of separationinitiation-return:
A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man. (Campbell, 1993:30) Since myths are products of the human mind, they will vary according to the specific temporal and spatial situation, and the archetypes will be adjusted by the society according to its needs, consequently becoming unique forms of expression of the community's anxieties and hopes and of its ways of interpreting and at the same time influencing the course of historical events. Therefore, different cultures will move away from the universal vision of the archetype to give it a particular interpretation according to their characteristic approach to life. Metaphorically, the whole American experience is structured according to the above quoted definition: the process of removal from Europe-crossing of the ocean-beginning of a new life in a recently discovered World had been for the colonists the first process of 31
separation-initiation-return, which was re-enacted at the opening up of each new frontier, where the "heroes" underwent a process of removal from civilization-regression to savagery-return to civilization. We can therefore replace the general terms of the definition with terms specific to the American experience, and we will see that "the hero venturing forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder" is the pioneer venturing forth from Europe into a completely mysterious world, or the colonist venturing forth from the comfortable world of civilization into the dark wilderness; "the fabulous forces there encountered" are the natural obstacles of the wilderness and the enemies populating it; "the decisive victory" which will be won is the achievement of the ability to master the wilderness and the victory of the war against the savages; and the "boon" brought back by the hero from the experience will be the knowledge necessary for the white race to survive in the New World. The nuclear unit of the monomyth is respected. From a European point of view, the discovery of America itself was invested with the "sanctifying aura of heroic myth," as "the West and its peoples were strongly associated with the kingdom of death and dreams, the underworld - in psychological terms, the unconscious" (Slotkin, 1973:28). The heroic quest was centered on the journey to the underworld as the essential action to which the hero was driven by the need of seeking aid from supernatural powers, which would provide him with dark and fundamental knowledge, and it was exactly in these terms that Europeans looked at the American experience. Therefore, the process of separation-initiation-return or the heroic quest has been part of the American life from the beginning (Slotkin, 1973:6-14), and consequently it has also been the main subject of the first mythical narratives which tried to give an explanation to historical events, and which were favourably accepted by the readers, as they accurately gave expression to their confused feelings: the most clear example is given by captivity narrative (see 22.214.171.124.), where the hero or heroine is captured by Indians (separation), held captive among them (initiation), and in the end ransomed and restored to civilization "with 32
newly opened eyes" (return). However, although the archetypal structure remained unchanged, the introduction of the Myth of the Hunter marked a turning point in American culture: as a matter of fact, as I have already mentioned, its importance lies in the fact that from this moment the experience of separation-initiation-return will be undertaken willingly by the hero, who, without fear or hesitation, will enter the wilderness and set out on a painful "journey" which will transform him into a new man. The hero's shift of attitude - from an unwilling undertaking of the process of initiation to a willing experience - has been therefore the most significant novelty brought by the introduction of the Myth of the Hunter. As far as the themes and the structure of the narratives which centered on this myth are concerned, they have not been subject to radical changes which would remove them from the previous models of the Indian war narrative and of captivity narrative. As a matter of fact, the central theme of the narratives continued to be the unique American experience of the war against the savages, even if, as we have seen, the subject was treated from a very different point of view - Church's Passages about King Philip's War are a plain example of it. Moreover, given the fact that they were based on the same well-known archetypal structure, the works centering on the Myth of the Hunter shared with the previous literary production - in particular with captivity narrative - some symbolical aspects. In both narratives, for instance, the wilderness is not only the setting where the captivity or the hunt of the Indian takes place, but its condition as an unknown and savage world, where the rules of civilization have no value and where natural impulses prevail over reason, transform it in an appropriate metaphor for the human unconscious, where the darkest and most secret desires of man dwell. Consequently, both the experiences of captivity and hunting become a metaphorical quest for the divine power (the "boon") which is essential to carry out the purification of the soul and reach salvation, and the trials the hero must face are part of the process of transformation entailing the regeneration of his body and soul. If captivity narrative culminated in the restoration of the captive to civilization and in his spiritual rebirth, the 33
hunt ended with the renewal of the white hunter, who acquires strength and "dark" knowledge from the experience and becomes one with the wilderness, to the extent that he can never return to civilization completely. Therefore, in 1716 the mythological structure of the adventures of the hunter was not entirely new to Puritan culture and literature, even if up to that date the image of the hunter undertaking willingly the mythical journey and personifying the colonists' attitude towards the natural world had been rejected as incoherent with the Puritan point of view, centered on the submission of the individual to God's will. On the contrary, the ritual of the hunt had played from the origins a significant role among Indians as a rite of initiation reflecting their desire of communion with the wilderness and with nature in general. As we have previously seen (see 1.2.1.), the Myth of the Creation common to many Indian tribes is based on the hunter's chasing of a deer which leads him into the world, and whose meat provides him with strength and power. Significantly, the same rite of initiation will continue to be of crucial importance during a subsequent stage of acculturation characterized by a further approach between Anglo-American and Indian cultures, as
the buffalo hunt's central position in Plains tribe culture would have made it the perfect path, both fictionally and historically, for any non-Indian to follow if he sought access to the flesh-and-bone existence of a tribe. (Baird, 1996:282) Of course, for eighteenth-century Puritans the acceptance of the possibility of "going Indian" was still far, and Church's unconscious introduction of the Hunter Myth in American literature was only the very first indication on the long path of the creation of the true American identity. However, could not Church's Passages be considered as a first attempt to integrate European mythology with Indian mythology, and therefore European culture with Indian culture? I don't think it too hazardous to conjecture that in his adoption of the Myth of the Hunter he 34
could have been influenced by the knowledge of Indian mythology. On the other hand, it is necessary to remember that Europeans showed a deep interest in Native Americans' myths and legends from the beginning, to the extent that the first collection with the title of On the Antiquities of the Indians appeared in Europe in 1496, in a volume dedicated to Christopher Columbus by his son. Since then, a number of researches have been carried out, and a great quantity of original material about Indian customs and oral traditions has been gathered and published by missionaries, historians, and anthropologists. Not only a genuine curiosity for an exotic culture, but also the evidence that the Indian tribes were getting weaker and weaker, and that they would have soon disappeared from the continent, increased the settlers' interest in the Indian world (Lankford, 1998:15-36). After these premises, it is not that strange to ask ourselves, as Slotkin has done, if in the course of their process of acculturation the colonists did "(to some degree) acquire an Indian-like vision of the New World, an Indian-American mythology" (Slotkin, 1973:6). The remarkable similarities in the structure of the mythologies of the two cultures, above all as far as the process of identification between hunter and hunted is concerned, could lead us to a possible answer. Despite the white man's desire for acculturation without losing his civilized manners, his means of relating to Indians and wilderness and to preserve civilization are exactly the same means the savages used to relate to white people, that is means of violence and murder:
like the hunter-heroes of Indian mythology, who kill and devour the mystic deer that embodies the spirit of their earth mother, his [Church's] act of love, of selfand societal regeneration, is an act of violence. (Slotkin, 1973:176) As it is exemplified in Church's narrative, if the hunter wants to achieve kingship over the savage world and savage people, he has no choice but to destroy them, and destroying them implies using the same means the enemy uses against the white man. In the course of the process of 35
acclimatization, white people were therefore "going Indian" without even realizing it, or without accepting it, denying the truth through the massacre of the population they were step by step becoming acquainted with. What for Indians was the ritual of the "cannibalization of the deer or of the enemy," became for settlers the "cannibalization of the Indians," on which the Anglo-American process of acculturation laid its foundations, as it is demonstrated by the literary analogy between Indian hunter and American hero.
2.2. What is an American? The Emergence of a National American Hero (1716-1790) Despite the significant role played by the hunter narrative of Church's Entertaining Passages in the establishment of the main features characterizing the future American hero, it will be necessary to wait almost until the end of the century for the emergence of the first heromyth of American culture. As a matter of fact, after the publication of Church's narrative in 1716, the literary scene was characterized by the struggle between two different trends: on the one hand, a group of writers who still drew on the tradition of the sermon-narrative of the period of the captivities, and on the other hand those writers who followed the path opened by Church, and therefore, adjusting themselves to historical and social changes, adopted a positive attitude towards the wilderness and its inhabitants, which were described without a doubt in more realistic terms if compared to the nightmarish Puritan accounts of the Indian war and captivity narratives. As a consequence, it happened that sometimes even the same subjects were given contradictory interpretations and received a completely different treatment, according to the writer's idea of man's relationship with the wilderness and with Indians: for instance, the defeat of a group of New England rangers in 1725 was in sermon-narrative traditionally related as God's punishment for the sins of His people, while a popular ballad about the same event focused on the celebration of the soldiers' bloody deeds, and revealed that for a part of the population it was more important to be able to fight like the savages than being spiritually superior to them (Slotkin, 1973:181-183). However, even if there were still writers who clung to the heritage of their earlier generation, - to the Puritan tradition in particular - the prevailing trend in American thought between 1720 and 1790 was towards acculturation, and therefore towards a closer identification of the representative literary characters of the American ideal with the Indian. The growing consciousness of America's distinctiveness from Europe 37
and the tendency to imitate the Indian way of life accentuated the need of a representative character working as a mediator between the colonists' European past and Indian present, "as the psychological consequences of hanging between the old world and the new were too much to be borne for very long" (Slotkin, 1973:205). Although the image of this representative character acquired different features according to the different experience each section of the colonies had with Indians, and also according to their different literary tradition, his function as a mediating figure between the two cultures was recognized everywhere. Therefore, the change of attitude brought by the acceptance of the process of acculturation leading to the unification of the different European races into a single nationality began to bear its fruits. This was particularly evident in the narratives which grew out of the French and Indian war of 1755-64, the last one in which Americans fought for Britain. It was during this war that, through the comparison of American and British soldiers fighting side by side, the growing distance between the two cultures became more obvious. Writers acknowledged that different historical and military experiences of the New World had shaped a peculiar style of heroism, which depended on the failure of European tactics in the wilderness, and on the consequent adoption by the colonists of the "irregular manner of fighting" typical of Indians, which will become the unique American way of fighting, allowing the soldiers to anticipate the enemy's moves and to gain control over the situation. They thus expressed the sense that the American style of heroism, because it was derived from experience in the wilderness and close study of the Indians, was more appropriate to American warfare. Moreover, the adoption by the soldier-hero of the Indian way of fighting recalls the process of identification between hunter and hunted occurring in the literary mythology we previously analyzed, and the evident affinity between the American soldier-hero or warrior and the Indian-like hunter will be one of the main aspects characterizing the national American hero (Slotkin, 1973:224-241).
A singular narrative which was published in 1787, the Panther Captivity, also dealt with the issue of acculturation. As a matter of fact, although it was structured as a traditional captivity narrative, with the heroine held captive among the Indians, there are some unusual elements through which the writer expresses two alternative ways of relating to the New World: on the one hand, the reconciliation with Europe and with civilization, represented by the captive's reconciliation with her father and by her inheritance of his wealth; on the other hand, the adaptation to the Indian's way of life, represented by the enactment of a fertility ritual consisting in her murder of the Indian giant which leads to the discovery of the Indian corn and to her decision to remain in the wilderness alone for some time (Slotkin, 1973:256-259). The significance of the narrative lies in the fact that it does not exclude one alternative or the other, and it is the most complete expression of the feelings of the new generation of colonists, who understood that the American experience was made at the same time by the European experience and by the Indian experience, and who began to realize, in Crèvecoeur's words, "what the American is":
He is neither an European, nor the descendant of an European; hence that strange mixture of blood, which you will find in no other country. (...) He is an American, who, leaving behind him all his ancient prejudices and manners, receives new ones from the new mode of life he has embraced, the new government he obeys, and the new rank he holds. He becomes an American by being received in the broad lap of our great Alma Mater. Here individuals of all nations are melted into a new race of men (...) (Crèvecoeur, 1782:110) As this statement confirms, the process of acculturation was also one of the major themes of Crèvecoeur's Letters from an American Farmer, published in 1782. The Letters provide a contradictory summary compendium of the variety of American heroes, considered both from the European and the American point of view: on the one hand, Crèvecoeur shared in his first letters the European idea that while the "good Quaker" who tilled the soil and lived in a civilized manner without entering the 39
wilderness could be considered as "the true American," the frontiersman - whose presence was essential to the progress of civilization as the “offcasts” of society were American precursors or pioneers - was the most degenerated of the American characters, because the environment compelled him to become hunter and behave like an Indian, and consequently to undergo a personal and social degeneration (Slotkin, 1973:259-261); on the other hand, in his last letter, Distress of a Frontier Man, he adopted a completely different point of view, close to the new generations' idea of acculturation, and according to which the solution of the problems of living in the wilderness is for his farmer not to return to Europe, but to stay and master the wilderness through the acquisition of the main qualities of the "good savage," essential for the survival (Crèvecoeur, 1782:576-582). Crèvecoeur's contradictory image of the American hero derived from his blending of the opposite trends of eighteenth-century European thought and literature, which had produced two completely different stereotypes of Americans and Indians: on the one hand, the environmentalist conception of the nature of man and society based on the belief in the goodness of the physical environment, and therefore of the people living in it, which led to the creation of the images of the "good savage" and "good Quaker"; on the other hand, the degeneracy school, according to which living in the wilderness and among the savages could only lead to the colonists' abandonment to the most debased natural impulses through intermarriage and racial amalgamation. Although in his last letters Crèvecoeur adopted - even only to a certain extent - an American point of view, considering the necessity of the farmer's acculturation, his work was without a doubt strongly influenced by European ideas, and his final positive description of the Indians was only drawn to suit the conventional image of the good savage: he himself continued to reject the adoption of the Indian way of life, and in the end he returned to civilized France. However, the concept he expressed at the end of his Letters represents a great shift from the previous attitude: the farmer, as the hunter, acquires strength from 40
entering the native element, the wilderness, and he learns from the Indian how to master it: If the woods hold terrors, embrace them as signs of nature's power and God's. Do not flee from them, but master them, and make them your own powers. (Slotkin, 1973:267) While in Europe the regression to which the colonists had to undergo on the Frontier was despised and considered as a threat to civilization, in America it was seen as an essential step to promote a further stage of civilization, a regression entailing personal and social regeneration, the frontiersman's heroic task.
2.2.1. The First American Hero: John Filson's Daniel Boone (1784)
From the first Indian war narratives to Church's Entertaining Passages and to CrĂ¨vecoeur's Letters, American literary mythology presented a "gallery of types," that is a number of different characters who, from a complete incompetence in "wilderness life," became more and more acquainted with the Indian way of life and with the laws of the woods. All of them contributed to the creation of the image of the national American hero, as
to succeed in America, such a myth would have to combine the heroic attributes of the several hero types that had already emerged from the several genres of Colonial writing: the explorer, the naturalist-surveyor, the farmer, the military hero (ranger or soldier), the captive partially adopted by the Indian, and the hunter of beasts and men. (Slotkin, 1973:267) It was in 1784, when John Filson published The Adventures of Col. Daniel Boon as the appendix to The Discovery, Settlement and Present State of Kentucke, that the archetypal hero of the American frontier was created. The text is apparently a rewriting of notes dictated by Boone himself, who had been Filson's guide during his surveying trips in
Kentucky, but the literary result is an image representing not the "real" frontiersman Daniel Boone, but rather
the frontiersman whom Americans were creating so that they might comprehend themselves and what they might become as they moved west to clear the way for their new civilization. (Pearce, 1969:661) The adventures of Boone had been structured in a way that he represented for his audience the ideal pioneer who suffered and risked his life to bring peace and democracy in the wilderness, and therefore embodied the whole American experience. In the first-person account of his discovery and settlement of Kentucky, he reports the hard conditions he and his fellows had to bear when they decided to leave their families "to wander through the wilderness of America, in quest of the country of Kentucke" (Filson, 1784:690). After facing "the most uncomfortable weather," surviving from Indian attacks and captivities among the savages, being "constantly exposed to danger, and death," Boone finally succeeds in living peaceably in the "delightful country" he has settled. Peace and the settlement of the state of Kentucky, which he considers a "second paradise," are, together with the gratitude of the settlers, "a sufficient reward" for all the dangers he had to go through (Filson, 1784:689-707):
Two darling sons, and a brother, have I lost by savage hands, which have also taken from me forty valuable horses, and abundance of cattle. Many dark and sleepless nights have I been a companion for owls, separated from the chearful society of men, scorched by the Summer's sun, and pinched by the Winter's cold, an instrument ordained to settle the wilderness. But now the scene is changed: Peace crowns the sylvan shade. (Filson, 1784:707, my emphasis) This passage is central to Filsonâ€™s narrative for two main reasons: on the one hand, it places Booneâ€™s adventures among the hero myths, as it describes the separation-initiation-return experience of the hero; on the other hand, it establishes the archetypal American hero as â€œan instrument 42
ordained to settle the wilderness,â€? a definition which could be used for each of the heroes populating the American mythic landscape up to present times.
126.96.36.199. Boone's Adventures as Myth
The aura of myth surrounding Boone's legend derived from Filson's ability to show the interdependence existing between his character's adventures and the course of American history, which allowed the readers to identify themselves with Boone and to accept his adventures as archetypal of the frontier experience. As a matter of fact, Filson's narrative follows the separation-initiation-return structure of the archetypal hero myth which had already been employed in captivity and hunter literature, and through which, as we have seen, the whole American experience was being interpreted: Boone's separation from his family, his initiation through the overcoming of the trials in the wilderness, and his return to civilization after gaining knowledge of the wilderness and after transforming it in a place safe for settlement respect the essential unit of the monomyth, in which the hero undertakes the quest for a "boon" in an unknown and dangerous world, and in the end is reinitiated into his old world, becoming the agent of its restoration and renewal. In Filson's narrative this structure is repeated more than once, as Boone undergoes a series of initiations, from which he returns each time with greater knowledge of the "wilderness life," essential not only for his survival during his exploration journeys, but also for the benefit of his community: from the immersion in the wilderness, he emerges with renewed strength and ready to place himself at the disposal of the community, helping them to achieve peace and to establish their settlement (Slotkin, 1973:294-312). The mythical significance of these experiences is particularly stressed in two episodes of Filson's account, concluding both with the regeneration of the hero. The first episode refers to the period of time during which Boone finds himself completely alone in the wilderness, 43
and confesses that he "never before was under greater necessity of exercising philosophy and fortitude" (Filson, 1784:692). It is during this period that he discovers the beauty of nature looking down from "the summit of a commanding ridge" (Filson, 1784:692) and experiences spiritual regeneration, perceiving divinity in the natural landscape in the Romantic manner. The second episode leads to another experience of regeneration: after his return during his longest period of captivity, Boone declares that his wife thought him dead, "expecting the Indians had put a period" to his life (Filson, 1784:702), and therefore giving to his return the meaning of a sort of resurrection, emphasizing the rebirth as the result of his experience in the wilderness. It is relevant to notice how Boone dwells on the Indians' attitude towards him during this captivity, as it constitutes an evidence not only of the Indians' acceptance among them of the white man who respects the laws of the woods, but also of Boone's recognition of his "going Indian," of his achievement of a sense of kinship with all nature and its creatures. He says that the savages' feelings for him are of great affection, and he seems pleased to realize that he is known and respected among them for his qualities of hunter and warrior, which he acquired during the decade he had already spent in the wilderness at the time of the capture. Since he has already undergone a series of initiations providing him with sufficient knowledge and strength to live in the wilderness, it is during this captivity that his process of acculturation is completed: he is adopted into an Indian family, and lives as a savage for some time:
At Chelicothe I spent my time as comfortably as I could expect; was adopted, according to their custom, into a family where I became a son, and had a great share in the affection of my new parents, brothers, sisters, and friends. (Filson, 1784:698) Boone therefore, like in the Hunter Myth, undergoes a process of identification with nature and with the Indians, to the extent that his old self dies, and is replaced by a new and stronger Boone. The immediate result of this period of captivity is again the opportunity for the hero to 44
help the white community: only staying with the Indians he could study their moves, discover that they were preparing an attack on his fortress, and escape in order to warn the first settlers of Boonsborough of the impending danger (Filson, 1784:697-702). However, other mythical aspects present in the legends which gathered around Boone before Filson wrote his narrative, and which he neglected or altered, gave a different image of the hero, focusing on his qualities of wild and lonely hunter rather than on his commitment for the establishment of new settlements. Filson wished to deny that his hero had the spirit of the hunter, and refers briefly to Boone's hunting trips and to his skill with the rifle which, like his captivity among the savages, are considered only as means leading him to the discovery of his true identity of husbandman and agent of civilization. On the contrary, the previous legends were centered on the episode of the courtship of his wife, whom Boone met one dark night while he was fire-hunting. He found her under the guise of a deer, and she saw him as a wild panther, and she ran home. Afterwards, Boone began to court her (Slotkin, 1973:289-290). The structure of the legend follows the mythical archetype of the divine king, who "had to engage in a ceremonial sexual union with the goddess of the woods to induce a renewal of fertility after the barrenness of winter" (Slotkin, 1973:299). Often the spirit of nature was represented by some animal, which the king had to hunt to enact the ritual. Therefore, Boone's identity is essentially the identity of the hunter, and his relationship to nature is that of panther to deer, hunter to prey. The hero has gained the knowledge and the strength necessary to master the wilderness, and to redeem his passive position of victim. This brief analysis of the mythological aspects of Filson's narrative highlights a decisive shift in American attitudes towards the wilderness - a shift which had been anticipated in Church's Entertaining Passages. Boone, as agent of civilization or as hunter, enters the wilderness willingly, and willingly undergoes that process of acculturation. However, from the comparison between Filson's narrative and the folktales about Boone, the tension between the European and the 45
American concept of the hunter, which we also found in CrĂ¨vecoeur's Letters, still emerges: while for Europeans the state of the hunter was that of degeneration, and the creation of the American society could only be carried out by a civilized community of husbandmen, for Americans the hunter was the only possible agent of civilization, the one able to work as a mediator between two different worlds.
188.8.131.52. Boone's Adventures as Archetype
Even if in many aspects Filson's narrative only resumed the concepts which had already been anticipated by previous writers, his work was for various reasons the first to boast of a great success among all the different American sections. This depended in part on the existence of an intercolonial book trade which favoured the wide circulation of the work among the sections, but the main reasons of its success are to be found in Filson's portrayal of the adventures of a contemporary man, and at the same time in his appeal to archetypal myths common to all human cultures, in order to confirm the mythological credibility of the real Boone, as "only a true hero could evoke a response whose pattern is drawn from such profound levels of the human mind" (Slotkin, 1973:301).
Consequently, if on
the one hand The Adventures of Col. Daniel Boon can be considered as the result of the combination of Colonial writing's narratives, on the other hand they provided American writers with a model to copy and to develop in subsequent literature, being the starting point of the endless series of American hero-centered narratives, whose main features can be found in Filson's work. As a matter of fact, the account of Boone's life recapitulates in a few pages the characters which could be found on the frontier and in frontier literature: he starts as an emigrant, leaves his family in search of new land as an explorer, is held captive, becomes a hunter to the extent that he can exceed Indians in this sport, rescues some captives from the Indians, becomes the most powerful warrior in the struggles against the savages, is recruited as a guide of a group of 46
surveyors through the wilderness, and finally, most important thing for Filson, he is the pioneer allowing the establishment of the first settlement in Kentucky, and becomes, thanks to the knowledge gained during his experiences in the wilderness, a military and political leader able to defend and organize the community. Although the image of the hero which will be developed in subsequent literature will acquire different features and different shades according to the ideas and the atmosphere of the social and cultural moment it will reflect, it will also without a doubt retain some essential features established by Boone's archetype, which is therefore worth analyzing, keeping in mind the significant role played by the characters populating Colonial writings in the creation of this image. First of all, Boone can be considered as the embodiment of the result of the colonists' shift of attitude towards the New World, which had begun during the first stage of acculturation: the self-confidence acquired by the settlers made hope triumph over their fears, and Boone's willing immersions in the wilderness represented the changed relationship between nature and man, as the wilderness no longer constituted such an evil place to be avoided, even if its dual nature couldn't be denied: on the one hand, it remained a threatening place, "an howling wilderness, the habitation of savages and wild beasts," where Boone and his fellows were "in a dangerous, helpless situation, exposed daily to perils and death" (Filson, 1784:689&692); on the other hand, it became "a second paradise," a country continuously praised by the frontiersman for the abundance of game and the beauties of nature which, for a moment, make his love for the wild land prevail over his duties towards civilization:
(...) I was surrounded with plenty in the midst of want. I was happy in the midst of dangers and inconveniences (...) No populous city, with all the varieties of commerce and stately structures, could afford so much pleasure to my mind, as the beauties of nature I found here. (Filson, 1784:693) 47
However, this is the only statement in which Boone shows himself explicitly attracted more by the beauty of wilderness life than by the life in the settlements, while throughout the whole account he underlies how the infinite resources of the land he is exploring would remain in savage hands mere potentialities, as only bringing peace and civilization to the country would make possible the transformation of Kentucky into a "fruitful land" (Filson, 1784:689). Therefore, even if he seems to contradict himself for a moment, and his identity of wild hunter seems to prevail over his belief of being "an instrument ordained to settle the wilderness," in the end his settlement is established, as Providence "turned a cruel war into peace, brought order out of confusion, made the fierce savages placid (...)" (Filson, 1784:707). Civilization triumphs, but its triumph is paradoxically due to a deeper knowledge of savagery by the frontiersman, which allows a reconciliation between the efforts of the settlers to impose their will on the land and their submission to its conditions. If the frontiersman wants to enter the wilderness willingly, he must be ready to accept its duplicity and to learn from it, to the extent that this duplicity begins to reflect itself on his character: he will be a product of a wilderness environment like the Indians, but at the same time he will distinguish himself from a savage for his moral strength, his sense of civic responsibility and of the need for law. The treatment of the Indians in Filson's narrative makes the distinction between their degenerated race and the frontiersmen clearer, as the description of their savage nature works as a warning of the power of the wilderness to kill man's better nature if he lets his worst impulses prevail. Throughout the narrative, Boone refers to the savages' "horrid yells," and to their "wretched wigwams" as "miserable abodes"; to their practice of "secret mischief"; to the savage treatment white captives are subject to, which is "shocking to humanity, and too barbarous to relate"; and even when they adopt him into their tribe, he makes clear how he maintained his "white gifts" and, at the first opportunity, escaped to return to civilization (Filson, 1784:689-707). Therefore, no matter how necessary it might be to behave like an Indian, the frontiersman will 48
never become one, even if at the moment of his return to civilization, he will also never be part of the community as the other settlers who have not shared with him the enriching experiences in the wilderness. His explorations, hunting trips, long days and nights spent alone in the woods, far from home and family, his constant struggle for survival in such a hostile environment bring him into a close acquaintance with the wilderness and with the Indian way of life, to the extent that he acquires some of the Indian qualities which help him to understand the necessities of wilderness life and to adapt to it:
The spiritual impact of Boone's experience (as Filson sees it) is to make him the perfect stoic - patient as an Indian, indifferent to danger, fearless, and content to live as the wilderness demands, by hunting and hiding in solitude. (Slotkin, 1973:284) In other words, Filson's Boone is, like CrĂ¨vecoeur's farmer, a character expressing the tension between the two worlds he embodies. Of course, Boone is closer to the image of the hunter, the warrior, and the wanderer than to that of the farmer, but despite all this he remains according to the Filsonian vision an empire builder and philanthropist, and his immersions in the wilderness constitute for him, as they did for the farmer, only the means for the maintenance of civilization, which was considered possible only "through complete knowledge of one's own capacity for good and evil and of the wilderness's inherent threats and promises" (Slotkin, 1973:310). To conclude, Daniel Boone represents the first of a series of mediating figures between the settlers' European culture and the Indian culture, the "ideal frontiersman" living on the dividing line between civilization and savagery, which embodies both. He represents the American experience, marked by the opposition between two different worlds - the hand-to-hand struggle between Boone and the Indian warrior is a metaphor of the contest between civilization and barbarism - and apparently resolved in historical terms, like in Filson's account, with the triumph of civilization over savagery. 49
2.2.2. Boone's Paradox: Empire Builder or Philosopher of Primitivism?
The literary adventures of Boone had in Filson's narrative only their beginning, as the successful image of the frontiersman was developed, and sometimes altered, in further works. As a matter of fact, the series of biographies on the frontiersman which were published afterwards reflected the ever-changing cultural needs and the different sectional points of view. As a consequence, while some of them followed the character's features established by Filson - above all the writings which had an eye for the European heroic models of philosophe manquĂŠ or of natural aristocrat - others emphasized his qualities of hunter and warrior, in other words of child of the wilderness, which resulted much more appealing for Americans, especially for popular press audience (Smith, 1995:51-58). These two contradictory images of Boone reflected the conflicting attitudes which had developed towards the westward movement: on the one hand, the attitude according to which the Western hunter and guide was the only means for civilization to achieve victory over savagery, which was expressed by Filson's Boone, and which saw the hero, after experiencing a period of life in the wilderness, establishing himself in the area of the agricultural frontier; on the other hand, the opposite nostalgic attitude towards the primitive freedom offered by the wilderness beyond the settlements, whose hero was a completely different Boone, "a fugitive from civilization who could not endure the encroachment of settlements upon his beloved wilderness" (Smith, 1995:54).
184.108.40.206. The Emergence of Western Literature (1820-30) and Timothy Flint's Image of Daniel Boone (1827-33)
Of course, the emergence of these different attitudes was influenced by the sections where they took shape, as different geographic poles coincided with different poles of thought about the Frontier. The distinction between the image of the solitary and antisocial hunter and the philosophic Boone of Filson became more marked when during the 1820s and 1830s American literature saw the emergence of western writers, and consequently a clearer distinctiveness of the western section vis-Ă -vis Europe and the East, the land of the lawyer and the merchant. Western writers based their narratives on western folk legends and oral traditions whose heroes were hunters and fighters, men who knew how to live and think like Indians, even how to take scalps like them. But this doesn't mean that westerners had become degenerated like Indians, and that they were not interested in the establishment of civilized settlements. According to their point of view,
the environment of the wilderness had made it essential for men to imitate the Indians in order to survive and build. If some of the founding fathers of the West were renowned chiefly for their skill in destroying trees, men, and game, others were respected for their skills in settlement-building and lawmaking. (Slotkin, 1973:403) It is rather evident how the gentleman-philosopher image had but little to share with the heroic self-image westerners created for themselves, but it is also clear that the values of the civilized world could not be completely rejected for the Indian life. However, "given a choice between the effeminacy and incompetence of eastern dudes and the masculine prowess of the Indian, the westerners had chosen the latter" (Slotkin, 1973:418). The works which best embodied this confusion of attitudes were Timothy Flint's treatments of Boone in his Indian Wars of the West and Biographical Memoir of Daniel Boone, which were published between 51
1828 and 1833, and which presented a hero who could be acceptable both in the West and in the East, as although the author was a westerner, he had been educated in the East, and owned much to its intellectual heritage. Therefore, his Boone was a mediation between savagery and civilization, as he combined his love for wild nature and his emulation of the Indian hunter with the gentleness and self-restraint of the civilized backwoodsman, who was gentle towards women and did not accept Indian excesses such as scalping (Slotkin, 1973:418-424). However, in Flint's narrative, Boone's relationship with Indians is much closer than in any of the previous accounts about the life of the hero. While in Filson's Adventures the only reason for staying with the Indians was learning something useful for the community of Boonesborough, for Flint's Boone the adoption into the life of the Indian tribe has a deeper meaning, as it leads to the discovery of his identity: the Indian way of life is the way of his heart. Moreover, Flint was the first to put into print the fire-hunt legend which circulated around Boone, and to portray it as a manhood ritual, through which the youth will prove his ability in dealing with the powers of nature and the powers of society. It is only after this ritual and after the marriage with his wife, who embodies the free wilderness spirit, that Boone leaves in search of Kentucky. As a matter of fact, the significance of the hunt lies in its symbolic representation of the relationship between Boone and the wilderness world, which is that of hunter to prey: the deer which he is chasing metamorphoses into the woman he will marry, and Boone himself is seen by the girl as a wild panther. His act of love and worship towards the wilderness is therefore the act of the hunter, which is inevitably an act of violence towards the prey. But in Boone's case, as he does not kill the deer/woman/spirit of the wilderness, it is the restraint of that act which enables him to achieve a complete kinship with nature without degenerating into savagery. Once he has exhibited this power of self-restraint, he can freely hunt and kill his preys, as the following part of the legend praises him for his skills in hunting wild beasts and Indians alike. In this way he becomes a true "westerner" (Slotkin, 1973:424-425). 52
220.127.116.11. Boone's Paradox as the Characterizing Feature of American National Identity
Once again, the Myth of the Hunter provides the American hero with some of his essential and permanent features, which, instead of resolving the complex nature of his relationship with the wilderness and its creatures - especially the Indians - make it more ambiguous than ever. The paradoxical mingling of love and violence implicit in the fire-hunt myth represents one of the characterizing features of the American hero, as it is the only conceivable way for him to relate to the things he loves most, that is the wild land and the Indian way of life, which become symbols of the hero's "other self":
He destroys the wilderness and the game by the very acts which reveal his love for them. He admires the Indian as an adversary, but his combats ensure that his character as Indian fighter will die with the achievement of victory. Thus his imitation of the Indian becomes the means by which he brings progress to the West and destroys the basis for his own lifeway. (Slotkin, 1973:425, my emphasis) The essence of the Myth of the Hunter represents the solution to the presence in America of two antithetical cultural poles: white man and Indian can be reconciled only through an act of violence, as the annihilation of one is necessary to ensure the survival of the other. But in the white man's process of annihilation of the Indian and of his other self, his new identity is created and confirmed, and he becomes a new man, an American. However, the extermination of the Indian can be carried out only through a previous process of identification with him - the same process of identification occurring between hunter and prey - which leads to the assimilation by the American of those traits which had traditionally been associated with the Indian, and which now become the virtues of the frontier hero: skill in woodcraft, independence of social restraint, crudeness of manner and origin, materialism, hostility to social order, 53
and rebelliousness. Of course, hunting is among his skills, and more than a necessity for the survival or a sport, is considered an "art" or a "profession," in which Boone is superior even to Indians (Filson, 1784:698). Since the hero's process of identification with Indians leads him to acquire most of their traits, Flint's image of Boone resembles more that of an Indian hunter than that of a white settler. However, we should remember that once again Boone remains faithful to his "white gifts," and his imitation of the Indian way of life remains an imitation, as he doesn't become an Indian: there is a great difference between acting like an Indian and becoming an Indian. It is the difference defining American identity, as the hero's acting like an Indian shaped him and the whole American nation he represented into something which, in CrĂ¨vecoeur's words, "is neither an European, nor the descendant of an European," but which at the same time is not a savage.
2.2.3. A Deeper Glance in Western Literature: David Crockett as the Perfect Embodiment of the Western "Style" (1834)
If the western image of the hero was by 1830 associated with Flint's account of the life of Boone, which was centered on the Myth of the Hunter, in the East the image of the hunter was still being denigrated, and even if the fame of Boone was recognized by the eastern colonies, he could be considered a hero only in a captivity framework as a rescuer, and not as a hunter: the successors of the Puritans saw the archetypal American hero as the antitype of the hunter, in other words as a conservative, a protector of the social values they cherished rather than of the antisocial values represented by the western section. At the same time, in the South, which was strongly influenced by eastern and European press, developed a still different image of the hero, characterized by an innate nobleness of spirit and echoing the Romantic figure of a crusading knight-errant, and a rescuer of captive beauty. The existence of several stereotyped images of the frontier hero Daniel Boone 54
constitutes an evidence of the fact that each image reflected the ideas of the section where it took shape, and the character of future American heroes demonstrates how each of these images contributed to their creation (Slotkin, 1973:394-465). As a matter of fact, the synthesis of eastern stereotypes of the frontiersman and western popular literature gave birth in the West to the image of Col. David Crockett of Tennessee whose fame, like Boone's, was the result of a combination of real-life events and of fictional adventures, presented by the Colonel himself in A Narrative of the Life of Col. David Crockett of the State of Tennessee (Philadelphia, 1834). In Slotkin's words,
In one sense he [Crockett] is a product of the eastern stereotype of the frontiersman as lowbrow and clown. In another he is clearly a product of western popular literature - a clown whose apparent simplicity masks a cleverness that is superior to city wit and a human sensitivity more profound than the effusive sentimentality of the city, for all its being concealed under a bantering, ironic manner. (Slotkin, 1973:414) If in Boone Americans saw the completion of the process of acculturation they experienced, Crockett was the perfect representation of the western section's self-confidence acquired through that process: if the wilderness life still presented dangers and threats to the settlers as at the time of the old Puritan frontier, their response to the "terror and promise" of the wilderness had changed a lot, first of all thanks to the historical knowledge (legends and literature!) which provided them with precedents for their life in the forest, and secondly thanks to their growing feeling of being able to face the wilderness as an equal antagonist with their axe and rifle. He also represented for the section its self-consciousness of being the land of democracy, as only in the West a complete rejection of the European values of social class and aristocracy could take place. Therefore, while in the East the Crockett type of Western hero was associated with savagery and anarchy, and his humor and backcountry dialect were mistaken for ignorance and rough habits, 55
the same type of hero was in the West the quintessential representative of the skills and the vigor of the section. Crockett represented himself as rude and ignorant; as a hunter and a farmer who lived chiefly in the backwoods; as one who had office thrust upon him, without his seeking it; and as the hero of a rags-toriches story, who rose modestly, but by his own efforts. According to the information provided by Paul Andrew Hutton in his introduction to the 1987 Bison Book edition of the Colonel's autobiography, he was among those "common men"
who made their economic and political fortunes through hard work coupled with natural ability. Crockett came to symbolize a rough egalitarianism, freedom of opportunity, manifest destiny, and a reaffirmation of the cherished principles of the Declaration of Independence. (Crockett, 1987:xv-xvii) Crockett's characteristics of being a common man - common in origin and speech, materialistic and practical, and skilled in hunting and speculative economics - and, above all, a self-made man - he achieved success undergoing a picaresque movement from the bottom to the top became the essential virtues of every westerner. His motto became the motto of his generation, which viewed Crockett as one of the flag-bearers of a "manifest destiny" which justified and promoted William Gilpin's belief that "the untransacted destiny of the American people is to subdue the continent" (quoted in Smith, 1995:37), to be master of the environment and of its own fate. We can read at the beginning of Crockett's autobiography:
I leave this rule for others when I'm dead, Be always sure you're right - THEN GO AHEAD! The Author With his way of "going ahead" with whatever he had a mind to, he gradually grew from poor frontier farmer to war hero to successful politician to successful speculator to successful hunter, and in the same 56
way he built his legend, as, in Hutton's words, "heroes are not born, they are created" (Crockett, 1987:v). His autobiography is the most important document of the process of legend-building which transformed him into a celebrity, and, as when it appeared in 1834 he was already a folk hero, it is rather evident how in his work Crockett tried to conform to a presupposed popular image of the Western hero, and how, to transform legend into fact, he insisted in the preface and throughout the book on the question of authorship and on the fact that the book is "the only genuine history" of his life:
But just read for yourself, and my ears for a heel tap, if before you get through you don't say, with many a good-natured smile and hearty laugh, "This is truly the very thing itself - the exact image of its Author, David Crockett." (Crockett, 1987:10-11) Therefore, through a continuous mingling of reality and exaggeration, Crockett gives an account of his life from his childhood as a "wild boy" to his achievement of a seat in the Congress, perfectly aware that a presentation of his own life reflecting the mythical aspects on which popular imagination focused would have shaped him into a hero, and at the same time his simplicity and honesty of "common man" would have made him a perfect representative of the people just because he was one of them: he embodied so much the character of the "honest and independent pioneer" that even if he considered important to represent the interests of the less wealthy people in the Congress, he declared that for him to be a politician was tougher than hunting bears in the wilderness. In Hutton's words, "he was too independent and too honest to be a congressman, much less president" (Crockett, 1987:xxi).
18.104.22.168. Crockett as Hunter, Warrior, and Settler
As far as its mythical aspect is concerned, Crockett's autobiography resumes the main features and pattern of experience we find in the western accounts about Boone's life - which is not surprising, not only because Crockett knew without a doubt Boone's narratives, but also because the accounts of both heroes drew on the same sources, the same folk legends. Therefore Crockett, like Boone, undergoes a series of experiences of separation-initiation-return providing him with the knowledge and strength necessary to "go ahead." Among these initiations he numbers his experiences away from home as a young boy, his hunting trips, his struggles against the Indians, and his exploration journeys through the country. However, without a doubt, the most significant aspect of the autobiography is the confirmation of the image of the hunter as the one preferred by western audiences. "Bear hunting was hard, dangerous work, and the image of Crockett, tomahawk and knife in hand, wrestling a huge behemoth into table meat is one of our strongest frontier images," recalls Hutton (Crockett, 1987:ix). Crockett dwells on his fondness of hunting, particularly bear hunting, describing in detail his hunting trips, and recalling the number of bears killed on one or another occasion: he killed 105 bears in less than a year alone. By describing his hunting trips more dangerous than they were in reality, since at that time bears were becoming quite scarce, Davy suggests that his Frontier is a good deal more primitive and backwoodsy than it really was, and by emphasizing his skills as bear hunter he suggests the possession of supernatural qualities which allow him to deal with it, underlying that the Frontier is not a place where one may rise with little effort. It was as bear hunter that he became known among the community, to the extent that the pioneers of Tennessee voted him as a candidate for the Congress and "forced" him to become a public man. Moreover, there is in the autobiography an episode whose structure recalls the legendary fire-hunt in which Boone met his wife. During a wolf hunt, Davy gets lost in the woods, and he tells:
I found night was coming on fast; but at this distressing time I saw a little woman streaking it along through the woods like all wrath (...) When I came up to her, who should she be but my little girl, that I had been paying my respects to. (...) by this time I loved her almost well enough to eat her. (Crockett, 1987:63) The girl represents here, as in Boone's legend, the hunter's prey, even if neither Crockett nor the girl are subject to the process of metamorphosis which transformed Boone into a panther and his wife into a deer. He says that he would have eaten her: he, a representative of the civilized world, would have eaten her, the embodiment of the spirit of the wilderness, on this occasion a benefic spirit, which helped Crockett to overcome the distressing experience of getting lost in the woods and to completely overcome the sickness produced by disappointed love narrated in the chapter preceding the wolf hunt. Once again, the relationship between pioneer and wilderness is of hunter to prey, and paradoxically the hero's deep love for the wilderness is manifested in the desire to destroy it through an inevitable act of violence. Of course, Crockett's image of the ideal pioneer would have been incomplete without the achievement of the status of warrior among Indians, another common trait which American heroes boast of. This kind of acknowledgement was necessary to confirm the hero's kinship with nature, as Indians were "the children of the wilderness" par excellence. According to the account, Crockett seems to look for this kind of recognition and, like Boone before his adoption into an Indian family, he feels rather proud of his achievement; however, he takes pains at underlying the fact that it was the Indian warriors fighting with them who cut off the heads of the enemy, as "it is very much like the Indian character" (Crockett, 1987:113) being so cruel to mutilate or scalp the dead, something which the frontiersman obviously believes to be very far from white man's nature:
when we reached them, they had cut off the heads of both the Indians; and each of those Indians with us would walk up to one of the heads, and taking his war 59
club would strike on it. This was done by every one of them; and when they had got done, I took one of their clubs, and walked up as they had done, and struck it on the head also. At this they all gathered round me, and patting me on the shoulder, would call me "Warriorwarrior." (Crockett, 1987:109-110) Therefore, as we have seen, western literature tended to emphasize in Crockett those traits of hunter and warrior - typical of the Indian character - which made his survival in the wilderness possible. While the easterners looked at the hero's similarity to the savages with curiosity and disapproval, finding it strange that a fur cap and a hunting shirt could conceal a civilized man, even when Crockett became a picturesque figure in Washington, the western audience knew that Crockett had done more than any easterner in the process of civilization of the country, and that his courageous, honest, and independent way of life on the frontier, like that of many other backwoodsmen, was as significant for the nation as the life of a Congressman, or even more. His spirit of wanderer had led him to move continuously ahead, so that soon after establishing a new settlement, he was already thinking of moving on to explore an unknown area. When he was appointed a magistrate by his community, his decisions "on the principles of common justice and honesty between man and man" depended not on law, for he had not read a law book in his life, but on a "natural born sense" (Crockett, 1987:135). Therefore, Crockett was in the West the bearer of civilization: his skills as hunter and warrior, his attitude and delight "to be in the very thickest of the danger," his strength to be able to "go ahead" in every situation, his honesty and independence, his being a practical man, his humor, often "a method of dealing with the cruel whims of a harsh environment" (Crockett, 1987:v) were all qualities which westerners considered associated with frontier life and in which they saw their own character reflected.
22.214.171.124. The Significance of Crockett's Image and of His Death at the Alamo (1836) 60
Davy Crockett became an American icon. He not only represented the ideal backwoodsman of the western section, but he became a celebrity known throughout America as "the canebrake congressman." He embodied the savagery/civilization dichotomy typical of every American hero, and he was one of the first Americans to make a living off his celebrity status. That he should die at the Alamo in the attempt to conform once more to the heroic image he had so carefully created was ironically fitting to his life: he was entrapped by his own legend, by what Slotkin would call "the fatal environment" (see 1.2.) he himself had created all around him, and his heroic death was "the perfect climatic finale to a heroic legend still in the process of formation" (Crockett, 1987:viii). With his volunteers, he decided to go to Texas and help Americans fighting against the Mexican dictatorship of General Santa Anna. The mythical appeal of his final translation from Metropolitan politician to Frontier warrior could be his last chance to retrieve his political and financial fortunes after the defeat in his 1835 congressional bid. So it was, in a sense, as his heroic death while he was defending the old mission Alamo despite being aware that there was no chance of survival for the small number of American soldiers fighting against the huge and well-organized Mexican army, confirmed his fame as national hero: his autobiography cemented the backwoodsman and self-made-man-turned-politician image firmly in the public mind. The Alamo elevated the pioneer-politician into a heroic martyr. (Crockett, 1987:viii) As a matter of fact, if the real David Crockett perished during the battle, the legendary David Crockett acquired strength from the episode, and became so popular that publications about him continued to appear for the following twenty years. Afterwards, of course, he gave way to new frontier heroes, like Kit Carson and Buffalo Bill, who conformed better to the late-nineteenth 61
century cultural moment, and were therefore more appealing to the modern readership. However, it is important to realize how these new heroes strongly resembled their ancestors, to the extent that to them were attributed those heroic deeds which had been earlier ascribed to Crockett, and before him, to Boone. As a consequence, despite the necessary changes to which the image of the hero was subject from its emergence to Crockett's times, and from Crockett's to present times, a sort of continuity was maintained, and a homogeneous definition of the American hero as a man of action, constantly portrayed as the one who must face trials, hardships, and dangers before civilization and democracy can triumph can be formulated (Cagidemetrio, 1983:124-7).
2.3. An Example of Myth-Conscious Literature: J. F. Cooper's "Leatherstocking Tales" (1823-1841) and the Codification of the Western Genre By 1830 the frontier hero had acquired different traits according to the section he represented, and as the archetypal American hero remained Daniel Boone, there were several stereotyped images of him, depending on the experience of acculturation lived by the different communities and by their relationship to the surrounding environment and to Indians. The different sections were not isolated, but they were linked by a communications systems whose nexus was the New YorkPhiladelphia axis, and it was here where the works of different sections appeared side by side, offering the reader irreconcilable alternatives, and engaging him in a deeper examination of the subject. And it was here where conscious artists who wanted to deal with the frontier found their primary sources. With the expression "conscious artists" I refer to those writers that Slotkin also calls "novelists of stature" whose concerns went far beyond the creation of a popular image, even if they took popular materials as a starting point of their creative process. Among them, Cooper, Simms, and Bird, for whom the myth-image which was for popular writers the goal of their narratives became only the beginning for a deeper analysis of the problems of history, politics, and psychology of the country, which by that time was already facing the problem of a closing Frontier. As a matter of fact, if by 1830 the greatest period of American expansion was still to come, there were geographical barriers like the Great Plains and the Rockies hindering further agrarian expansion. From the temporal standpoint of the contemporary writers, it appeared that America might well have reached the natural limits of its expansion, and that the lack of free lands providing unlimited opportunities to everyone urged to think how to cope with the social consequences of the closure of the Frontier, such as the emergence of social inequalities (Slotkin, 1985:109-118). 63
As a consequence, the "conscious artist" will translate the Frontier Myth into a metaphoric code through which he can interpret the social warfare of a post-Frontier Metropolitan America, thanks to his powers of analysis and of composition enabling him "to see further into his material and extract more from it in the way of moral, social, and metaphysical meaning than do his purely commercial colleagues" (Slotkin, 1973:467). In other words, drawing from the pre-existing popular mythology and relying on their authors' great insights and sensitivity, these works will deal with the frontier subject with selfconsciousness not only portraying the American Myth, but also trying to discover its ends or consequences; and equally self-consciously will function in the evolution of popular mythology. The fact that J. F. Cooper's vision of the mythic hero became a figure in the popular imagination, to the extent that all subsequent versions of the hero refer to his Leatherstocking, is a plain demonstration of the importance of these narratives in popular culture, which was at the same time the source and the outlet - although not the only one - of their creations. As a matter of fact, if Cooper's works drew in part from the English Romantic fiction, they were also a blending of the popular literature of New England and of the West, respectively drawing from the Puritan personal-narrative tradition and from the tradition of the Myth of the Hunter, on which the whole western narrative about Boone was centered (Slotkin, 1973:485); at the same time, Cooper will work as the codifier and popularizer of an image of the Western hero and of a language of myth already at work in his society.
2.3.1. The Hero's Troubling Identity: Leatherstocking as the "American Adam"
The main concern which accompanies Leatherstocking throughout the series of Cooper's Tales, which he published between 1823 and 1841, had also been the central theme of most American popular literature up to that time: the problem of identity and the belief of 64
the hero's possibility of regeneration into a new self. It is significant that the series begins with a novel in which the hero is an old man of almost seventy (The Pioneers, 1823), continues with his death at the age of ninety (The Prairie, 1827), and ends with the image of the hero again as a youth (The Deerslayer, 1841). The whole series deals therefore with the myth of renewal and rebirth of the hero, a concern derived from the unique experience of the settlers of the New World, who had left their past behind and were just beginning to live their new life, and who expressed through the process of myth-making all their hopes and their preoccupation for the future. The American Myth
saw life and history as just beginning. It described the world as starting up again under fresh initiative, in a divinely granted second chance for the human race, after the first chance had been so disastrously fumbled in the darkening Old World. It introduced a new kind of hero, the heroic embodiment of a new set of ideal human attributes. (...) It was something entirely new. (Lewis, 1955:5) This hero, who was sent by God to populate a New World, was identified for his newness and innocence with the first archetypal man, with Adam before the Fall. And, according to Lewis, Leatherstocking can be considered the "American Adam" par excellence who embodies, in his fictional and mythical journey from old age to youth, from experience to innocence, the whole American experience, consisting of two simultaneous processes: the complete sloughing of the old European consciousness and the growing of a new skin underneath, a new form:
The Leatherstocking novels (...) go backwards from old age to golden youth. That is the true myth of America. She starts old, old, wrinkled and writhing in an old skin. And there is a gradual sloughing off of the old skin, towards a new youth. It is the myth of America. (Lawrence, 1971:60) As we shall see in the following sections, Leatherstocking embodies the idealized â€œnew man.â€? In this Utopian character aspects of the civilized and of the savage world coexist; however, the acknowledgement of 65
Leatherstocking Utopian nature leads Cooper to create him out of nothingness and to make him disappear in the same way, with â€œno kin, and no people,â€? with no past and no future.
126.96.36.199. Leatherstocking between Civilization and Wilderness: the Hero's Inner Conflict
The American obsession for the creation of a new identity for the New World through the "sloughing off" of the settlers' European identity was not only reflected in the general structure of the Leatherstocking Tales, but it was also represented in each novel by the constant analysis of the hero's problematic character, torn between two conflicting cultures and engaged in the process of acculturation to the Indian's America. One of the main significant aspects in the narrative is represented by the question of Leatherstocking's identity and names (Slotkin, 1973:499-501), which is particularly evident in the last and more mythconscious novel, The Deerslayer (1841). Leatherstocking is a white man adopted by the Indians when he was a child, and his original name is Natty Bumppo, which symbolizes his white heredity. However, since according to the common Indian practice the name one bears must have been earned by deeds, the Delawares name him with different titles until he becomes a man and owns his own rifle: as the first animal he kills with the rifle is a deer, from this moment he will be known among the Indians as Deerslayer. His real initiation in the Indian world is therefore an initiation as a hunter: taking the name of the animal killed he also earns a new identity. From this initiation, through which the abilities of the hero have been tested, Natty/Deerslayer has earned his first significant place in the tribe as a man. But this is only one of the many initiations the hero will have to experience, and the most important will be a mortal combat with an Indian enemy, during which Deerslayer proves himself worthy to kill his foe, receiving from him his new name Hawkeye, derived from Deerslayer's "quickness of sight" which enables him to shoot through the bushes and mortally wound the Indian. 66
Therefore, just as his earlier name was taken from the thing he killed, so his new name, Hawkeye, is given him by his dying foe while he brings him some water:
"Deerslayer is the name I bear now, though the Delawares have said that when I get back from this warpath, I shall have a more manly title, providing I can 'arn one." "That good name for boy - poor name for warrior. He get better quick. No fear there [tapping Deerslayer's heart]... - eye sartain - finger lightning aim, death - great warrior soon. No Deerslayer Hawkeye - Hawkeye - Hawkeye. Shake hand." (quoted in Slotkin, 1973:501) He has proved to be a courageous warrior, and as the possession of his first rifle marked his becoming a hunter and a man, the gift of "Killdeer," a rifle with a mythlike reputation for its accuracy, marks his achievement of heroic stature. However, it is at this moment that his inner conflict is expressed best: "to what extent do the Indian deeds of Natty Bumppo make him an Indian? Is he really the mythic hero Deerslayer and Hawkeye or the low-class bumpkin Bumppo?" (Slotkin, 1973:499). As a matter of fact, although he becomes in this episode an Indian warrior, it is evident that he has not completely adapted to Indian habits. First of all, even if his enemy fires at him from ambush, he refuses to do the same, and shoots at him openly, and only when he has no other chance, as his life is in danger. Secondly, he refuses to take the scalp of his dying foe, and instead he brings him some water. Therefore, despite having spent most of his life among Indians, he has not degenerated into a savage state as white people might believe. On the contrary, he has learnt to respect the law of the woods, and at the same time he has remained true to his "white gifts," developing a personal code of honor which cannot be entirely accepted neither by white people nor by Indians. Leatherstocking, like Boone and like other previous heroes, represents for Cooper and for his contemporaries the perfect embodiment of the "Frontier" as the "ideal boundary between two cultures, one 67
'civilized and cultivated', the other 'wild and lawless'" (Fiedler, 1984:179). He can be considered an Indian as he shares with Indian culture the love for the freedom of the forest, the delight in hunting, and the dislike for society, as other heroes before him, Boone in particular. If we compare a passage taken from Flint's biography of Boone and a passage taken from Cooper's Tales, we will realize the similarities existing between the two heroes: Boone emigrated beyond the Mississippi "because he found a population of ten to the square mile, inconvenient," while Leatherstocking "has been driven by the increasing and unparalleled advance of population, to seek a final refuge against society in the broad and tenantless plain of the west" (both quoted in Smith, 1995:59-60). However, no matter how far they fly from society and how much they acquire Indian sensitivity in the relationship with nature and Indian skills in wilderness life, they remain civilized, true to their "white gifts," willing to help settlers to master the wilderness, teaching them that "whoever comes into the woods to deal with the natives, must use Indian fashions, if he would wish to prosper in his undertakings" (Cooper, 1994:46-7). Leatherstocking has himself been mastered by the wilderness, as it is rather evident from the way Cooper describes him throughout The Last of the Mohicans. His qualities are qualities he learned by experience and among the Indians, and he strikingly resembles one of them, if Cooper wouldn't immediately point out that he is a white man:
The frame of the white man, judging by such parts as were not concealed by his clothes, was like that of one who had known hardships and exertion from his earliest youth. (...) every nerve and muscle appeared strung and indurated by unremitted exposure and toil. He wore a hunting shirt of forest green, fringed with faded yellow, and a summer cap of skins which had been shorn of their fur. He also bore a knife in a girdle of wampum, like that which confined the scanty garments of the Indian [Chingachgook], but no tomahawk. His moccasins were ornamented after the gay fashion of the natives, while the only part of his underdress which appeared below the hunting frock was a pair of buckskin leggings that laced at the sides, 68
and which were gartered above the knees with the sinews of a deer. A pouch and a horn completed his personal accouterments, though a rifle of great length, which the theory of the more ingenious whites had taught them was the most dangerous of all firearms, leaned against a neighboring sapling. The eye of the hunter or scout, whichever he might be, was small, quick, keen, and restless, roving while he spoke, on every side of him, as if in quest of game, or distrusting the sudden approach of some lurking enemy. Notwithstanding these symptoms of habitual suspicion, his countenance was not only without guile, but at the moment at which he is introduced, it was charged with an expression of sturdy honesty. (Cooper, 1994:33-4, my emphasis) He has been raised among the Indians, and can boast of the title of "man who knows Indians" more than anyone else. Among the other things, from Cooper's description of Hawkeye we learn that he understands and practice the "philosophy of an Indian fight," consisting mainly in "a ready hand, a quick eye, and a good cover" (Cooper, 1994:391), but we must remember that the gifts of his color forbid him to do everything an Indian would do. Moreover, he has learnt to accept a set of values which can only be the result of a long period of experience in the American wilderness, and which he is ready to offer to civilized men. Among these values the most important is that of reverence for all life, which has its origins of course in Indian culture, according to which all forms of life are the expression of the power of the Great Spirit, and consequently must be respected and worshipped. The experience from which these values are derived is a very hard one, "is one that includes strife and violence, cruelty and hardships, loneliness and exile" (Slotkin, 1973:506), and one must be ready to face it with innocence, that is with a completely receptive, open state of mind, which will allow him to free himself of the schemes and prejudices in which he was born, and as a consequence "to discover truths about himself and his world that were hitherto hidden to him" (Slotkin, 1973:507). Therefore, according to Cooper, the immersion in wilderness life and the acquisition of Indian traits is not the hero's end in itself, but it helps him to understand in which way a relationship between wilderness and civilized society can be 69
established, and through his mediation, he helps civilized people to survive in the new environment.
188.8.131.52. The Question of Race
If Leatherstocking's blending of traits made him a mediator between civilization and savagery, the same troubling blend of European, American, and Indian elements represented both a promise and a threat for Cooper's contemporaries. Cooper portrays the psychological consequences of the white-Indian character of the frontier hero through Leatherstocking's obsession with the question of his racial loyalties, which is a recurrent issue in the whole series, and which Cooper does never completely resolve. As a matter of fact, throughout the Tales Natty never marries, and a number of hypothesis can be advanced to explain Cooper's decision, which will become a characterizing feature of future American heroes. According to Leslie A. Fiedler, who discussed two of the most interesting
celibate could be explained first of all by Cooper's rejection and horror of miscegenation, expressed by Natty's desire of maintaining his racial purity, as it is particularly highlighted in The Last of the Mohicans, where Natty/Hawkeye obsessively repeats that he is a "man without a cross," that he has "no taint of Indian blood"; secondly, Natty could be "barred from marriage and the family by a prior commitment to a lonely life in a state of nature," and consequently "his true Bride is the forest, or more precisely the Spirit that inhabits it" (Fiedler, 1984:210). Then, there is a third interesting hypothesis to analyze, the one advanced by Slotkin, according to which the peculiar position of Leatherstocking as a mediator between civilization and savagery led Cooper to express his inner conflict in racial terms, associating - in line with the Puritan tradition civilization with white people, and savagery with Indians. As a racial purist, Hawkeye cannot marry an Indian woman, because the amalgamation with the Indians and the adoption of their traits would lead 70
to the "degeneration" of the white frontiersman; at the same time, his way of life and his moral values make his marriage with a white woman impossible (Slotkin, 1973:503-505). Therefore,
although his blending of Indian and Christian qualities makes him a hero and a kind of saint, it ultimately prevents him from playing his proper role in either the Indian or the Christian frame of reference. (Slotkin, 1973:503) Moreover, in The Last of the Mohicans, Cooper makes clearer his concept of irreconciliability between two different races - and therefore, metaphorically, between civilization and savagery - in the fate of all the mixed characters populating the novel: they either die or are settled in a path of sterility. A tragic fate is that of Cora, who is of mixed black and Scottish ancestry, of Magua, the bad Indian who has attempted to affiliate with the whites, and of Uncas, the good savage whose integrity as an Indian has been in some measure breached by his love for Cora. Finally, the fate of Hawkeye, the white man raised among the Indians, is an eternal celibate. At the end of the novel he says to Chingachgook, "I have no kin, and I may also say, like you, no people" (Cooper, 1994:414), and therefore he recognizes his condition of
an individual emancipated from history, happily bereft of ancestry, untouched and undefiled by the usual inheritances of family and race; an individual standing alone, self-reliant and self-propelling, ready to confront whatever awaited him with the aid of his own unique and inherent resources. (Lewis, 1955:5) This is indeed the unchangeable condition of the hero in American literature.
184.108.40.206. The Question of Duplicity in The Last of the Mohicans (1826)
Cooper did not express the hero's duplicity towards civilization and savagery only in Leatherstocking's inner conflict about his own identity, and in his "impotence" or inability to make a choice between the white people's world and the Indian world through marriage. He also adopted other means to highlight the existence within the hero of two different "selves," one bound to the civilized world by his "white gifts" and the other bound to the wilderness by his love for it. First of all, throughout the series of the Tales, Leatherstocking experiences a number of captivities, and his adventures are characterized by an alternation between his role as a captive and his role as a rescuer and as a hunter. As suggested by Slotkin, "Leatherstocking's submission to captivities (...) is always a method for expiating the Indian sinfulness of his profession of hunter" (Slotkin, 1973:502), in the same way as his rescues of captives, especially women, are redemptive of his condition. Only through this expiation his "white gifts" can remain unaltered. Cooper's hero is therefore considered inevitably as a combination of the characters of the hunter and the captive, uniting in a single heroic figure the previous traditions of the American frontier myth, from the captivity narrative to Boone's legend. However, it is in The Last of the Mohicans where Cooper most clearly shows his concern about the duplicity of his hero and at the same time of the frontier concept, reflecting it on the other characters of the novel or, more precisely, on the couples of characters accompanying Hawkeye in his adventures. As a matter of fact, in this novel, almost every character has its "double," so that the elements can be presented in their pure essences (Fiedler, 1984:205-209): Cora and Alice, the passionate brunette whose complexion "was not brown, but it rather appeared charged with the color of the rich blood, that seemed ready to burst its bounds" (Cooper, 1994:21) and the sinless blonde, with "dazzling complexion, fair golden hair, and bright blue eyes" (Cooper, 1994:20-21); Uncas and Magua, the good Indian and hero's companion, 72
and the bad Indian; Chingachgook and Hawkeye, the noble Indian and the low-class white man. Each of them representing the opposite of the other, but still sharing similarities, as each member of the couple is linked to the other by some kind of indissoluble relationship: Cora and Alice are sisters, daughters of the same father, but of different mothers; Uncas and Magua are both Indians, even if of different and antagonistic tribes; Chingachgook and Hawkeye are of different races, but are united by the lack of "kin and people," and by their love for the wilderness in a sort of "pure marriage of males, sexless and holy, a kind of countermatrimony, in which the white refugee from society and the dark-skinned primitive are joined till death do them part" (Fiedler, 1984:211). It is in this last couple that Cooper expresses all his concern for the sense of guilt felt by Americans for their independence from the mother country and at the same time the sense of guilt of a whole community for the expropriation of the Indian land, trying to exorcize the American nightmare of the Indian threat - the punishment for white people's sins with the good dream which is its complement and antidote: the dream of primeval innocence and the companionship of red man and white, a dream which could be embodied in the double image of the American hero as the noble but inevitably vanishing savage, and the regenerated and thus innocent and forever young Leatherstocking:
Cooper would like to have had his dilemmas resolved both ways: the races both reconciled and left separate, the wilderness both civilized and preserved in purity, the Indian forever vanishing yet never lost. (Slotkin, 1985:98) The desire for a perfect solution of the American dilemma and the acknowledgement that the dilemma couldnâ€™t be resolved in the real world led to the creation of a fictional character like Leatherstocking, who on the one hand embodied the ideal solution for the coexistence of the two races, and on the other hand was bound to disappear, as the only place he could live in was the idealized mythic space created by human fantasy.
2.3.2. The Codification of a Genre: Leatherstocking and His Companions of Adventures
In the analysis of the figure of the American hero we cannot avoid to make also a brief introduction to the other fictional main characters populating the Western scene, and which Cooper codified together with the image of the hero in his Leatherstocking Tales. Their importance lies of course in their influencing the hero's action, - since the emergence of the American hero, his existence has been dependent on the existence of his foe, the Indian - but above all in embodying some essential "types" which have survived in the Western genre up to present times. As Cooper's narrative centered on the representation of the history of American development as the confrontation between two races, Indian and white, as Slotkin suggests, his characters will be divided in these two main groups (Slotkin, 1985:100-106). Among the Indians, representing the primitive natural extreme of human possibilities, we find three types, the "great antagonist," the "ally," and the "red bride." The great antagonist incarnates evil, and his dangerousness lies in the fact that he combines the worst aspects of both Indian and white cultures, as he finds himself at home in the forest, but he has also learned from the whites the arts of political corruption and advanced warfare. The ally is the good Indian scout who is loyal to the whites and helps them to gain insights into the Indian and the wilderness that would be otherwise closed to them. Moreover, through his cooperation with the white man, Nature herself consents to the overthrow of the Indians by the whites. The red bride is the Indian or racially "dark" princess who sexually tempts either the hero or some other white character. On the white side we find a number of white male characters whom Cooper ranks according to their response to racial, class, and sexual clues. These figures range from the lowest, that is the white renegade belonging to the "dangerous classes" of whites who act like 74
Indians, especially in their behaviour towards white women: they share with the bad Indian the desire to possess the woman, polluting her racially and morally. The white woman is therefore the symbol of the values of civilization imperiled by savagery and she waits to be rescued, as the heroine of the Puritan captivity narrative, by the noble hero. Finally, on the top of the moral ladder we find the hero, who should be the military aristocrat, characterized by innate chivalry, even if Cooper does not only refer to the aristocracy of birth, but also to the natural aristocracy whose qualities transform a white man into a chivalric hero, as in the case of Leatherstocking. If the other characters represent for Cooper various defined racial and social positions, on the contrary the hero represents the essential problem of social and moral identity, which the author resolves by depicting Leatherstocking as "a man frozen in stasis between the opposed worlds of savagery and civilization. That stasis is his protection from degeneration toward renegadery on the one hand, and social climbing on the other" (Slotkin, 1985:105). In this way Cooper projects on his hero not only the solution of the traditional concern about the confrontation between civilization and savagery on the historical Frontier, but also the more contemporary preoccupation of a post-Frontier society whose problems he successfully transferred to a mythical world, and whose conflict between social classes he metaphorically represented in the conflict between races.
2.4. From the Heroes of the Agrarian Frontier to the Heroes
Conquistadores, and Vigilantes (1830-1860) As I have previously mentioned, the central myths of a society deal with issues that concern society most deeply, and most persistently over time, and for this reason we talk about "myths of concern" (see 1.2.). Until the beginning of the nineteenth century, the main concern of American society, and therefore the dominant theme of the Frontier Myth, had been the conquest and settlement of free lands, the confrontation of the white settlers with the Indian race which inhabited the continent, and consequently their progressive acculturation to a new environment and a new way of life. The story implied a physical movement from the "Metropolis," that is from Europe, which was the center of national life and activity, and the acceptance of a temporary regression in conditions of life and work in the new and unsettled lands, which would have led to a desirable change of fortune. As we have already seen (see 1.1.1.&1.2.), this experience was historically re-enacted with the opening of each new frontier - mythically represented by the adventure of separation-initiation-return of the Frontier heroes - and it necessarily implied the existence of two geographical poles: on the one hand, the Metropolis with a predominantly negative character, whose authority the colonists had fled; on the other hand the wilderness frontier, whose appealing promises could become reality only through the overcoming of a series of ordeals, among which the physical and moral resistance to the primitive native:
The completed American was therefore one who remade his fortune and his character by an emigration, a setting forth for newer and richer lands; by isolation and regression to a more primitive manner of life; and by establishing his political position in opposition to both the Indian and the European, the New World savage and the Old World aristocracy. (Slotkin, 1985:35) 76
The economic development of the nation was thus associated with the cyclical emigrations and consequent agrarian expansion, at least until the beginning of the age of industrialization. As a matter of fact, the rapid industrialization and urbanization of the country occurring during the first half of the nineteenth century should have discredited this association, since the growth of the industry and the increase in the demand of employment in the cities would lead to a shift of population from the countryside to the Metropolis, as it had already happened in Europe. But in America this process was reversed, as the jobs offered in the cities were taken by European immigrants who continued to see the New World as the land of unlimited opportunities, while the growth of native population continued with the conquest and the settlement of new lands towards the West. In this way, the association of economic development with the migration to new lands and with their exploitation was preserved, together with the belief in the mythical restorative and regenerative power of the land which, far from being discredited, was emphasized, as the Frontier land had the capacity to work grand transformations on the character, fortunes, and institutions of the inhabitants, at least until there were new lands to settle. Moreover, as the language of Frontier symbolism developed by and for a colonial agrarian society was merged with and successfully adapted to the language of industrialization, the western lands were also seen as "a safety valve to the great social steam engine" (quoted in Slotkin, 1985:117), that is a safety valve for class discontent caused by the increasing social inequalities deriving inevitably from an emerging industrial society, which saw in the western lands a promise of future success made possible by present labor (Slotkin, 1985:111-118). However, the vision of the future was already at that time a problematic one, as politicians, manufacturers, and landowners acknowledged "the sense of a conflict between the high expectations of the mass of the population and the apprehension that the resource base will, ultimately, be inadequate to fulfill the justified demands of all comers" (Slotkin, 1985:118). This means that by 1830 Americans were 77
already dealing with the backwash of a closing frontier, and that the literary spokesmen of the nation were already trying to reformulate the language of the Frontier Myth codified by Cooper, both in its characters and in its plots, to adapt it to the concerns of the new era.
2.4.1. The Changing Image of the Western Hero and the "Southwestern School" (1835-50): Indian Haters and Vigilantes
The problematic vision of the future shared by the literary spokesmen of American culture from the 1830s onward led to significant changes in the depiction of the key characters of the Myth. The shift of attitude which characterized the beginning of the era of industrialization can be exemplified by Washington Irving's vision of the West as a final frontier (Slotkin, 1985:119-122), a land too arid and savage to be settled by yeoman farmers, where the difficulties are great also for wellorganized entrepreneurial enterprises. As the western wilderness exerts its pressure on weaker natures to drive them towards savagery, only those whites of superior endowment, or under the command of a soldieraristocrat, can survive in such a region. Therefore, Irving's kind of heroism is an heroism in defence, not in advance like, for instance, Boone's. His heroes are explorers, hunters, soldiers, and fur traders whose task is to resist from becoming savages or half-breeds like their fellows, who, after spending some time in the wilderness, return home scarcely distinguishable from Indians in dress and manner, to the extent that it is difficult to believe that they were once white men living in a civilized society. Irving underlies in his narrative the intractability of this last wilderness, the constant danger of being rendered a white savage before being able to domesticate it. However, if in Irving's writings the Frontier hero could still be seen as a precursor of civilization, that is the one who made the wilderness safe for farmers and entrepreneurs alike, and whose violence could be justified as a productive means to reach progress, this image soon lost its credibility, and gave way to the rise of a dual stereotype of 78
the Frontiersman: on the one hand, an antisocial character, half whiteIndian, whose fate was to vanish with the wilderness; on the other hand, the outlaw renegade, who formed part of the "dangerous class" threatening the settlements, and who, unlike other Frontiersmen who had adjusted to the changed conditions of a post-Frontier society, lived according to the same code of violence and revenge that shaped his behavior toward Indians (Slotkin, 1985:126-128). The growing propensity to consider Frontiersmen as unstable and dangerous characters was particularly evident in the narrative of the "Southwestern school" of writers, an important and popular literary tendency in 1835-50. As the readers of the "Southwestern" stories coincided with the urban and lower-class audience of the local papers of the Metropolitan North in which the stories were published, the preoccupation of that audience shaped the writers' choice of material. Therefore, tales of urban criminality appearing in the papers juxtaposed with Southwestern stories of Frontier violence, suggesting a significant relationship between the two worlds, which varied according to the different points of view. On the one hand, the Metropolitan papers maintained for the working class the original vision of the Frontier as an alternative and an escape from the Metropolis; on the other hand, the Southwestern writers emphasized the identity between the corruption of Metropolitan society and that of the Frontier, which was approaching to its closure:
In the Southwest of fiction, the Frontier has passed, and the predatory impulse turned inward produces a society in which economic competition reaches a limit of violent unrestraint that tests the tolerance of social bonding itself. The typical Southwestern heroes are lower-class "confidence men," slick in a horse swap; or men of prodigious capacities for violence. (Slotkin, 1985:128) Post-Frontier society was seen as a place were violence dwelt, as the conditions of life on the Frontier had taught Frontiersmen to consider every war a war of extermination, and every exchange a potential casus 79
belli. Therefore, in Southwestern narrative, the image of the Indian fighter of the past becomes much more ambiguous and threatening than in Cooper's Tales, and the difference is evident in the revision of Cooper by the western writer James Hall and the southern novelist Robert M. Bird (Slotkin, 1985:129-130): if for Cooper the Frontier hero embodied positive qualities as he worked as a mediator between the vanishing Indians and the whites who would inherit the land, for Hall and Bird the character of the Frontiersman is a negative and dangerous one, Indians are completely depraved, and social authority can only be found in civilized, military-aristocratic characters. Unlike Leatherstocking, the new Frontiersmen are either characterized by schizophrenia, deriving from their inability to balance the opposite Indian impulse of violence and white impulse of gentility, or by an antisocial behaviour, originated in a too-devoted enjoyment of the wilderness life. This second kind of Frontiersman is the one depicted by Hall in his classic sketch of the "Indian hater" (1835):
a man of solitary and self-willed character who suffers some misfortune at Indian hands - the massacre of family and loved ones - and becomes thereafter a professional Indian killer. The Indian hater's mission is to exterminate red men as a matter of principle, and he will make any sacrifice of health or interest necessary to fulfill this mission. (Slotkin, 1985:130) According to Hall, Indian hating derives from the unique conditions of life experienced by the pioneers on the Frontier, which made of them a "peculiar race": the primitive survival of these people was based on the rights of discovery and conquest, and therefore their desire to "monopolize the land" legitimized their conflict with the Indians; at the same time, being always ahead of the tide of emigration towards West, they fled any contact with civilization. This is the reason why Hall's representatives of this pioneer race can never be part of civilized society, unless they give up their desire for revenge and their state of "Indian haters." 80
Other Southwestern stories by Hall himself or by other authors portrayed even more troublesome characters, focusing on the careers of the infamous badmen and outlaws who infested the border and threatened society in the early nineteenth century. An interesting example is H. R. Howard's The Life and Adventures of John A. Murrell, the Great Western Land Pirate (1847), the account of the life of an outlaw who, after pursuing a career of theft, chicanery, and murder, organizes in Alabama an operation of runaway-slave racket, and out of the associations with "respectable society" derived from the racket, builds a network of political influence and protection which allows him to achieve political control of whole districts. But his final goal is dictated by his desire for revenge against a world that has impoverished him and forced him to a life of crime: as a matter of fact, he plans to incite an insurrection among blacks, so that his organization may rise to power, and the upper class might be massacred (Slotkin, 1985:133-135). If Murrell's Indian hater-avenger type was the expression of the concern of a closing Frontier where the existence of class differences and of class subordination was unavoidable, and at the same time the expression of the Frontier ideology which required the overturn of systems of subordination and limitation, it is the same Howard who in the second part of his narrative offers an antidote to the "dangerous class" represented by Murrell in the figure of the vigilante (Slotkin, 1985:135137), which derived from the same Frontier values in which originated the figure of the outlaw, and which persisted in both social fact and literary mythology. The vigilante is:
a common man who is drawn almost inadvertently into the path of adventure; who gains intimacy with the dangerous class through a form of disguised captivity; but who ultimately turns the dangerous class's talents for renegadery, conspiracy, and extralegal violence against itself. (Slotkin, 1985:135) He shares some common traits with the Indian fighter, and like Boone or Leatherstocking he is seen as a necessary figure in a post-Frontier society 81
representing a transition between the world of the Indian hater and pioneer and that of a completed settlement. Like the Indian hater, he fulfills a civilizing mission exercizing a privilege of extra-legal violence, and like him he is therefore a figure lying between civilization and savagery, as like the Indian hater shares the traits of the savage, he shares some of the traits of the criminals he pursues. However, after accomplishing his mission allowing the establishment of civilized law, he must abnegate his privilege, because if he does not, he will become as dangerous and antisocial as the Indian hater who persists in secret murder after the time of race war has passed. Of course, even if he gives up his privilege, he will forever remain a figure who belongs neither to the world of crime, nor to the world of civilized society, as his experience as vigilante will permanently change him and isolate him from both groups, transforming him into a perfect American hero.
2.4.2. The Opening of New Frontiers and the Return of the Frontiersman (1845-1850)
The interrupted course of American expansion was resumed in 1845 by the annexation of Texas, whose independence furnished the occasion for a revival of some of the classic motifs of the Myth of the Frontier, and consequently provided Americans with new illusions about a possible expansion in "an earthly paradise, wild yet beautiful" (quoted in Slotkin, 1985:174), the way they imagined the Mexican territory. The revival of the Frontier Myth inevitably led to the resurrection of legendary heroes linked to the history of Texas, among which David Crockett with his redemptive self-sacrifice at the Alamo, and Sam Houston as his avenger and conqueror of General Santa Anna. If the importance of a restatement of the values of the Myth in a period characterized by the moral and social consequences of a closing Frontier can be easily understood, the crucial role of Crockett and Houston may be less clear. As a matter of fact, their significance lies not only in their association with the past history of the territory, but above all in the 82
central theme of their legends, being that of a man seeking self-renewal on the Frontier after experiencing moral or material ruin in the political and social struggles of the Metropolis. The life of both Crockett and Houston was in fact characterized by the achievement of political success with their own efforts, and by the fast decline of their careers as politicians, Houston because of domestic problems and alcoholism, Crockett for its opposition to President Jackson and to the Indian Removal policy; as a consequence, both heroes went to Texas to regenerate their political fortunes and reputations, and in the latter they both succeeded. Their stories demonstrated that if within the borders of a close society the conflicts of class and interest cannot be reconciled, and even the hero whose career is set in such circumstances becomes problematic, once projected out again beyond the borders to fight against a "savage" foe, the hero regains its lost stature and its function of exemplary figure. The popularity of the legends of Crockett and Houston in a period of renewed expansionism expressed thus the belief in the possibility of regeneration and profit provided by the Frontier environment and by future conquests, and the consequent good deal of support for it, at least at first (Slotkin, 1985:162-163). However, despite the revival of these old legends, the Mexican War barely exists as literary territory, as the chief enduring addition to the vocabulary of American myth made by Mexican War fiction was the legend of Kit Carson, the conquest of California, and the gold rush (Slotkin, 1985:191). Given the relatively "vacant" wilderness of the territory and the similarity of the situation to an Indian-war scenario, California became after the discovery of gold in 1849 a new sort of Frontier, in which the promise of unlimited wealth no longer took the form of land, whose role was replaced by that of the precious metal. And Kit Carson was the new hero of this Frontier. It is significant to notice how the post-Frontier society preoccupation for the future was expressed in the legends circulating around Carson, which articulated according to two different points of view. As a matter of fact, two contradictory myths developed around his heroic image: on the one hand, the one propagated 83
by dime-novel accounts with a lower and middle class audience, in which he is described, according to the tradition of the Myth of the Hunter, as a man who is by instinct and inheritance a wild and free hunter, drawn to the life of the wilderness, standing out against the encroachments of society forever (Smith, 1995:84-89); on the other hand, the image propagated by the polite fiction and biography addressed to a more "respectable" audience, where the myth of the hunter is linked to the ethic of success and the myth of the self-made man and entrepreneur, and Carson moves from the condition of hunter to that of successful civilized citizen (Slotkin, 1985:204-205). Therefore, while the "genteel" image of Carson represents in realistic terms the transition from the half-savage way of life on the Frontier to the post-Frontier society of order and repression, the popular vision of the hero rejected, at least in the imaginary space, the Metropolitan ideology imposing limitation on freedom and on the chance to rise in the world, and it sought refuge once again in the mythical promise of inexhaustible frontiers.
2.4.3. The Inversion of the Frontier Hero (1855-1860)
No matter how dime novels and popular imagination still preserved the image of an essentially unchanging fictive Frontier and of the hero as an eternal hunter, by the 1850s the American scenario had without a doubt undergone significant changes, and the completion of the continental expansion of the United States from sea to sea demonstrated to all that the supply of new lands was not unlimited at all. The alternatives of the western lands and the gold of California could no longer counterbalance the social and political contradictions of the Metropolis like the supporters of the Myth of the Frontier still believed, and the Myth itself was no longer capable of influencing, explaining or justifying the course of historical events. The new agents of progress were not the farmers of the previous century, but the industrial and mercantile enterprises and the railroad enterprise.
However, the ideology lying behind the Myth was hard to die, and between 1850 and 1854 the railroad paradoxically became the central symbol of a false renewal of the agrarian Frontier, as if on the one hand it represented "the industrial revolution incarnate," on the other hand it "appeared to offer a benign and productive association between the order of industrialism and the ambitions of the yeoman farmer" (Slotkin, 1985:214), through a system of underwriting western railroad construction with grants of public land. In this system the railroads played the role of a corporate pioneer breaking trail for agrarian aftercomers. This kind of policy allowed the promoters of western railroads to rely once again on the ideology of the Frontier Myth, behind which of course industrial values were at work - ignoring the real consequences of the closing Frontier (Slotkin, 1985:211-216). The development of an integrated national economy and the commitment to both industrialization and expansionism led to rely on the ideology of the Myth of the Frontier also for another issue which divided Northern from Southern states, the slavery issue. If the practice of slavery had been up to that moment considered by the Northern states as a local phenomenon and had been ignored by literally "segregating" it to the South through the introduction of legal measures which limited the contact of Southerners with the rest of the nation, in the modern expanding capitalist economy, founded upon the principle of private property and committed to entrepreneurial mobility and growth, the solution of the question could no longer be delayed. The Myth of the Frontier provided both Northern and Southern states with the principles on which they based their irreconcilable positions leading to the following civil war: as a matter of fact, if the South defended the institution of slavery because it saw emancipation as lowering white men racial identity to the measure of "nigger equality," the North defended free labor because it saw in the potential universalization of slavery the danger of an "africanization" of white men, which would have made them indolent and dependent on the labor of others, as it had happened in the South. In this way, instead of uniting on the basis of racial solidarity 85
against some common external foe, each section identified the other as the racial enemy (Slotkin, 1985:227-241). This time the mythological "agrarian paradise" version of the Frontier could not be used as an alternative to the solution of social and racial conflicts within the society, as it had happened at the beginning of the age of industrialization. The agrarian aspect of the Myth of the Frontier was replaced by its racialist side, the mythology of the Indian war. But the struggle was not against Indians or blacks, it was between two groups of white men representing fundamentally opposite principles of social order and moral organization. And progress required that, as Lincoln later declared, the Union could not remain a "house divided" between freedom and slavery (Slotkin, 1985:225), and if the law was to maintain its character of consistency it would have to become all one thing, or all the other. The example of past Indian wars provided therefore the two sections with a model for the "savage" war of extermination or subjugation that would follow, once again in the name of civilization. The conflicting interests of the two sections came to outweigh the existence of common purposes, such as the establishment of a transIsthmian and cross-continental steamship and rail networks which would have linked the Metropolis to the California Frontier, and prevented thus their achievement. Each of these developing transcontinental projects produced a representative hero, but the same contradictions caused by the language of race war, which instead of uniting North and South against the "Indians" had turned white people against white people, had led to the inversion of the image of the "living legends" themselves, to the extent that:
myths and heroic types which in the past had represented the solidarity of Americans on their militant march toward progress were now associated with outlawry, piracy, and a perverse tendency to direct violence against the republic itself. (Slotkin, 1985:243)
A brief analysis of the images of the filibuster William Walker, who emerged in 1855 as the hero of the Isthmian and Caribbean Frontier, and of John Brown, appeared in the same year as the representative of the vigilante-guerrilla fighters of the Kansas Frontier, will demonstrate the significant changes the image of the hero was subject to.
220.127.116.11. "The Gray-eyed Man of Destiny": William Walker and Filibustering
"Filibusters" were private military expeditions usually organized by Latin American patriots-in-exile or embattled in-country partisans which used American manpower and firepower to achieve their aims, which reflected an apparently "liberal" policy: liberate Cuba from Spanish colonialism or Mexico from French influence, overthrow some local tyranny, and at the same time colonize the lands they liberated. They could find support only among the partisans of slavery expansion, who were the only ones interested in the incorporation of a non-white population without full citizenship. However, filibusterism was hindered by the intensified domestic conflicts about the slavery issue, and enjoyed few successes which ended rather soon (Slotkin, 1985:242-244). Only between 1854 and 1857 filibustering appeared to be a serious business, especially thanks to the temporary establishment of an American regime in Nicaragua through the action of William Walker. He was an unlikely choice, as he didn't look the hero: Slotkin describes him as small and slight in build, mild-mannered and diffident in public. The most striking feature about him was his pale gray eyes, "whose mysterious and compelling power became part of Walker's mystique" (Slotkin, 1985:245). It was his relatively easy triumph in Nicaragua which reinforced the belief in his heroic destiny, which he generalized into a belief in the racial superiority of Northern Americans to Central Americans, considered unsuited by their nature to govern their nation, and compared either to Indians - to be removed or exterminated - or to blacks - to be enslaved. His success led thus to the establishment of a 87
dictatorship in the conquered land, and to the promulgation of laws favouring a regime of slavery, as he moved toward the idea of "regenerating" Nicaraguan society, substituting the North American people for the existing inferior native classes. Even if at first it had been possible for Walker to present himself as an exemplar of the American classic values standing with the Nicaraguan "liberal" faction, his following acts of violence were seen by contemporary observers and historians as evidences of Walker's opportunism, or as proof of his insanity. His career as a hero was ruined, he soon found himself politically isolated, and in 1857 he had to surrender (Slotkin, 1985:245261). However, as in the cases of Crockett and Houston, this was only the beginning of the mythologization of his image through a series of publications written by Walker and his supporters between 1856 and 1860, when Walker was still trying to vindicate his own heroic image. These works tried to offer a historical justification to Walker's enterprise, emphasizing the similarities between the conquest of Nicaragua and the conquest of the agrarian Frontiers of the United States, reformulating the Frontier Myth in terms of racial warfare. In this way the filibustering expedition was seen as a useful means of postponing the date of the final closure of the Frontier. Walker himself tried to recapture his own myth in The War of Nicaragua, published in 1860, drawing on the terms of the Frontier Myth, and particularly invoking the stereotype of the soldieraristocrat of Frontier romance: pure of race, well-born but not noble in European terms, and in worldly terms a successful self-made man. He is not a trained soldier, but is naturally endowed with martial genius and inclinations; he rises to leadership among men of his own race, and is worshipped by "the Indians," whose racial propensities he well understands. (Slotkin, 1985:261) He appealed to the strong images provided by the Myth of the Frontier in the attempt to overcome ideological divisions, but he failed: on the one hand, the supporters of an extension of slavery saw his failure as the 88
proof that private filibustering on behalf of "manifest destiny" was used up, as only large-scale enterprises could succeed in the future; on the other hand, even if he gained support applying to the importance of the Frontier, he lost it immediately because of his belief in the myth of racial violence. Therefore, the soldier-aristocrat's slaughters of racially inferior foes did not make him in 1856 a liberator and regenerator, but only a â€œconqueror and enslaverâ€? (Slotkin, 1985:261).
18.104.22.168. The "John Brown Legend" and the Vigilante-Guerrilla Fighters
If the image of William Walker was linked to the interests of the South, John Brown and his leading role in the struggle between North and South for the conquest of Kansas could be considered as the response of the northern antislavery party to the southern filibuster. In the autobiographical letter he wrote in 1857, John Brown linked himself to the image of past Frontier heroes, and if he did not experience the real wilderness life, he indeed was engaged in activities and issues central to the life of the "backwash" of the frontier. He therefore attributes himself the main features of the legendary heroes: he moved anywhere in the country, he was independent, he was willing to use violence to defend "his rights." But during most of his career as a guerrilla chief in the Bleeding Kansas struggle of 1855-57, his image was monopolized both by his friends and his enemies. In William Phillip's The Conquest of Kansas (1856), one of the most influential contemporary antislavery accounts, Brown is described as a classic hunter-warrior hero: a strange, resolute, repulsive, ironwilled, inexorable old man, with the skills of the wilderness fighter; he inspires a "wholesome dread" in his enemies, whom he strikes vigorously and by surprise; he acts on vigilante principles associated with the lynch law of his enemies, but his motives make the actions justifiable, and his regression to the primitive will purify his superior character. However, later developments of the Brown legend show a significant difference 89
between him and the heroes of the past Frontier: if they could face their country's foes, he was also willing to face his country herself when she was in the wrong. As a matter of fact, Brown becomes an hunter-warrior not to kill Indians, but to reform his fellow white citizens, and he is ready to enact his violence against them (Slotkin, 1985:267:270). The episode of Harper Ferry in 1859, during which Brown was captured by Federal troops as a traitor while he was seizing a Federal arsenal as a prelude to a guerrilla war in the South, was the most significant in the career of the hero, as from this moment his critics began to create around him the demonic myth of John Brown. The anonymous author of The Life, Trial, and Execution of Capt. John Brown..., published in New York in 1859, gives us a biography in the tradition of the "criminal life" (Slotkin, 1985:273-275). He is described as the perfect embodiment of the Indian hater, as he has been converted from peaceful farmer to fanatical man of violence by the desire for revenge against Border Ruffians, who murdered members of his family. But the objects of his vengeance are not redskins, they are whites, and representatives of legitimate social institutions. This biography deals with the contradiction of the contemporary society divided by the slavery issue, presenting on the one hand Brown's authentically Christian and agrarian roots and the legitimacy of his personal grievances, and on the other hand his excessive zeal in vengeance, which transforms him into an outlaw, and therefore a dangerous figure for society. It was the latter image of Brown which condemned him in the courtroom: he was a figure standing outside the laws of the society, and "what was worse, he had turned upon the children of the pioneers those weapons which were sanctified in myth only when used against the racial enemy" (Slotkin, 1985:277). Despite this reversal of direction of the Frontier hero was justified in the apologetic literature by representing the southern invaders of Kansas as "Indians," Brown was executed as a criminal, and his heroism, which up to that moment had meant progress and civilization, was now considered dangerous to the health of the post-Frontier society.
2.4.4. The Western Hero in the Dime Novel: Outlaws and Detectives, and the Image of the Outlaw/Detective (1875-1900)
A reversal of the image of the traditional Western hero also characterized "cheap literature" publications, particularly after 1875, when dime novels abandoned Indian-war settings - which up to that moment had metaphorically functioned as a safety valve for metropolitan social conflicts - in favor of conflicts between "outlaws" and "detectives" and the struggle between classes. Since dime novels were popular literature publications and therefore usually addressed to a lower-class audience, they reflected the concerns of such class, and the need to overcome the social injustice it was subject to. As a consequence, not only the setting of the plot was transferred from the Frontier wilderness to the Metropolis: the most significant change was that the hero of these novels was no longer the protector or vindicator of the "genteel" values of order and respectability, but a criminal drawn to banditry by a mixture of social injustice and an innate propensity or "gift" for antisocial behavior. The two most popular dime-novel outlaws of the 1877-1883 period were the fictional "Deadwood Dick" and the half-legendary Jesse James, both social bandits whose outlawry was directed against the dark side of modern capitalism. However, the significance of these characters lies not that much in their reversal of the image of the Frontier hero, but in the fact that their narratives led to the creation of a hybrid hero combining elements of the detective and the social bandit, very similar to the traditional Western hero, who combined elements of white and civilized culture with elements of Indian and savage people. Deadwood Dick made his first appearance in Edward Wheeler's dime novels in 1877, embodying the perfect "Hawkeye" type, possessing an intimate knowledge of the wilderness and the Indians, as well as extraordinary skills, particularly in riding and shooting (Smith, 1995:100-102). But the emergence of a post-Frontier society has transformed this kind of frontiersmen into outlaws because, 91
like the Noble Red Man, they have been reared in a culture that places personal honor, proud "manhood," and an intuitive code of justice above the rationalism and restrictions of civilized law. (Slotkin, 1993:147) Therefore, like the Indian-hater, Dick has been driven over the border to avenge his victimization, whose agents are not Indians, but rich White man belonging to the post-Frontier society. As a consequence, Dick's vengeance is enacted not through the killing of Indians, but through stagecoach robbery, as he identifies his enemy with the wealthy classes in general. However, the image of Deadwood Dick as outlaw gradually evolved throughout the dime-novel series into the image of the detective: if in the first dime novels he was characterized as the enemy of the new Metropolitan society, later he appears in the role of "regulator" defending community interests against outlaws' conspiracies, and finally the outlaw completely merges with the detective (Slotkin, 1993:143-146). If Deadwood Dick has been transformed from outlaw into detective, a more significant change occurs in the most important of the Jesse James series, produced between 1889 and 1897, where the creation of the hybrid hero I mentioned earlier took place. As a matter of fact in these series the typical detective hero is a figure from a metropolitan setting who infiltrates the James Gang impersonating a criminal. His racial gifts also link him to the world of the "savage": he is Irish, and therefore intuitive, mystical, and combative. Later in the series the blending between criminal and detective becomes even more striking: in some stories the detective, during his hunt of the criminal, gets involved in the struggle between the powerful and the weak, and begins to understand the social motives that might transform a man into a criminal; in other stories detectives and outlaws begin to act in concert against common enemies, and the criminals become a model of heroism for the urban proletariat (Slotkin, 1993:147-150). The image of the hero becomes in these narratives more blurred than ever, it becomes the image of the good-bad man, on which the hard92
boiled detective story of the first half of the twentieth century will be based. Here the characters and the roles of outlaw and detective will be fully combined, as the hero will be at the same time "an agent of the law and an outlaw who acts outside the structures of legal authority for the sake of a personal definition of justice" (Slotkin, 1993:219).
2.4.5. The Two Sides of the Hero as a Reflection on American National Identity
With the beginning of the age of industrialization and the widespread preoccupation for a possible closure of the Frontier, during the second half of the nineteenth century we assist thus to a radical change in the image of the American hero. Characters who in the recent past could have been numbered among the most claimed Western heroes were now considered as outlaws, criminals, or assassins who, instead of defending civilization from the attacks of the forces of evil and being representatives of law and order, threatened the existence of the settlements and pursued their private interests through the use of violence. I say in the recent past because the changes occurred indeed in a short period of time, if we consider that The Adventures of Col. Daniel Boon had been published for the first time in 1784, and The Leatherstocking Tales between 1820-41. However, since a unique characteristic of the myths and legends which took shape in the New World is that a short time elapsed between the historical event or change and the creation of the legend, to the extent that we have mentioned "living legends" such as Daniel Boone and Davy Crockett whose mythologization occurred when they were still active on the Frontier, it is not surprising that the same mechanism led to a sudden change of the image of the Frontier hero, immediately following crucial historical and social changes in America. As a consequence, the tension created by the new order of things, precisely by the passage from a society based exclusively on agriculture to the introduction of the industry with all its implications, were reflected 93
in the way popular writers and the press representing the audience's point of view presented the heroes of the new era. The examples I mentioned should provide a good idea of the scene of the period: from Hall's Indian hater to John Brown, the emphasis is put on the savage qualities of the heroes rather than on their genteel manners and the necessity of their presence to master the wilderness. Moreover, if in a Frontier context the ability of the hero to behave like an "Indian" and therefore the "dark" side of the character were essential to mediate between the two worlds and to allow the establishment of civilization and its laws, in a society where civilization has been already safely established and the enemy defeated, the presence of the hero becomes problematic. His savage skills cannot be accepted, because they lead him to excessive and extra-legal violence, the same kind of violence which he made use of to defeat the enemies and create a civilized world but which now, according to the law which he helped to enforce, must be punished, and the same qualities which made the character a hero transform him into an antihero. His ends are no longer used to justify his means, and his behavior is condemned: the outlaw Murrell is chased by vigilantes, the filibuster and dictator William Walker is forced to surrender, and the guerrilla fighter John Brown is condemned and executed as a criminal. However, the inversion of the Western hero is only the first reaction to social changes, as we have seen that dime novels offered from 1875 a more complete solution to the new ambiguities arisen around the image of the hero, creating the hybrid figure of the detective/outlaw. It is as if after a deeper reflection on the origins of the Western hero, dime novelists understood the complementarity of the heroic and antiheroic side of his character, and decided to transfer it from the wide open spaces of the West to the Metropolis. On the one hand, the hero's antiheroic "dark" and violent side, his savage skills learned from "Indians," and his natural instinct allow him to defend society, but at the same time to be considered an "outsider" for his disregard of the laws and the development of a personal code of honor based, like Boone's, on a "natural born sense" rather than on written laws; on the other hand, his 94
heroic love for justice and peace and his knowledge of the way to obtain them make his presence indispensable to the establishment of society. As I have tried to demonstrate up to this moment, these two sides of the Western hero were present in him from his first appearance and derived from the process of acculturation to the New World the pioneers experienced on the Frontier, where savage and civilized elements melted. The subsequent creations have therefore been characterized by the significant element of continuity, the dual identity of the American hero, which has been the most problematic issue in American culture and the one which has offered the best material of reflection, both in literature and from the twentieth century also in the cinema, through which the Western became the American genre par excellence, and where the mythologized spaces of the West with its legends and its heroes revived. As a matter of fact, the interest for the complex and contradictory personality of the Western hero has never faded, and on the contrary has always constituted material of reflection on the ambiguities of the Americans' national identity he represents. As we shall see in the analysis of the heroic characters in Hollywood movies (see 3.2.), each of them consciously
experience. However, before moving to the visual re-enactment of the Frontier experience in Western movies, it is necessary to consider briefly two of the most important heroic images of the Final Frontier who understood its mythical significance and became entrapped with their own hands in the "fatal environment" which is the land of myth.
2.5. The Final Frontier: General Custer and Buffalo Bill as Promulgators of Their Own Myth Despite the inversion of the image of the hero during the Age of Industrialization, the fascination for the Frontier as a “safety valve” for the social and economic problems arising in the “Metropolis” was hard to die, and with it the belief that the resources of the country were infinite, and waited for exploitation. The belief grew stronger when Americans realized that the Black Hills could be the territory they were looking for, the Final Frontier. The territory of the Black Hills laid on the border between the "Great Sioux Reservation" and the "Unceded Hunting Land" which had been guaranteed to the Indians in perpetuity with the Treaty of 1868. Interest in these lands by Americans had been already shown in the late 1850s, when army expeditions found traces of gold in the streams running out of them. But it was only in the 1870s that speculators, prospectors, and railroad men began to exercise pressure in order to take the territory away from the Indians. If the building of the railroad network began to be a threat for the Indians, the army too had its designs on the Hills, which had to do in part with gold and government surveys, but above all with the control of the conduct of Indian policy. Under these circumstances, both soldiers and Indian agents knew that an Indian war was inevitable, and nothing was done to avoid it, because too many interests were at stake. As a matter of fact, the Black Hills represented not only a certain source of wealth for goldhunters, speculators, and railroad companies, but there was still who considered the West a "safety valve" for the explosive industrial situation, for the poverty and the consequent discontent of the working class. Moreover, the classic Frontier situation of war against the Indian race gave new strength to the ideology of racialism, according to which the disorders associated with urban unemployment and crime and the disorders in the South had to be treated in the same terms of an Indian war, legitimating therefore the use of violence, as Indians, paupers, and blacks had to be regarded without 96
any distinction as "savages" and "dangerous classes" (Slotkin, 1985:325370).
2.5.1. General Custer as the Hero of the Final Frontier (1868-76)
Newspapers began to depict the Black Hills territory as the "new Garden of Eden," and to institutionalize the heroic role in the army, as it was needed to police and help open up the last western frontier, if necessary "as executors of punitive justice against recalcitrant redskins" (Slotkin, 1985:345). And General Custer was - or more precisely, became - the perfect hero for the enterprise, especially after his findings during the 1874 expedition, which confirmed the richness of the region in precious metals and the promise of the renewal of the frontier solution to the problems of American poverty and social tensions. Newspapers drew on the General's Civil War fame and depicted him as the perfect military aristocrat, as the mediating figure between the two worlds who can deal with the Indian on savage terms in the interests of white civilization. The image of "mediator" characterizing Custer had also been of course the image characterizing the heroes from Boone to Leatherstocking, and its exploitation makes clear how the pre-existing language of the Myth of the Frontier played a crucial role in the creation of the Myth of Custer, which was based on the recognition of the acting out of mythic patterns in contemporary historical events, and on the consequent association of Custer's experience with the experience of the American heroes on the earlier Frontiers. However, a closer look to Custer's career will demonstrate how it reversed the order and significance of the roles of Frontier and Metropolis in shaping the hero, as if Western heroes of the past always preferred the wilderness life to the life in the Metropolis, and had thus only marginal connections to its culture, Custer's biography shows us that his life had been organized from the beginning in the opposite direction:
In marking out his future, he consistently elected to go east rather than west in search of opportunity. Only 97
after he had graduated from West Point, and made his name as a Civil War hero, did he go west to the wilderness - and then he did so reluctantly and with one eye on the Metropolis. (Slotkin, 1985:375) In other words, behind his image of cavalier trooper and Frontier hero in buckskins we find an early type of "organization man," one who exploited his fame as Western hero to gain a higher position in the Army and in the "polite society" of the East. Moreover, the victory of the battle of the Washita coming after a period of isolation from the army changed so much the course of his fortune that it must have convinced him that he really was the "child of destiny," and that history was favouring the creation of his own myth, as after this episode he was represented as one of the best Indian fighters, as the rescuer and avenger of captive white women, as the hero who stands between white civilization and the exterminating fury of the savages. Although the heroic image of Custer was promulgated by newspapers, he himself contributed to the creation of the aura of myth surrounding him, as he was perfectly conscious of the appeal of the image of the Western hero in American culture. The articles he began to publish in the newspapers during his period of isolation form the field of action began to establish him as a literary figure as well as a soldier, and from these articles to the publication of My Life on the Plains (1874) he took charge of the promulgation of his own myth. Custer established his own heroic image describing his peculiar expertise and affinity for the life on the plains and his character of gentleman hunter, his combination of the knowledge, professionalism, and genteel sensibilities of the military aristocrat with the prowess, the affinity for the wilderness and the Indian that characterize the hunter-warrior, and enriching his accounts with characterizations and dramatic scenes that recalled Frontier romances or dime novels. He took pains, especially in his autobiography, in maintaining a moderate position in the Indian policy issue: on the one hand, he recognized the necessity of the war of extermination; on the other hand, part of his heroic persona was built on 98
his sympathy with the Indians and on the yearning for the innocence and freedom of a precivilized wilderness life (Slotkin, 1985:409-411). It is not surprising that his life should end in a heroic manner - as it had happened to David Crockett at the Alamo - and that his death should be interpreted as a redemptive sacrifice. As a matter of fact, Custer, after experiencing a period of financial and military misfortunes culminating with the humiliation of his arrest just before the departure for the Little Big Horn battle, seemed to have looked for a means to redeem his honor by victory at any cost, or by death in the attempt. A mistake in the estimation of the number of Indians which had gathered for the battle led to the defeat of the Seventh Cavalry, and to the consequent death of all the soldiers, including Custer - another victim of the "fatal environment" he himself had contributed to create. After Custer's death, his myth was monopolized by the press and by political interest, but what is significant is that once again the language of Myth was interpreted and adapted to suit the ideological purposes and needs of the new industrial society, and he became the hero of the new age: “a soldier, a commander of men, a youth vested with the authority of age, a technocrat, a natural aristocrat” (Slotkin, 1985:531).
2.5.2. Buffalo Bill: the Last of the Great Scouts
The life of William Frederick Cody is the most clear example of the myth-consciousness of the last American "living legends," as he too spent his life creating his own heroic image. Unlike Crockett and Custer, who needed to return to the Frontier to regenerate their fortunes and fame, and whose legend wouldn't probably be so known without the dramatic outcome of their heroic lives, Cody was active on the Frontier for only about a dozen years, between 1860 and 1872, and devoted the rest of his life to the promulgation of his own myth. As a matter of fact, the legend of Buffalo Bill was created by three main sources: the man, the “Wild West” show, and the printed word. As far as the man is
concerned, we can read in the Donald Danker's introduction to the first Bison Book edition of Cody's biography by his sister, that he was:
an authentic, likeable, and even modest western hero, cited by his army superiors for his bravery and resourcefulness, and willing and able to capitalize upon his prairie exploits for financial gain. (Cody Wetmore, 1965:vii) However, it is difficult to separate the man from the legend it developed around him through the publication of dime novels, biographies, and autobiographies, and through the creation of the â€œWild Westâ€? show, the most significant of Buffalo Bill's achievements, since it was the first visual re-enactment of the life on the Frontier in a postFrontier society, as we shall see. The blending of William Cody with Buffalo Bill was so well-achieved that "no one - least of all the man himself - could say where the actual left off and where dime-novel fiction began" (Smith, 1995:108). In the biography Buffalo Bill, Last of the Great Scouts, written by his sister Helen Cody Wetmore and published for the first time in 1899, she reports a statement Cody wrote in sending one story to the publisher, in which he admits to have heightened the effects of the story by exaggeration:
"I am sorry to have to lie so outrageously in this yarn. My hero has killed more Indians on one war-trail than I have killed in all my life. But I understand this is what is expected in border tales." (Cody Wetmore, 1965:223) The biography itself is full of exaggerations and inventions, but it was exactly thanks to exaggeration and invention that the legend of Buffalo Bill was established, and as by the time of its publication he had already become a showman, it worked as a good means to advertise his show. His sister described him in the tradition of the Western heroes: his love for the free life on the plains and his ability as a scout as a natural instinct; his first experiences as a young man shaping his character "cool in emergency, fertile in resource, swift in decision, dashing and intrepid 100
when the time for action came" (Cody Wetmore, 1965:18); his dismissal from school and his preference for the school of life in the wilderness; his unquiet spirit which kept him always on the move; his life as a soldier and Custer's acknowledgement of his role as a scout, "you're a fine guide, Cody. Like the Indians, you seem to go by instinct, rather than by trails and landmarks" (Cody Wetmore, 1965:141); his ability in hunting buffaloes, through which he gained the sobriquet of Buffalo Bill and of "Champion Buffalo Hunter of the Plains"; the acknowledgement among Indians of his stature as a warrior, as the widow of an Indian chief he had killed "far from cherishing animosity against Will as the slayer of her spouse, took pride in the fact that he had fallen under the fire of so great a warrior as 'Pahaska,' 'Long-haired Chief,' by which name our scout was known among the Indians" (Cody Wetmore, 1965:173). He was Indian fighter, scout, and hunter, and he had therefore all the qualities a Western hero should have. Moreover, she writes:
The fact that in his own person he condenses a period of national history is a large factor in the fascination he exercises over others. He may fitly be named the "Last of the Great Scouts." He has had great predecessors. The mantle of Kit Carson has fallen upon his shoulders, and he wears it worthily. He has not, and never can have, a successor. He is the vanishing-point between the rugged wilderness of the past in Western life and the vast achievement in the present. (Cody Wetmore, 1965:294) In a sense, she is not at all exaggerating declaring this. Buffalo Bill can be indeed considered a "vanishing-point," as by the time she writes the Frontier had already been declared officially closed. And the significance of the life of his brother lies not only in representing the last Western hero of a vanishing way of life, but the one who understood the mythical significance of the Frontier, and, exploiting it for his own interest with the “Wild West” show, created the "Western.” As we shall see in the next chapter, with the advent of the cinema in the twentieth century, Buffalo Bill’s idea of performing a visual re-enactment of episodes of the life in
the Old West will mark the beginning of the production of the most successful American movie genre.
CHAPTER 3 The American Hero/Antihero in Western Movies
3.1. The Emergence and Development of the “Western”: from the “Wild West” Show Through the Golden Age to Revisionism The turn of the century was marked by three main historical events: the official closure of the agrarian Frontier in 1890 and the “Frontier Theses” formulated by Turner and Roosevelt immediately after; the creation of the first visual re-enactment of the life in the Old West with Buffalo Bill’s “Wild West” show between 1883 and 1916; and the advent of the cinema and the first Western movies at the very beginning of the twentieth century. The events are closely related one to the other, because, if the emergence of the “Wild West” show and the Western genre was without a doubt influenced by the enormous success of Western popular literature, it was also determined by the need to postpone the closing of the American “safety valve” through the visual re-enactment of episodes of Frontier life, and by the desire for a thorough reflection on the origins and the development of the nation. Therefore, in each Western movie, through the analysis of the image of the Western hero/antihero, the directors will reflect on the peculiar condition of the Frontier experience, offering at the same time an idealized space where the problematic nature of the Frontier and of its heroes could be critically dealt with.
3.1.1. The Significance of “Buffalo Bill's Wild West” (1883-1916)
As I have already mentioned in the previous chapter (see 2.5.2.), the legend of Buffalo Bill was formed not only by the man and by the number of publications which gave a heroic aura to his life and his 103
adventures, but also by the creation of the “Wild West” show. The idea of bringing episodes of the life in the Old West on stage came to Cody's mind after the enormous success of the dime novels Ned Buntline had written and had transformed into theatrical performances whose actors were Buffalo Bill himself and other scouts (Slotkin, 1993:69-70). If novels and stage melodramas were based on Cody's frontier exploits, and placed him among the Western heroes from Boone to Hawkeye, the “Wild West” helped him to enlarge his legend, to the extent that after 1882 he was almost better known as the leading man of the show rather than as an old-time frontiersman. After being an actor for some years, he decided to found for the first time in 1875-76 a theatrical company on his own, called “Buffalo Bill Combination,”
because there was too much artificiality about stage life to suit one that had been accustomed to stern reality, and he sought to do away with this as much as possible by introducing into his own company a band of real Indians. (Cody Wetmore, 1965:210) His aim was to present to the world a realistic image of the life in the West, to "picture to the eye... a series of animated scenes and episodes, which had their existence in fact, of the wonderful pioneer and frontier life of the Wild West of America" (quoted in Slotkin, 1993:67). His first performances and the “Wild West” show which followed in 1882 were addressed mainly to the new generations who had not experienced the wilderness life, and therefore, because of their didactic aim, were committed to historical authenticity. However, although he engaged as performers "real Indians" such as Sitting Bull, Geronimo, and Black Elk, and real soldiers and scouts, his concept of authenticity was far from what we may think, for two main reasons. First of all, because the image of Buffalo Bill on which the performance was centered was not authentic itself, but had been carefully constructed to embody the character of the traditional Western hero; secondly, because Cody portrayed historical events exaggerating, inventing, or altering the performance to suit the 104
needs of the audience, who wanted authenticity, but at the same time sensationalism. Nonetheless, Cody's claims of authenticity were strengthened by his continuing engagement with the wars against the Indians of the Plains, which he alternated with his theatrical experiences to augment his fame. It is rather ambiguous, for instance, the episode which made him famous as the man who took “The First Scalp for Custer.” In 1867, after announcing to his audience that he was abandoning “play acting” for “the real thing,” he joined the Army in the war against the Indians who had rebelled because of the Black Hills issue. After learning of Custer's defeat at the Little Big Horn, the soldiers of the company which Cody and his scouts belonged to continued tracking bands of off-reservation Indians. It was during a battle with one of these bands that what his sister in the biography called “a duel” took place: Cody and one of the Indians met and spontaneously fired; Cody's horse stumbled and fell, but he, extricating himself from the saddle, shot the charging Indian. Then, as the other soldiers advanced towards him, he scalped the corpse and waved his trophy in the air (Slotkin, 1993:71-73). Slotkin suggests that Cody, sure of the proximity of a battle, approached the event itself with its future theatrical performance in mind, to the extent that for the occasion he wore not his usual clothes, but one of his stage costumes. So when he would exploit the event on the stage, he could sincerely declare that he was standing before the audience with the very clothes he had worn when he took “The First Scalp for Custer.” In this way,
he would make “history” and fictive convention serve as mutually authenticating devices: the truth of his deeds “historicizes” the costume, while the costume's conventionality allows the audience - which knows the West only through such images - to recognize it as genuine. (Slotkin, 1993:72) By 1886 the “Wild West” show was publicized as “America's National Entertainment,” becoming an exemplification of the stages of frontier history, and therefore of the civilization of the continent. In the 105
same year's program Buffalo Bill was presented as a true American frontiersman: his description as "a child of the plains," "full of self reliance," "young, sturdy, a remarkable specimen of manly beauty, with the brain to conceive and the nerve to execute," of plebeian and agrarian origins, acquainted with the wilderness, with the Indian foe, and with the Indian wars recall the character of any Western hero. But where the Western heroes like Hawkeye were unable, because of their intimate knowledge with the wilderness and with the Indian, to live a civilized life, Cody was able to overcome Hawkeye's limitations, because besides the primitive virtues of loyalty, truthfulness, and honor, he also possessed the virtues of the manager and commander as well as the soldier. He possessed the virtues of the natural aristocrat, which well suited the image of the hero required by eastern society (Slotkin, 1993:74-79). Besides the false authenticity with which Cody was able to appeal to the audience, confusing the mythic with the real, the importance of his “Wild West” show laid in its ritualization of American history and in its emphasis on the Frontier as the essential element of the process of civilization. Moreover, he achieved promulgating the image of the Frontier hero as essentially a noble figure, and the ideas of Frontier violence and savage war as necessary instruments of American progress. But the most significant achievement of Buffalo Bill was the idea of the visual re-enactment of the life in the Wild West, an idea which with the advent of cinema at the beginning of the twentieth century will be imitated in Western movies.
3.1.2. The Western is American History
When the Western genre emerged at the beginning of the twentieth century, Buffalo Bill's “Wild West” show was still touring throughout the United States and Europe, and the first movies produced in America were not very different in content from the episodes of Western life he used to represent during the show: struggles between
soldiers and Indians, scenes of Indian life, pioneers' adventures, rescues of white captives among the Indians constituted the usual patterns. Although some technical and narrative innovations had been anticipated in earlier productions - such as the presence of sheriffs and outlaws among the other characters, - the first Western movie to have a great commercial success was Edwin S. Porter's The Great Train Robbery, a short silent movie produced in 1903 which portrayed a gang of bandits carrying out a train robbery. Since then,
the Western's myth has provided a national myth and global icon, a cornerstone of American identity, its roots in history and the frontier providing a unique, rich body of signs and meanings. (Kitses, 1998:16) As a matter of fact, the success of the Western as myth derived first of all from its pseudo-historical setting which boasted of a significant mythic role in American culture since the Colonial period, as I have demonstrated in the previous chapters. The Old West and the characters populating it were represented according to a mixture of reality which made the stories seem authentic and of ideas about the West which conformed to the tradition established by literary mythology, and were therefore most of the times exaggerations and alterations of reality, or inventions. Paradoxically, the audience preferred those images which were less authentic and which instead belonged to the iconography of commercial mass media, such as dime novels, â€œWild Westâ€? posters, illustrated magazine articles, etc. As a consequence, the links to the real past attenuated, and were replaced by an illusion of authenticity and historicity provided by movie images deriving from the representation of a mythologized space and of mythologized characters, through which the West would be remembered by the American culture as a whole (Slotkin, 1993:236-237). What the audience was most interested in was not the West and the Frontier as geographical places, but the West and the Frontier as symbols of the whole American history, as they had been 107
treated in folk legends and in popular literature, such as in the Leatherstocking Tales. After this statement, saying that "the Western is American history" such as Jim Kitses did (Kitses, 1969:57), may seem a contradiction. It's not. Because it does not mean that the movies are historically accurate, but that American frontier life provided the material on which the Western was based, as it had provided before the material on which most of the literary works were centered. What made it appealing to the audience was that at the heart of this material there was "the idea of the West," the West and the Frontier as the central symbols of American culture, as what they meant and what they still mean rather than what they were or what has remained of them. The idea of the West as a place of unlimited opportunities and a moment when options were still open has long outlived the historical West, and the psychological need of continuously postponing the closure of the Frontier has been portrayed in Western movies with all its contradictions, which are at the core of American culture and which were part of the Frontier experience itself - more precisely, of both the peculiar experiences of the geographical Frontier and of the ideological Frontiers deriving from it. As I have already mentioned in the first chapter (see 1.2.1.), it is in this set of contradictions originating in the antinomies peculiar to the Frontier environment that the American national identity was formed, and it is this same set of contradictions that the western genre reflects on. The antinomies converging on the Frontier have been summarized in the valuable table of oppositions provided by Jim Kitses:
THE WILDERNESS The Individual freedom honor self-knowledge integrity self-interest solipsism
CIVILIZATION The Community restriction institutions illusion compromise social responsibility democracy
Nature purity experience empiricism pragmatism brutalization savagery
Culture corruption knowledge legalism idealism refinement humanity
The West America the frontier equality agrarianism tradition the past
The East Europe America class industrialism change the future (Kitses, 1969:59)
The representation of these antinomies and of the contradictory attitude of the Western hero towards them makes of Kitses' belief that "the Western is American history" a truthful statement, as the main task of the Western has been to reflect through this representation on the contradictory ideologies upon which American culture has grown. The significance of this task together with the repetitiveness with which it has been carried out has kept the Western alive up to present times. As a matter of fact, it cannot be denied that even if the genre is no longer what it was during its Golden Age (usually identified with the 50s), the wave of revisionist movies produced from the 60s (for instance, Sam Peckinpah's Westerns) to the 90s (Costner's Dances with Wolves in 1990, Eastwood's Unforgiven in 1992, Jarmusch's Dead Man in 1996) can be considered not as an attempt to diminish the significance of the classic Western, but rather as a further desire to reflect on its ideological
contents through a different point of view provided by a continuously developing historical and cultural situation.
3.1.3. The Evolution of the Western
Before starting with the analysis of a few Westerns which I consider particularly interesting for my purpose of studying the image of the Western hero in American culture, I think it is necessary to pause briefly on the main stages of the history of the genre which, as I have already mentioned, began in 1903 with the production of Edwin S. Porter's The Great Train Robbery, the first Western. The history of the Western as a film genre began with the decision to imitate Porter's work, to repeat and extend its success, to the extent that by 1908 the genre, together with the clichĂŠs which made it successful - sheriffs, outlaws, bad Indians, good Indians, Mexican villains, heroic outlaws, desperate halfbreeds, etc. - was already well established (Slotkin, 1993:231). These clichĂŠs were recovered by W. S. Hart and his successors and became the characterizing features of the classic Western. One of the first problems filmmakers had to deal with was the dilemma of authenticity, since they had to meet the audience's contradictory expectations about Western stories: on the one hand they had to seem realistic or "authentic," and on the other hand they had to conform to the pre-existing images and ideas of setting, costume, and heroic behavior derived from the literary fantasy the knowledge of the Old West had always been linked to. Therefore, they tried to combine scenes and stories drawn form legends and traditions of the dime novel and stage melodrama with authentic details of costume and scenery, transforming several western towns in centers of film production and employing real cowboys, real Indians, ex-lawmen, and ex-bandits to play the roles of the leading characters. However, it did not take long for filmmakers to understand that for "realism" the American audience meant what it knew through the commercial mass media, and that the "real" image of the West was only the one linked to the mythic 110
significance of the western lands and depicted in American literary mythology often through invention and exaggeration, and subsequently popularized by dime novels and the “Wild West” show (Slotkin, 1993:234-237). As soon as it became evident that the West could be understood not only in literature as a mythic space, but also in the pictures, their production began to be marked by the directors' mythographic ambition, accompanied by their desire for fulfilling the audience's demand for "authenticity," that is paradoxically "only those versions of truth that conformed to the expectations generated by a 'false' but culturally prepotent mythology" (Slotkin, 1993:244). This was exactly what the most important silent-Western star William S. Hart tried to offer in his movies (among which the most known is Hell's Hinges, 1915), staging plots which were pure dime novel and nickelodeon: he used to play the "bad man" who finds redemption through the love of a good woman, presenting the eternal struggle between good and evil in a Western setting where Hart's screen persona and the landscape he inhabits effectively authenticate each other. As a matter of fact, Hart used in his movies the same mechanism of authentication exploited by Buffalo Bill in his “Wild West” show, and later on by other Western movie actors, the supreme example of which is John Wayne: the confusion between actor and role, between "real life" and the fiction made about it, and, through the interpretation of a succession of appealing roles in Westerns the development of a consistent screen persona by which the actor could be readily identified (Slotkin, 1993:242-252). In this way Hart, although he was born in the East and had never experienced the life in the West, became powerfully identified with "the real West," and his presence in the early Western movies became their own symbol of authenticity. Therefore, the Westerns produced after The Great Train Robbery had been essential to the shaping of the genre:
They helped shape producers' understanding of the importance of setting and reference, the possibilities of location and action shooting, and the appeal of the star. 111
At the same time, the new medium and the industry succeeded in appropriating the literary and historical tradition of the Myth of the Frontier and translating its symbols and references and its peculiar way of blending fiction and history into cinematic terms. As a result, Western movies were established as a primary vehicle for the transmission of that myth/ideology, rivaling or exceeding in importance the pulp novel. (Slotkin, 1993:254, my emphasis) If the Western rose in popularity almost without interruptions until 1931, the continuity of its development was broken as a consequence of the Great Depression, and the genre, at least as far as the production of "A" Westerns was concerned, entered a period of eclipse which lasted for the whole decade. As a matter of fact, during this period, the general public wanted films which not only spoke of the concerns and the dark mood of the Depression, such as the social drama genre, but also which reflected on the dark side of the American Dream the Depression had revealed, such as the gangster film which offered a dark parody of the traditional success story (Public Enemy and Scarface, both 1932). Among the new genres which developed during the period, only two took over the mythographic function of the Western: the above mentioned gangster film, which became very popular in 1931-32, and which transferred the good-badman action-formula developed by William S. Hart into modern American life, assigning a quasi-heroic role to the gangster, a figure who, in the end, remains a criminal; and the "Victorian Empire" adventure film (The Charge of the Light Brigade, 1936; Santa Fe Trail, 1940; They Died With Their Boots On, 1941), which was mainly produced between 1935 and 1940, and dealt with historical conflicts on an international scale, relying on the hero's ability to stand on the border between savagery and civilization, fanaticism and religion, brown and white (Slotkin, 1993:255-271). The striking resemblance of the formulas of these two Depression genres with the mythic scenarios of the Western explains why the genre, when it was revived in 1939, built upon their achievements. Moreover, during the Depression era the ground for the genre's revival had been also prepared by changes in the "B" Western, a genre which had in the cinema the same role that the 112
dime and pulp novels had in the field of literary production, and which functioned like them, that is through the development of series based on recurring characters and performers: the key feature of these movies was the creation of a series star, that is a figure immediately identifiable with the series' hero thanks to the confusion between the real identity of the actor and the character he always played, a stratagem which was only an elaboration of practices developed by Buffalo Bill fifty years before. Another significant achievement of these movies was that the Western story was completed by the appropriation of bits of other genres, such as the gangster film, the spy story, the social drama, etc., projecting the Western hero into a modern setting and creating a confusion of temporal references which allowed to refer metaphorically to contemporary issues (Slotkin, 1993:271-277). In 1938-39 the major studios decided to revive the Western as an important genre of feature film, and despite the interruption due to the Second World War, its development was continuously pursued until 1973 and the genre became the most important field for the making of public myths and for the symbolization of public ideology. As a matter of fact, the wave of "renaissance" Westerns was characterized by three different ways of making movies out of American ideology, according to the main political tendencies of the period: on the one hand, the "historical epic" was "progressive" in its reading of history, associating the Frontier with the heroic phase of America's industrial and democratic progress (Dodge City, 1939; Drums Along the Mohawk, 1939; Northwest Passage, 1940); on the other hand, the movies based on "the Cult of the Outlaw" adopted a "populist" perspective and considered the dark side of progressive history, showing how progress can lead to injustice, oppression, and crime, and treating their outlaw-heroes as social bandits (The Oklahoma Kid and Jesse James, both 1939). During the same period, an alternative third type of feature Western developed, an example of which is John Ford's Stagecoach (1939). The movie was what we might call the "classical" or "neoclassical" Western, because of its modernistic adaptation of traditional styles and story-structures and of its 113
use of variations on standard "B" Westerns formulas, such as the stagecoach-and-Indian chase with the cavalry riding to the rescue and the classic "good-badman" formula (Slotkin, 1993:278-312). With America's entry into the Second World War, all the Hollywood genres, from the musical to the Western, were redirected to war-related themes and symbols and tried to reflect on the problems arising from the war crisis, mainly the problem of engagement (For Whom the Bell Tolls, 1939), the problem of morale arising from early defeats (Bataan, 1943), the problem of defining the form and meaning of America's imminent victory (Objective, Burma!, 1945), and the problem of war-memory and postwar adjustment (Fort Apache, 1948). The mythic landscapes of "War" and "The West" became thus metaphorical twins in the language of American mythology, and the cowboy/gunfighter became the alter ego of the top sergeant/Green Beret (Slotkin, 1993:313-343). The beginning of the Cold War in 1948 inaugurated the Golden Age of the Western, a genre which was developed with a high degree of consciousness by filmmakers who used its set of images and symbols to allegorize a wide range of difficult subjects, like race relations, sexuality, psychoanalysis, social justice, legitimation of violence, and Cold War politics. To demonstrate the great degree of elasticity of the Western to deal metaphorically with a number of issues concerning American society, I would like to quote some examples: the "Cold War Western" addressed the problem of reconciling democratic values and practices with the imperatives of power, which was both the central contradiction of American Cold War ideology and the classic problem of democratic politics (Rio Grande, 1950; Devilâ€™s Doorway and Broken Arrow, 1950); the problems of social justice were dealt with in "psychological" or film noir Western, in which the hero's personality was thoroughly studied and the pathological elements of his character, originating in his social condition and worsened by his further isolation from society, were emphasized (The True Story of Jesse James, 1957); the "gunfighter" Western, in which professionalism in the arts of violence is the hero's defining characteristic, reflected on the question of the legitimation of the 114
use of violence to allow the establishment of a civilized society (High Noon, 1952; Shane, 1953); the "Mexico Western" questioned the concrete themes and problematics of American engagement in the Third World (Mexico was the Third World country Hollywood knew best, both as a place in which to make movies and as a subject; among these movies, Vera Cruz, 1954), etc. (Slotkin, 1993:347-486). The Golden Age of the Western came to an end when American society began to call into question the validity of its myths during the post-Vietnam decade, as historical events had led to a crisis of political culture, and consequently of the genre of mass culture: as the American myth lost its value, the Western lost its significance among the genres of mythic discourse. Since then, the revision or revival of the Western has been attempted four times: in 1970-72 (Little Big Man and Soldier Blue, both 1970), in 1975-76 (The Outlaw Josey Wales, 1976), in 1980-81 (Heavenâ€™s Gate, 1980), and in the late 1980s (Pale Rider and Silverado, both 1985; Young Guns II, 1988) (see 3.2.6.). Despite a few interesting results with which the "alternative Westerns" questioned and reviewed the previous production, these movies did emphasize the declining power and appeal of the genre. However, if the Western lost its mythic significance, its mythographic function was immediately taken over by other genres: as a matter of fact, the successful displacement of the Frontier into genres dealing with metropolitan crime, such as the policecentered urban crime dramas of the 1970s (Dirty Harry and The French Connection), with space wars, such as the science-fiction and fantasy films of the 1970s and 1980s (the Star Wars trilogy), with conflicts between Mafia and the police, such as gangster movies (The Godfather), etc., demonstrates how the structures of myth and ideology which gave the Western its cultural strength are still more or less intact in American culture (Slotkin, 1993:624-643).
3.2. The Western Hero as Embodiment of the Frontier: from John Fordâ€™s Classic Westerns to Jim Jarmuschâ€™s Dead Man As we have seen, the contradictory image of the Western hero derived from the unique American experience of the conquest of abundant "free" lands, of the direct contact with an uncontaminated environment sometimes rich and welcoming, sometimes desert and hostile, of the struggles to transform the unsettled land into a comfortable place to live, of the wars against the Indians, and of the strife to make oneself heard - hunters, cattle owners, farmers, goldseekers, gunfighters, outlaws, or sheriffs dictated their own law in the land of opportunities. The life on the Frontier meant all this, since it was on the Frontier that the two master terms of Kitses' table of antinomies, the wilderness and civilization, together with the opposite values they implied, met. The Western hero has been since the eighteenth century the personification of the Americans' ambiguous attitude towards the wilderness and civilization, of their being constantly torn between these two poles, between the possibility of complete freedom and the necessity of establishing limitations. Embodying qualities of both the savage and the civilized world, he has been the mediator between the two of them, without entirely belonging to one or the other, but in the end always favoring civilization over savagery. How could it be different, as his mythical creation had to satisfy the psychological need of Americans to justify the dispossession of the Indians and at the same time to cure the sense of guilt pervading them for having abandoned civilization? His presence is crucial to the establishment of a settlement, to make the wilderness a place safe for women and children: in accordance with the romance hero myth, this man is one who has gone beyond the frontier to the wilderness and gained knowledge of it without himself degenerating into wildness. He then returns to the frontier, no longer a part of civilization, but rather its gateway. 116
(Williams, 1998:97) He is the "man who knows Indians" (see 2.1.), meaning that he has achieved a deep knowledge of the wilderness and of the Indian way of life, and that he will be able at the moment of his return to the civilized world to defend the settlers from the dangers of the hostile environment with the same means the savages use to threaten them, and to teach them everything they need to survive there without him. He does not expect them to understand - the knowledge he gained has been the result of experience in the wilderness, of the overcoming of hardships and dangers, and no one else except him can achieve a similar knowledge. However, he is ready to make himself available to the civilized world, and to disappear when his mission has been accomplished, and civilization is no longer threatened. As a matter of fact, if the Frontier is the cutting edge between civilization and savagery, the hero is civilization's "gateway": once civilization has been established, the savage means he used would be considered illegal and therefore no longer accepted, and the hero would have to leave society, voluntarily or involuntarily. As the Frontier represents a temporary regression into primitive conditions of life for the community, so he only represents a temporary presence helping them to overcome that regression without entering in direct contact with the wilderness and therefore without degenerating into savagery. The hero will be the only one whose innate supernatural qualities won't allow the direct contact with the wilderness and the Indians to transform him into a savage, and on the contrary will be necessary to carry out the process of acculturation allowing the civilized community to survive. In the end, the sacrifice of the hero will be necessary, as the Frontier stage has been overcome and his presence within the civilized society would be anachronistic. This explains the indissoluble link between the Frontier and the Western hero, and the reason why the Western movie deals with the concept of the Frontier and with the representation of the temporary stage of the first Frontier as well as of the Frontiers which were continuously opened after it. Hollywood's West dealt especially with the period going 117
from 1865 to 1890, which had been particularly rich in changes and developments:
this twilight era was a momentous one: within just its span we can count a number of frontiers in the sudden rash of mining camps, the building of the railways, the Indian Wars, the cattle drives, the coming of the farmer. Together with the last days of the Civil War and the exploits of the badmen, here is the raw material of the western. (Kitses, 1969:57, my emphasis) As a consequence, the movies will be interested in the image of the heroes populating the Frontier, and in their complex psychology. Analyzing the role of the Western hero, its characterizations, and its development in some of the most significant Hollywood's Westerns will mean to reflect on some of the most problematic issues of American culture.
3.2.1. The Twentieth-Century American Hero par excellence: John Wayne
If nowadays one were to ask the same question CrĂ¨vecoeur formulated in the eighteenth century, "What is an American" (see 2.2.), the image that would come to most people's mind is the one of the Frontier hero, and in particular the one of the self-reliant and masterful figure of the best known American actor and icon, John Wayne. As a matter of fact, even if his powerful screen persona was first established when he began acting in "B" Westerns in 1932, and he achieved the climax of success in the roles he played for John Ford, Howard Hawks, and in combat films, according to Harris pollsters in 1993 - many years after his death - he was still among the top ten favourite American stars (Wills, 1996:38). Of course, Wayne's popularity depended - and still depends - partly on his being associated with classic Western movies and war movies. But there is more than that: in the article by Molly Haskell â€œThe First Action Hero,â€? published in 1997 in The New York Times Book 118
Review, we learn that Gary Wills, in his cultural study of the actor, describes Wayne as the embodiment of an American Adam, â€œuntrammeled, unspoiled, free to roam (...) an elegiac figure who stands astride a perpetual receding, endlessly idealized frontierâ€? (1997:13) In other words, he has represented for Americans the perfect embodiment of the Frontier hero of the twentieth century. Once again, his achievement of a heroic stature has depended only in part by the roles he played, and mostly, as Wills suggests, by the indomitability he projected through the bulk of his body and through the way he used it, which rendered impossible to the audience to accept the submission of his character during the movie. His innate quality to "look like a man," as Raoul Walsh said, appealed to the audience so much that he was transformed into a powerful cultural icon, into an authentic representative of "the Old West" or of "the American soldier," and:
his role as movie hero became so important to our culture after the Second World War that Congress authorized a medal honoring him as the embodiment of American military heroism - although he had never served a day in uniform. (Slotkin, 1993:243) Wayne achieved popularity through the confusion between his roles in "real life" and fiction, the same means through which Buffalo Bill had created his image of Western hero. However, although he used to exaggerate his adventures, Cody had spent at least a dozen years on the Frontier, and could deserve the title of frontiersman. On the contrary, Wayne had from the beginning embodied mythical images and, reversing the process followed by Boone or Crockett he came to be considered as one of those who actually lived on the Frontier, without having ever spent a day of Frontier life except of course for the adventures his characters experienced on the set of a movie. By 1960 he had become a folk-hero in the old-time frontier tradition. A significant evidence of the strong impact John Wayne's image had in American culture is Richard Schickel's mythic treatment of the actor in a 1967 review: 119
For some of us who have grown up in his shadow, measuring our changing personalities against his towering constancy, Wayne has become one of life's bedrock necessities. He reminds us of a time when right was right, wrong was wrong, and the differences between them could be set right by the simplest means. There used to be many like him, but death and age ... have robbed him of most of his competition - and robbed us of the opportunity to regress ... to the mythic days of yesteryear.... If anything, he has improved with age ... Most men of his paunch have given up righteous violence in favor of guileful acquiescence in the world's wickedness; the Duke is still banging away at it... an unconscious existential hero.... (quoted in Slotkin, 1993:519) Therefore, when Ronald Reagan declared that "Wayne understood what the American spirit is all about" (Wills, 1996:39) he was right, because Wayne understood the mythical significance of the image of the Western hero in American culture, and consequently gave to the audience exactly the image they expected to see.
22.214.171.124. The Indian Hater: Wayne's Characters in John Ford's Stagecoach (1939) and The Searchers (1956)
The two movies I consider here could be taken as two opposites as far as the emphasis on the image of the hero and on the complexity of his psychology is concerned. While in Stagecoach (1939) Ford gives equal attention to all the characters of the "family" gathering on the stagecoach during the dangerous journey to Lordsburg, with only a few exceptions which make us understand that John Wayne's character is the hero, in The Searchers (1956), it is the psychology of the hero - once again interpreted by Wayne - which is the focus of the director's interest, and the plot revolves mainly around his desire for revenge against the Indians, and the search for his niece, taken captive by the savages after they had massacred her family. Moreover, as we shall see in the study of the heroes' character, the personality of Ethan Edwards in The Searchers is much more complex and more thoroughly analyzed than that of Ringo Kid in Stagecoach. 120
At the time he played the role of Ringo Kid in Stagecoach, John Wayne was already associated with "B" movie roles, and it shouldn't have been difficult for the audience to recognize his heroic image. However, after the progressive close-up with which he is introduced in the story, we cannot have any doubt about the fact that he is the hero of the movie even if we have never seen Wayne's face before, and what we slowly discover about his identity during the stagecoach journey will validate our first assumption. As a matter of fact, Ringo Kid shares many distinctive features of the traditional Western hero/antihero. First of all, he is described according to the classic image of the good-badman: he is a famous outlaw, and he seems to be rather dangerous, since after receiving the news of his escape from prison the armed men who should have escorted the stagecoach from Tonto to Lordsburg are all out scouting the region looking for him, and the marshal himself leaves with the stagecoach as soon as he is informed that Ringo is headed to Lordsburg; however, later on we learn that his outlaw condition has been in a sense forced by a sad past, and that his actions are driven by an implacable desire for revenge. "Once I was a good cowboy," we hear him say to the prostitute Dallas, with whom he has fallen in love, "but then something happened": the killing of his father and his young brother awakened his rage, he became an outlaw, and became famous with the nickname of "Ringo Kid," as if his having another name would allow him to assume the new identity without renouncing the previous one, that of honest cowboy, which he is ready to redeem in the hope of a new life with Dallas, but only after taking his revenge. Therefore, before going back to prison and paying for his crimes in order to become again a free and honest citizen, he has decided to go to Lordsburg to kill Luke Plummer and his gang responsible for his father and brother's death, and for having falsely incriminated him for a killing. He remains insensible to Dallas' request not to take his revenge, his answer to her pleas being "I don't know what else I could do." Ringo recalls the image of the Indian hater, a peaceful man transformed into a professional "Indian" killer by the massacre of his 121
family by savage hands, who will be no longer accepted by the civilized society until he abandons his desire for revenge (see 2.4.1.). No one can understand his motives, and no one is willing to justify him except those who have been rejected by society like him: the prostitute Dallas, her choice of life being forced by a difficult past similar to Ringo's, as her family had been massacred by the Indians when she was still a little girl, which explains her answer to Ringo's above quoted statement, "it always happens something"; and "Doc" Boone who has been sent out of town because always drunk. The marshal also defends him in a way, but his reasons are particular, as he knows Ringo and is a second father to him. He doesn't want him to get killed and therefore considers jail the only safe place for the good cowboy/outlaw, if he does not want to look for further troubles. Although Ringo is presented as an outlaw, the audience too is led to sympathize with Wayne's character, as throughout the movie we discover in him the qualities of the traditional Western hero. First of all, he is not always as dangerous and as bad as they describe him, but only when the situation requires it: when the marshal and the passengers of the stagecoach find him without a horse in the middle of the desert, he doesn't even try to assault them, but rather asks for a lift. Secondly, he is loyal to the promise made to the marshal not to escape - at least till Lordsburg - and not to use the rifle against him when he is given one to defend the stagecoach from an Indian attack: he feels responsible for his fellow stagecoach-citizens, and knows that his gun will be necessary to defend them, and that his skilled violence can be exercised for the benefit of all. His help is essential to the survival of the community, and his strength, his skill with the rifle, and his knowledge of the Indian ways he is the one who first notices the presence of the Indians on the hills, and recognizes their war signals - help them to arrive safely to Lordsburg. Thirdly, he turns out to be a "natural gentleman," especially with Dallas, whose reputation as a prostitute leads the "respectable" members of society to completely ignore her; on the contrary, Ringo treats her like a lady, and his true love for her will redeem him. Finally,
his outlaw condition is justified by his reasons, and his desire for redemption makes the audience forget he has been an outlaw. At the end of the journey, the marshal too will forget that Ringo is an outlaw, that he has escaped from prison, and that he has taken his revenge by killing three men. He knows that a former criminal and a former prostitute, no matter how their actions could redeem them, will not receive the sort of justice they need, and that the only justice they can get is what they make for themselves. They have proved essential to the happy ending of the journey-ordeal driving the stagecoach passengers from frontier settlement through the wilderness to metropolitan modernity - Ringo placing his skills at their disposal to defend them from Indians, and Dallas helping an army wife to deliver her baby. However, at their arrival at Lordsburg their help is no longer needed, and they will remain a prostitute and an outlaw guilty for the crime the Plummers framed him and for his jailbreak, their "dark" past persecuting them (Slotkin, 1993:309-311). Therefore, with the help of Doc Boone, the marshal lets Ringo escape with Dallas to his little ranch across the border in Mexico, where they will start a new life "saved from the blessings of civilization," but at the same time rejected by it. According to the tradition of the Myth of the Frontier, the hero - or, more precisely, hero and heroine in this case - does not belong to the civilized world, as he does not belong to the savage world. Ringo and Dallas cannot be considered either criminals or respectable members of society, as they are both, but at the same time neither. Their only choice is to ride out of the historical frame to a new and idealized frontier:
Ringo's description of his Mexican ranch as a place to raise both cattle and kids suggests that they may be going to a new and better frontier, a recovered Garden of Eden for an Adam and a Eve soiled by history - he by murder, she by sexual exploitation. (Slotkin, 1993:310) Ringo and Dallas' fate is similar to the fate awaiting Ethan Edwards, the heroic character around which the whole plot of The Searchers is built. If in Stagecoach we are indirectly informed of Ringo's 123
past by the characters' dialogues, the first part of The Searchers provides a frame for the subsequent adventures, as the Indian attack on a pioneers' ranch and the massacre of the family of Ethan's brother - in which Aaron Edwards and his son are killed, his wife Martha is raped and horribly mutilated, daughter Lucy is carried off to be raped and killed on the trail, and little Debbie is taken captive to be raised as an Indian - are part of the story. Wayne's character plays thus once again the role of the Indian hater who is willing to inflict on the Indians a "horror" exactly equivalent to what he himself has suffered, and therefore to answer mutilation with mutilation, rape with rape, massacre with massacre, in a more classic frame than that of the movie previously analyzed, as here his desire for revenge is directed at "real" Indians, not "white savages," and the movie refers to the original generic form of the Frontier Myth: the Indian wars, the tale of the helpless white woman held captive by the savages, and her rescue by the quintessential American hero, whose mission of "search and rescue" is the movie's central issue. With the help of Wayne's heroic screen persona and legend, Ethan embodies the attributes of nearly all the heroic types developed in the Western: the Indian fighter, the rancher, the rebel, the good outlaw, the gunfighter. Ethan's secretiveness about his past, his statement about not having hung up his weapons yet, his offer to go and chase the Indians in his brother's place to let him stay with his family, his intimate knowledge of Indian ways, and his skills as a scout, warrior, and Indian fighter guarantee to this character a place among the Western heroes. Ford deliberately depicts him as "hero of the heroes, whose character and fate are therefore commentaries on American heroism in its historical and its cinematic forms" (Slotkin, 1993:464), in the attempt to answer two unresolved questions, "how far beyond the legal and the customary can a hero go and still be a hero? how far can 'longstanding American concepts of fair play' be stretched without changing their nature?" (Slotkin, 1993:464). As a matter of fact, after establishing Ethan's heroic stature, the movie explores one of the most debated aspects of the American heroes' 124
character, that is the racism expressed through the terror and the complete rejection of miscegenation with the Indian race, and through his excessive and irrational violence against the savages. Ethan hates Indians so much that the other pioneers are shocked by his irrational and violent behavior against them: he completely loses his mind when it comes to Indians, particularly to Comanches, to the extent that when he finds their dead bodies he mutilates them, as he knows that Comanches believe that in this way they won't be able to reach the Great Spirit, and will be destined to wander forever. This is only one of the number of occasions during the search in which Ethan proves to be "the man who knows Indians," and in which he uses his knowledge to express his hate against them. As a matter of fact, his deep knowledge of the Indian way of life engenders in him hatred rather than sympathetic understanding, and transforms him into an Indian hater, "the evil twin of Cooper's Hawkeye" (Slotkin, 1993:462), whose real aim is not to rescue the white woman, but to kill as many Indians as possible, to exterminate the race which transformed his life into a continuous act of revenge. This is probably the reason why his "dark" knowledge doesn't help him that much in protecting the ones he loves: at the beginning of the movie, when the Indians are preparing the attack on his brother's ranch, he is caught in the trap they set to make the men leave the place, and when he realizes it, it is already too late to save his family; then, he cannot save his niece Lucy, who is killed by the Indians, and the search for Debbie takes him seven years. It is as if his strength and knowledge abandon him when he uses excessive violence for the sake of using it, just to give an outlet to his hatred and to his repressed feelings. If his behavior towards Indians is so shockingly irrational, his attitude becomes even more complex when it comes to Martin Pawley, his brother's adopted son, and Debbie, his niece. His attitude towards them is contradictory, because he loves them as they are part of his family, but at the same time he considers them half-breeds, and therefore he almost cannot tolerate their presence. For instance, with Martin, who actually seems to be "one quarter Cherokee," he is hostile from the 125
beginning and hates when the boy calls him "uncle," even if we discover that it was he who saved his life and he who gave him a new family when his mother was killed by the Indians. As far as Debbie is concerned, the situation is even more complex. At the beginning of the search, Ethan wants without a doubt to bring her home, but as the years go by he becomes more and more convinced that she has become an Indian, and his mission of "search and rescue" gradually changes in a mission of "search and destroy," since he considers her no longer as his niece, but only a savage (Slotkin, 1993:466-467). The thought that she might have become the wife of an Indian obsesses him, and his rejection of it is so strong that he cannot even express it with words, "If she is alive, the Indians are bringing her up, until the age when she...." - probably, when she will marry with one of them. We gradually understand that if Debbie has already reached that stage - and she has, because Ethan knows Comanches too well to be mistaken - it would be better for him to know her dead because, according to him, "Living with Comanches is not living." Martin, who accompanies Ethan in his search, knows that Ethan is ready to kill Debbie as soon as he finds her, because there is no difference for him between an Indian and a white woman who has been polluted with Indian blood. A significant episode supporting Martin's belief is Ethan's visit to some white captives rescued by the army: on this occasion, when an army officer says to Ethan, "It is difficult to believe theyâ€™re White," he answers "They ainâ€™t White anymore. Theyâ€™re Comanche." Therefore,
through Ethan, Ford unmasks the true relation of the female "rescue object" and the male rescuer. The woman is only his nominal objective or excuse. His true and only objective is to kill the Indian. (Slotkin, 1993:467) Our suspicions about Ethan's behavior are in fact validated at the end of the movie, when "the searchers" find Debbie in the Indian camp headed by chief Scar - the one who led the attack against Ethan's family. The hero's hate-madness reaches at this moment the climax: first of all, 126
he shows himself more interested in the destruction of the camp and in the killing of Scar rather than in the rescue of Debbie; secondly, as his suspicions about the girl have been confirmed - she is one of Scar's wives, and tells Martin that the Indian tribe is her family now - he has without a doubt decided to kill her, and would have done so if Martin had not stopped him. At this point, not only the director unmasks the true objective of the hero, but he also criticizes his destructive violence through the image of his companion. Martin, despite being "one quarter Cherokee" proves to be a far more civilized and Christian character than Ethan, as he does not abandon himself to the hate-madness which is the only possible basis of heroism for Wayne's character. Ford's demystification of Ethan's heroism is completed when Martin, and not Ethan, kills Scar, and when the hero cannot entirely abandon his hatred and must scalp his enemy. His redemption occurs when he takes Debbie into his arms, lets his love prevail over his desire to kill her, and takes her home (Slotkin, 1993:469-471). We might think that Ethan doesn't kill Debbie because he has already taken his revenge against his enemy when he scalps Scar after Martin has killed him: he might consider his mission accomplished, and the pursuit of his niece might have no longer sense. However, the psychology of Wayne's heroic character is not that simple, to the extent that Ford himself termed The Searchers "a psychological epic." As a matter of fact, behind Ethan's rage against the Indians there are much more intimate reasons than the simple desire for revenge, and a brief analysis of these reasons will help us to understand better Ethan's obsessive hatred for Scar and his blending of love and hate towards his niece Debbie. What determines Ethan's contradictory behavior is his complex identity of "man who knows Indians": on the one hand, he derives from his knowledge the strength and power necessary to make him the best tactician in an Indian war, because he can think and act like an Indian; on the other hand, his knowledge not only includes an intimate acquaintance, even an identification, with stereotypically "savage" qualities, but also, as CrĂ¨vecoeur wrote (see 126.96.36.199.), the transformation 127
of the white man into something worse than the savage. This transformation makes Ethan's desire for revenge limitless, permits and even requires him to kill his enemies by fair means or foul, without regard for age or sex, and, through mutilation of the dead, to humiliate and degrade even the ghosts of the enemy. Moreover, his soul is also troubled by another aspect of his "double identity" of civilized and savage man, as from the first scenes of the movie we understand that Ethan is in love with his brother's wife, Martha, and that she returns his love; but they won't speak about it, because it would violate the most fundamental obligations of kinship and conscience, and would reveal their "dark" side. The race-proud Ethan is therefore more consciously "darkened" than any other character of the movie, and he tries to find an outlet to his sense of guilt and his rage for his condition seeking out and destroying what he considers his alter ego, "the Comanche chief Scar, epitome of the primitive sexuality Ethan's culture represses" (Cook, 1988:297). Chief Scar represents to the hero everything in himself he despises, and therefore the one he has to kill in order to destroy "the savage" dwelling in himself. Scar personifies Ethan's dark side because he is an Indian and therefore embodies "the Other" par excellence. The killing of Scar becomes thus necessary to expiate his guilt towards his brother. The same motives that drive Ethan's obsession with killing Scar also drive him to want to kill Debbie. Only by killing his niece will he also symbolically redeem Martha's sin, since he will either rescue a pure Debbie from Scar or will destroy the captive in order to save the idealized "virgin" symbol he has made of her. However, in the end the love he feels for Martha and which he reflects on Debbie will prevail, as he will limit himself to scalping Scar and taking his niece home. This conclusion leads us to think that Ethan's long wandering before the beginning of the movie and his wandering during the movie in search for Debbie meant to him something more than a physical wandering and a physical search:
"A man will search his heart and soul, go searching out there," goes the movie's title song, alerting us that 128
Ethan's physical search is only a search for himself, to come to terms with his own solitude. And the search will resolve not with the death of Scar (whom Ethan finds dead and thus cannot kill), but with a transmutation of Ethan's violence, solitude, and racism into love, community, and (the antonym of racism?) fraternity. (Gallagher, 1993:272) However, despite this change, and after Ethan seems to have reestabilished his inward balance and the community harmony, there is still something wrong with him, which does not allow him to enter the frame of civilization. At the end of the movie, while everybody, including the half-breeds Debbie and Martin, leave the desert behind and enter the door frame separating civilization from wilderness, Ethan cannot join the party, but only looks at them as if he wants to be sure that everything is fine, then turns his back and leaves. The ending of the movie recalls its beginning, but it implies a significant symmetrical reversal of the movement of the camera: while at the beginning we see Martha opening the door of the house to Ethan and the wilderness, and the camera tracks forward out of the darkness and onto the porch behind her, at the end of the movie the camera tracks backward into the dark frame of the house with everybody coming inside, except Ethan, who remains alone in the doorway to return to the desert as the door closes on him (Budd, 1976:142-143). Like Ringo in Stagecoach, we see Ethan coming from the wilderness and returning to it after a brief stay among civilized people during which he puts at the society's disposal his knowledge and his skills to eliminate the threat of the Indian enemy. At the same time, he, once again like Ringo, accomplishes his mission of revenge, which implies that he is not willing to abandon his peculiar code of honor deriving from the laws of wilderness life rather than from the laws of the codes established from civilized society. As a consequence, he will forever stand on the doorway, on the Frontier between civilization and wilderness, at the same time belonging to both but completely to neither of them. As a matter of fact, if in The Searchers the door image represents the tension existing between the home enclosure, which 129
separates us from the wilderness, and the doorway opening, which links us to the wilderness, the hero could be considered at one with this image and the tension it implies. The heroâ€™s symbiosis with the door image, and therefore with the concept of the Frontier, helps us to deepen our understanding of his function as mediator between the savage and the civilized world. His role is particularly evident not only at the beginning and at the end of the movie, when the door opening/arrival of the hero and the door closure/departure of the hero mark respectively the beginning and the end of the temporary link he provides between civilization and wilderness, but also throughout the whole movie, in particular at the moment of the violation of one world by the other. There are two main episodes of this kind: when the savages violate the Edwards' home, the hero standing at his brother's doorway after the massacre prevents Martin from entering the house, and thus from the view of the tortured and mutilated bodies of his family, providing him and the audience with a protective separation form the barbarity inside the house, that only Ethan sees and that we can only understand through his expression of horror and dismay; but it is significant how Ford further on relates a similar but reversed episode, the violation of Comanche homes by the cavalry, when the hero once again works as a mediator between the view of the massacre and Martin, even if this time the boy and the audience are allowed to enter the tepee with Ethan, to reflect on the injustice of the cavalry's choices (Budd, 1976:143-145). In both episodes, the image of the doorway provides the link between the two worlds, and the presence of the hero is here more necessary than ever to protect the innocence of Martin's new generation from barbarity, both the Indian's and the white man's. However, once the door closes leaving the wilderness outside, meaning that home and civilization have been restored, the problematic character of the hero remains unavoidably on the doorway. This conclusion could be interpreted as Ford's answer to the questions about the hero's character put at the beginning of its analysis: his antiheroic violence and his irrational behavior are unacceptable in a civilized world, 130
but his heroic presence is necessary to deal with the wilderness and to learn its laws, as well as his final heroic departure is essential to a peaceful survival of the community he has restored.
188.8.131.52. The Hero Split in Two: The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962)
In The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962) Ford analyses the Old West in a flashback, juxtaposing the past and the present that has emerged from it, and trying to understand how from that past, in which there seems no way in which the forces of civilization can triumph over "the law of the West," did this present emerge, a present in which the Old West and its heroes are only a legend. The opposition civilization/wilderness is represented in this movie by the relationship among three distinct characters: on the one hand, the Easterner Ransom Stoddard (James Stewart), an attorney at law who followed Horace Greely's advice, "Go West, young man, go West, and seek fame, fortune, adventure...," and who arrived in the West convinced that it would be easy to administer justice through the knowledge of his law books; on the other hand, the "good" Westerner Tom Doniphon (John Wayne), who is in the region an authority and is known for his skills as a gunfighter, and the "bad" Westerner Liberty Valance (Lee Marvin), a thief and assassin with a very fast draw. The most interesting aspect of the movie is how it highlights the complementarity of the characters of Ranse and Tom, and therefore of the law of the books and of the law of the woods against the common foe in a Frontier context, and how at the same time it shows that also the good and the bad Westerner can have no independent life, as Tom can remain central to Shinbone only while Liberty Valance lives (Pye, 1996:121). Interestingly enough, all these characters share some aspects of the Western hero, or the Western hero represented in the movie by Wayne's character shares some aspects with each one of them, embodying both traits of the Easterner and of the bad Westerner. As a 131
matter of fact, it is as if Tom was shaped by the relationship between two couples, Tom and Ranse, and Tom and Liberty. On the one hand, the couple of Tom and Ranse represents the desire for justice and civilization, as they both want the same thing, that is getting rid of Liberty Valance and the savagery he embodies, but with different methods: while Tom is ready to use the same means as Liberty, that is gunfighting, Ranse is not even buying a gun, and wants to send him in jail according to law procedures. On the other hand, Tom and Liberty are equally two sides of the same coin, but this time the terms are reversed: they want to obtain different things with the same methods, according to the law of the West. Therefore, while Liberty is a bandit, Tom is a honest citizen, but both believe in personal justice rather than in legal justice. Tom Doniphon is, of the three of them, the traditional American hero because he embodies both the qualities of the hero who wants to see civilization triumph, and of the antihero who will reach his aim by extralegal means. Once again, as we shall see, his presence is essential to mediate between the world of civilization represented by Ranse and the world of the wilderness represented by Liberty, and once again, as soon as the question will be solved and civilization will triumph thanks to his help, his presence will be no longer necessary, and even unacceptable. Ranse, as a lawyer, realizes the unacceptability of Tom's methods as soon as he arrives in Shinbone, when Tom tells him that his law books do not mean anything in the West, where "a man settles his own problems." But when Ranse says that "he has something to do," he means that he wants to put Liberty in jail, not to kill him: "You know what you're saying to me? You know? You're saying just exactly what Liberty Valance said...(referring to the initial episode of the assault at the stagecoach, when Ranse gets whipped by Liberty, who speaks scornfully about the law as Ranse understands it: "Law... lawyer, eh? I'll teach you law, Western law!") You all seem to know about this hollow Liberty Valance... but the only advice you can give to me is to carry a gun. But I'm a lawyer. Ransom Stoddard. Attorney at law." He asserts his belief more than once throughout the movie, especially in his dialogues with 132
Tom, who tries to convince him that he will have to learn to fight according to the Western code, or he will not survive at all:
Tom: "If you wanna stay healthy, there's two ways to do it..." Ranse: "Either I buy a gun or I get out of the territory... That's the way you mean?" Tom: "That's it, Pilgrim!" Ranse: "I'm staying and I'm not buying a gun either." Tom: "Well, good luck, Pilgrim!" However, in the end Ranse gets trapped too by the Western system, and finds himself forced to borrow a gun and practice with it when he realizes that Liberty sooner or later will challenge him to a duel, the duel which will make Ranse famous as "the man who shot Liberty Valance." It is on the final duel I would like to focus my attention, because, besides being interesting for the radical break with the generic pattern it represents, I think that it summarizes very well what I tried to explain about the complex relationship between the three main characters of the movie. As a matter of fact, even if the duel is between Ranse and Liberty, Tom plays his role, the most important role, as he saves Ranse's life by killing Liberty. When Ranse decides to face the bandit, he does it wearing an apron, with a tiny gun in his hand, and trembling. He is, in Tom's words, a "tenderfoot," everyone knows that he will get killed, and the town marshal tells Liberty just before the duel that "...Ransom Stoddard couldn't shoot the hat off his head with a gun right in his hand. If you gun him down it will just be pure murder." Liberty of course doesn't pay attention to the marshal's words, he is not exactly what we may call a gentleman, and during the duel he does not behave according to the rules: he first wounds Ranse in the right arm, leaving him no chances, and then decides to kill him. Ranse replies to the fire, and Liberty falls dead on the ground. This is at least what everyone knows about the fact, including Ranse, until Tom tells him the truth: it was his bullet, and not Ranse's, which killed Liberty, as he shot from the shadows exactly at the same moment Ranse did.
Therefore, unlike the ending of many Westerns, there is no confrontation here between hero and villain, but the creation of a transcendent figure, "the man who shot Liberty Valance," who unites book and gun, East and West, a figure who can resolve the most problematic American contradictions (Pye, 1996:122). However, although the legend fuses in a single individual the Easterner and the man with the gun while retaining the dominant Eastern persona and therefore marking the triumph of the emerging civilization over the Western world, the truth narrated by Ranse to some journalists years after the episode, on the occasion of Tom's death, proves how
for Ford, the 'fact' (Tom killed Liberty) explains the death of the old West, the otherwise unaccountable (impossible) triumph of an inferior civilization. (...) The film ... denies the possibility of transcendence - it demonstrates that in fact, no-one can unite the opposites. In appearing to do so, though, Ranse ('the man who shot Liberty Valance') validates the movement of history. (Pye, 1996:122) Once again, therefore, the final duel shows that civilization alone with its law books cannot even compete with the law of wilderness life, and it is destined to succumb without the help of a figure able to combine in his personal code of honor both worlds. And this figure is not Ransom Stoddard, but Tom Doniphon. It is only thanks to his help that Ranse could survive the duel and become a great lawman, with "three terms as Governor, two terms in the Senate, Ambassador to the Court of St. James, then back to the Senate..., a man that with a snap of his fingers could be the next vice-president of the United States"; that the railroad could bring progress to the West; and that what once used to be a wilderness, now it's a garden. If Tom didn't shoot from the shadows, breaking all the rules of a duel, like Liberty had done, nothing of this kind would have happened. However, Tom's choice is also significant because making everyone believe that it was Ranse to kill Liberty, he cedes his charismatic authority of "Western hero" to Ranse, condemning himself to a socially marginal existence: while at the moment of his death 134
Ranse is a famous and successful representative of the region in Washington, Tom is a perfectly unknown character in the town where he was born, destined like all the Western heroes to silently disappear after accomplishing their mission of mediators between wilderness and civilization. As a matter of fact, as soon as he kills Liberty, Tom does not feel the need to wear a gun any longer, he did "what a man has to do," and once civilization triumphs his savage methods are replaced by the law of the courts. The Old West and its heroes - in both their good and bad aspects - are incompatible with the present, and they die immediately when the tensions on which they are centered are resolved, and the Frontier scene is replaced by the establishment of civilization.
3.2.2. The Mythical Image of the Gunfighter
IT IS NOON. The sun blazes down on a sun-baked, dusty street. Except for an occasional cow pony standing with lowered head at a hitching rail, its tail switching idly at the ever-present flies, no living thing is to be seen. Suddenly the street is no longer deserted. Two men have walked out from the shade of buildings some fifty yards apart. Almost casually they step to the center of the street and stand facing each other. They begin to move forward slowly but steadily, spurs jingling softly, boot heels raising small clouds of dust. One of the men carries himself arrogantly erect, his lips drawn back in a sneer, aware that hidden along the street are people watching him with hate - a hatred born of fear. His expression is contemptuous as his hands hovers near the butt of an ornate six-shooter that flashes brightly in the harsh rays of the sun with each movement of his body. His eyes are snakelike, unblinking, cold, and cruel. For he is a killer, determined that the man now approaching him shall die - as all others have died who have dared to challenge him or his ruthless ambition. But he is also fearful because he knows that the man he is facing represents everything that he is not. The other man is tall, and his well-proportioned body moves with a panther-like grace as he paces down the street. Looking neither to the right nor to the left, he walks with deadly purpose toward his antagonist. His features are grim, his mouth a taut slash marring a normally handsome face. His blue-gray eyes, usually 135
relaxed and smiling, are now implacable as they watch the man ahead. At each step his hands brush against the polished butts of twin Colt .45's nested in holsters hanging low from crossed cartridge belts. The lower ends of the holsters are lashed to his thighs with rawhide thongs to give him just that extra speed on the draw which might mean the difference between life and death. Staring mortality in the face, he dare not show fear as he stalks toward the man whose depravity has led to this duel to the death. On him depend the future of the town and the welfare of the people who at this moment are crouching in the shadows, fearfully awaiting the next few seconds. Hands flash down, and the thunderous roar of heavy Colts fills the air. When the acrid blue smoke clears, our hero stands alone, guns in hand, his enemy dead in the dust. Once more good has triumphed over evil. From the shadows of the buildings people slowly emerge to shake his hand and thank him for saving them. This is the hero of countless Western movies and novels - the big, sometimes cruel, magnificent demigod we call the "gunfighter." (Rosa, 1969:3-4) It is with this long but perfect description of a traditional Western gunfight scene that Joseph G. Rosa begins his thorough analysis of the image of the gunfighter in his book The Gunfighter. Man or Myth? (1969), in which, as the title suggests, he undertakes the difficult task to disentangle real facts from the legends which gathered around famous characters such as "Wild Bill" Hickok, Wyatt Earp, "Doc" Holliday, "Bat" Masterson and other famous gunfighters - lawmen or bandits. As a matter of fact, the gunfighter, far from being an invention of novelists or movie directors, was one of the products of the new settled West, where law and order were slow to follow the surge of settlement, and local crime problems had to be solved by individual communities. On the frontier, these problems were countless: outlaws had little to fear in the absence of organized law enforcement, economic disputes among cattlemen often led to bloodshed, and the arrival of settlers in cattle country often provoked range wars. The gunfighters could be outlaw killers or hired gunmen who found themselves in the position to settle questions and disputes with the help of their weapon and their fast draw, 136
according to the case. They could also be law-abiding men with a reputation as a good shot, chosen by the community to defend the interests of the town against outlaws and criminals. Whoever they might be, their heroic style became in America "an important symbol of heroic action for filmmakers, the public, and the nation's political leadership" (Slotkin, 1993:379-80). This is the reason why the gunfighter character created in the 1950s Hollywood movies achieved such a success, in particular with High Noon (1952) and Shane (1953). In both movies the image of the gunfighter is associated with the image of the Western heroes we have previously analyzed, the avenger in particular, because like him he is psychically troubled and isolated from normal society by something "dark" in his nature and/or his past which provides him with "dark" knowledge. In this sense he could be defined "the man who knows Indians," as he has experienced "savage" life, and his code of honor depends on the school of life rather than on law books. The novelty is that his "darkness" is bound up with and expressed by his highly specialized social function: he is a killer by profession, usually for pay. If Ford in some of his movies had reflected on the value of violence in American heroism, the movies about gunfighters offer another cue of reflection, as the existence of the profession is in itself an implicitly hardboiled commentary on the nature of American society: "What sort of society is it in which those who have money can hire a killer? And what kind of people are we, that our strong men find such work to their liking?" (Slotkin, 1993:383). We shall see that both High Noon and Shane are strong commentaries on the image of a disillusioned but necessary hero, who has been rendered isolated and vulnerable by the very things that have made him victorious in the past.
184.108.40.206. High Noon (1952)
The hero of High Noon, a movie directed by Fred Zinnemann, is Will Kane (Gary Cooper), who is about to marry and then retire as Marshal of Hadleyville. His wife is a Quaker (Grace Kelly), and it is 137
because of her religion that he is giving up his gun and his badge. But as they are about to leave, they learn that the outlaw Frank Miller, who had terrorized the town until Kane decided to put on the badge, is out of prison and is arriving with the noon train to take his revenge against those who condemned him, the Marshal first of all. From this moment, Kane will be torn between his desire to leave his past behind and begin a new life with his bride, and the necessity to stay and fight, because he knows that if he does not face Miller he will be persecuted by him for the rest of his life. He is therefore entrapped by his own condition, by his own heroism, and despite his wife's objections he must stay to do "what he has to do." The hero's most significant features on which the movie focuses are his determination and his unknown "dark" side, and both heroic and antiheroic elements condition his decision to stay. On the one hand, Kane's determination derives from his professionalism, as he cannot leave the job unfinished: he spent years "cleaning up" the town from crime and injustice, and the return of Miller would undo the work of his life; moreover, his conscience holds him responsible for the fate of the whole community, as he is the only man with the knowledge and the skill necessary to defeat the outlaw. On the other hand, it is exactly this knowledge he possesses which make us suspect about the "dark" side of his past: how can he be sure that Miller is coming back to take his revenge? why is he convinced that if he escapes now he will have to spend a lifetime looking over his shoulder? why is he so worried at the thought of leaving Hadleyville without any protection until the next day when the new marshal is due to arrive? won't the new marshal be strong enough to control Frank Miller and his fellows? Facing Miller is for Kane not only a personal matter, as it was him who sent the criminal to jail, but it is a social responsibility, whether or not his action is legal or acceptable to the public. He realizes that he is the only one who can face Miller because he knows him and his psychology very well, and this is possible because there is a side of Kane's nature that is akin to Miller's, and he can defeat Miller because he 138
could have been Miller, even if we discover his skills only at the end of the movie, when during the gunfight Kane proves that he really "knows Indians" and is therefore entitled to settle the question (Slotkin, 1993:393-394). Kane's dark potential is confirmed by the conversation he has with the old marshal who first persuaded him to put on the badge, which informs us that Kane might have turned "bad" if the marshal hadn't helped him. Moreover, the hero's darkness is also represented in the movie by the Mexican woman Helen Ramirez, who was originally Frank Miller's moll, but who became the lover of the hero, who freed her from Miller's sadistic control and gave her the possibility to become a wealthy woman through the ownership of the saloon. Since she shares Kane's darkness - she is Mexican, and owning the town's saloon she probably controls gambling and prostitution - she is the only one in town who can understand his motives: "he is a man," she says, and when Mrs. Kane asks her the reason why her husband decided to stay and fight, she answers, "If you don't know, I can't tell you." With this statement, Helen means that the essential motivation of the hero's action is "the preservation of self-respect - he goes back to face Frank Miller because a failure to do so would be, for him, a failure to live up to his own conception of manhood" (Wood, 1968,1981:176), the same reason why Ringo in Stagecoach "didn't know what else he could do" but to take his revenge. At the beginning of the movie, when his friends persuade him to go away with his wife despite the news of Miller's arrival, Kane complains that they made him run away, while in his whole life nothing had ever frightened him. It is his duty to stay, and he will come back to face his destiny, even if no one can understand his choice: his wife tells him that he shouldn't try to play the hero, and that she will leave him if he decides to fight; in the town, the majority of the people think that Kane is no longer their marshal and that if he wants to settle personal questions, he shouldn't get the town involved; even those who recognize that Kane has been the best marshal they have ever had and a fair and courageous guy who made the town safe for women and children, think 139
that he should leave, because they believe that nothing would happen if Miller didn't find him in town. Moreover, we understand that in town Kane's heroism is considered outdated: if a gunfight takes place in the streets, the town will seem like "just another wide open town," and the townspeople will be taken for savages. However, in the movie it is argued that without this temporary regression to a primitive state, after Miller's return the town will be no longer a safe place for civilized people. A gun in the hands of the right man is thus seen as the only effective "tool" for the progress of the country, and without a doubt the movie
adopts a solution that emphasizes the moral privilege and entitlement to power of the man of superior knowledge, courage, and capability, and it denigrates the moral and historical claims of popular democracy. (Slotkin, 1993:396) Kane's presence means that the defence of "civilization" is more important than the procedures of "democracy": the hero stays in town and resolves to face Miller in spite of the citizens' will, justifying the need for pre-emptive violence with the violence and injustice which he forecasts will follow Miller's return. He has made up his mind, and although he will spend most of his time until noon looking for the help of the townspeople, he knows he doesn't need it at all. Once again, he will find himself walking up the empty street, and after the rituals of quickdraw confrontations, chases, ambushes, and even the "captivity/rescue" passage in which Kane kills Miller while the outlaw is holding Mrs. Kane as a shield - in the end she decided to come back and help her husband - Kane will contemptuously drop his badge in the dust and ride out of town with his wife.
220.127.116.11. A Good Man with a Gun: Shane (1953)
The same principle of the effective defence of civilization by a single individual entitled to it by his superhuman skills and by a privilege 140
in the use of extra-legal violence has been expressed in even more explicit terms in George Stevens' Shane, released a year later than High Noon, where the hero, replying to the "redemptive woman's" wish that all guns and violence be banished from the valley, says: "A gun is just a tool, Marian. It's as good or as bad as the man that uses it." This sentence summarizes the complexity and the ambiguities of Shane's character (Alan Ladd) deriving from the equally ambiguous figure of the traditional Western hero, with whom Shane is identified from his first appearance in the movie:
Shane's wilderness introduction and his buckskins place him among the 'Sons of Leatherstocking' as identified by cultural historian Henry Nash Smith. Like James Fenimore Cooper's literary original, these are white men who do not belong within the settled community. (Countryman&von Heussen-Countryman, 1999:15) Truly enough, Shane does not belong to the settled community, the same way he seems not to belong to the real world. When he rides into the valley, he is presented like an image coming from the past, like a boy's dream, rather than someone real. His riding away into his nevernever world at the end of the movie strengthens his fairy tale-like figure. His entry is godlike as his exit to underline that he is a higher being, a mythological figure descended into the world to accomplish his mission, a Western hero ready to commit himself in the struggle of good against evil (Shein, 1984:416). The chosen place is a Wyoming valley where a group of farmers wish to establish a settlement. He is given hospitality by Joe and Marion Starrett, and by their little son, Joey, who from the beginning is fascinated by the stranger. After discovering that the small community is threatened by the interests of a cattle baron, who wants by any means to extend his property on the land the farmers are occupying, Shane decides to stand by their side and protect them placing his supernatural skills at their disposal. His stay among the community will be of course only temporary, since he will leave as soon as his mission of saving Joey's parents, their farm, and the progressive and domestic order 141
they represent against the regime of intimidation imposed by the oldfashioned cattle baron Ryker is accomplished. Throughout the movie, Shane embodies both the social and the anti-social aspects of the Western hero: on the one hand, he is gentle when dealing with Joey, courtly and respectful in his relationship with Marian, dignified and plain-dealing with men, courageous when righting wrongs; on the other hand, he is solitary and self-sufficient, constantly moving on, just his rifle, his pony, and him. He is a Western redeemer who decides to take part in the struggle between farmers and ranchers, "the frontier Christ," a unique character shaped by the wilderness and by western experience:
this Western Savior must, of necessity, bring with him all the trappings of a just and at times wrathful God, as in the Old Testament. He could not be the loving and forgiving and merciful Christ of the New Testament but must be, rather, a Christ who has been modified, changed by contact with the western experience. The lawlessness of the frontier required a strong sense of divine justice untempered with mercy. The coming of the Western hero is a kind of Second Coming of Christ, but this time he wears the garb of the gunfighter, the only Savior the sagebrush, the wilderness, and the pure savagery of the West can accept. (Marsden, 1984:395) The epic tones of Stevens' movie accentuate the mythical aspects of the Western hero, and transform the whole story into a reflection on symbols and myths which are deeply rooted in American culture. Shane himself represents the entire Western tradition, both in its good and evil aspects which seem to converge on his figure. Once again, we shall see how both Shane's heroic and antiheroic qualities, his capacity for evil as well as for good (Marsden, 1984:398-403), make him a necessary presence in a Frontier context but at the same time an unacceptable image in a civilized society. The duality of the hero is considered through “a child’s eyes view” (Baker, 1996:216), as the whole movie seems to be constructed from Joey’s point of view, as well as Jack Schaefer's homonymous novel 142
(1949) on which Shane is based. This enables us to see things more clearly, to distinguish with innocent eyes and without ambiguities good from bad, right from wrong, and to analyze thoroughly Shane's image. As a matter of fact, it is Joey (Bob, in the novel) who first understands that Shane is no common man, and he is also the first who accepts him as he really is: he describes him as "the symbol of all the dim, formless imaginings of danger and terror in the untested realm of human potentialities beyond my understanding" (Schaefer, 1984:249), and when he sees him wearing his belt, holster, and gun, he realizes that "they were part of him, part of the man, of the full sum of the integrate force that was Shane" (Schaefer, 1984:241), that only with them he was "complete":
This was not our Shane. And yet it was. I remembered Ed Howells' saying that this was the most dangerous man he had ever seen. I remembered in the same rush that father had said he was the safest man we ever had in our house. I realized that both were right, and that this, this at last, was Shane. (Schaefer, 1984:242) The significance of this statement lies in the fact that it is explicative of the blending of civilization and wilderness characterizing the Western hero: on the one hand, he is a white man, believes in the values of civilization and progress, and is willing to defend them; on the other hand, the fact that he "does not belong to a settled community" and that he proves his skill with the gun and his capacity for violence, together with the temptation he represents for Marian, reveal his "dark" side. He is therefore both highly protective towards the farmers, but shows no mercy for his enemies. His gun will be at the same time a necessary "tool" to enforce a social order founded on law, and a terrible means of destruction and death for the world of the "savages," whose only law is the law made with guns, a rampant justice-by-force. The savagery of the cattle baron and of his arrogant men and the cruelty of the gunfighter they hire to get rid of the "squatters" can only be matched with Shane's savage skills which at the same time secure the values of civilization and alienate him 143
from it. As a matter of fact, if the hero's defeat of an earlier and less civilized stage of historical development through the use of his savage skills has made possible the safety of the town and his presence has allowed the maturation of the Starretts' boy, to whom Shane leaves the entire Western tradition he represents, the same things have made his presence unnecessary and even inadmissible in the developing town, where the use of extra-legal violence will be no more permitted, and where the new generations have to learn to be part of a civilized society, not to the world of the Frontier past. Another aspect which demonstrates Shane's dual identity of goodbadman and which highlights the hero's dark side is his relationship with Joe Starrett. Shane represents everything Joe is not, that is those dark potentialities and strength without which the civilizing tendencies of Joey's father could not become reality. The hero embodies a sort of unrestrained or lawless life, a more primitive standard of behavior, the capability for forceful action which Joe lacks, and which he will never develop if he wants to belong to civilized society. As a matter of fact, Shane's unique qualities are linked to his dark side. Joe is aware of that, and he is also aware of the fact that he needs to add Shane's strength to his own, because his civilizing tendencies and the hero's dark knowledge and savagery are complementary to the achievement of his goal (Work, 1984:314-318). This is clear from the beginning, when we see the two men working together to uproot a big old stump, "the one bad spot" on Starretts' place. The symbolic meaning of the stump is complex, as it represents the dying forces on the Frontier, that is the old order of things which is linked to the past (the cattlemen's order of things, which is destined to give way to a further stage of civilization), and consequently the anachronistic values defining manhood and the code of honor of the westerners. However, in Shane the old ways die hard, and both Ryker and Shane are individuals standing "like a blackened tree trunk in the midst of plowed fields, a mute reminder of a bygone era" (quoted in Rankin, 1984:13). The most interesting aspect of the scene is that Shane helps the homesteader to get rid of the stump whose uprooting represents 144
not only the cattle baron's fate, but also the hero's awareness of his problematic identity in a post-Frontier context. As a matter of fact, Shane himself belongs to the old order of things, and the paradox lies in the fact that without his help, it would have been impossible for Joe to get rid of the stump, as in the past it had been possible to subjugate "bad Indians" only with the help of the "good Indian" or of the white man raised among the Indians and working as a mediator between the two cultures. Starrett himself is conscious of the significance of the stump when he says, "You know, Shane, I've been feuding with this thing so long I've worked up a spot of affection for it. It's tough. I can admire toughness. The right kind" (Schaefer, 1984:84). This statement acquires a deeper meaning further on in the novel and in the movie, when it becomes evident that the right kind of toughness Joe is talking about is needed to the survival of his family and of his community, and that it is essential that part of Shane must become part of the Starretts. Joe realizes that he and Shane are two equal but opposite halves of a single force, and this is clear enough by his equal division of the biscuits Marian has cooked for them while they were working at the stump. Therefore,
that "frontier spirit" described by Turner has happened; a "new American character" has been created through the welding of the two forces. The frontier environment demanded that the primitive instinct for survival be present in the people, who at the same time saw the need of more civilized forces of character. (Work, 1984:317) The two characters complete each other: Shane represents without a doubt "the primitive instinct for survival," and Starrett "the need of more civilized forces of character." In the movie and in the novel they embody thus the simplification of the two sides of the American character, even if in both of them there is the desire of being part of the other. On the one hand, Shane presents himself from the beginning as an ambiguous character: he doesn't like to talk about his past, and everyone suspects he is a gunfighter, or at least that he was a gunfighter once, as he wears no gun when he arrives in the valley. He has probably tried to 145
change his life, and become a peaceful man. But in vain: experience taught him that evil must be dealt with directly, swiftly, and surely, and, as he feels responsible for the fate of the little community, he does not hesitate to perform his task of salvation, even if he wishes his fate could be different. On the other hand, when Shane finally decides to face the gunfighter hired by Ryker, Joe wants to help him in his mission, because he would like to demonstrate that Shane's qualities are in part his own qualities, but the hero prevents him from showing his potential "dark" side and from the possibility of being killed and leave the whole community without a guide. At the end of the novel, when Shane rides away after having accomplished his mission, Joe thinks that he won't be able to lead the community without his help, and feels incomplete without him, to the extent that he wants to abandon the farm in his search. It is Marian who makes him understand that Shane is not gone, but "he is here, in this place, in this place he gave us. He's all around us and in us, and he always will be" (Schaefer, 1984:270), and that his heroic sacrifice has been essential to the survival of civilization and to the triumph of good over evil. Therefore, like Will Kane in High Noon, though the hero is an "indispensable man" in the quest for progress and is able to vindicate the "liberties of people,"
Shane is never part of the community, and his superior values are not seen as belonging to the community. He is an aristocrat of violence, an alien from a more glamorous world, who is better than those he helps and is finally not accountable to those for whom he sacrifices himself. (Slotkin, 1993:400) As a consequence, Shane has no choice but to follow the fate of the traditional American hero: his presence may be indeed considered only a fantasy of a childâ€™s mind, bound to disappear as soon as he grows up.
3.2.3. The Hero and Heroine's Masquerade in Johnny Guitar (1954)
In his presentation of Nicholas Ray's Johnny Guitar (1954), Martin Scorsese talks about an extremely modern movie, unconventional, full of ambiguities and subtexts. He says that when it was released, people in the United States expected a Western: "Johnny Guitar seems like a Western, looks like a Western, and people didn't know what to make out of it... So they ignored it or left it out." As a matter of fact, since its first release, the picture has been marked as "weird" (Perkins, 1996:221). The traditional roles of the main characters of a Western movie are all inverted, since Ray set out to challenge convention by making hero and villain female (respectively, Joan Crawford in the role of Vienna, and Mercedes McCambridge in the role of Emma), while the male character who, from the title of the movie, we might think could be the hero, carries no guns and plays the guitar (Sterling Hayden in the role of Johnny Logan, or Johnny Guitar). The plot of the movie is rather simple: the saloonkeeper Vienna is accused of harboring the Dancing Kid and his gang of criminals, and the townspeople - led by the vindictive Emma, who is convinced that the gang is responsible for her brother's murder - use it as a pretext to drive her out of town. Vienna cannot prove her innocence, and has hired a former gunfighter, Johnny Logan, to protect her. He arrives just in time, and we discover that they had a relationship in the past, and that they still love each other. He saves Vienna from a lynching, but her saloon is torched down, and some of her friends die. At the end of the movie, Vienna is finally vindicated, as she shoots and kills Emma and pairs off with "her Johnny." If from a superficial reading of the movie we might be led to think about a simple inversion of roles between male and female characters, a closer analysis of the text will reveal the complex and enigmatic personality of each of them. The saloonkeeper Vienna and the guitar player Johnny are of particular interest, because, besides being the main characters of the movie, their relationship and their sudden changes of identity lead us to consider once again the problematic identity of the Western hero, this time from a revisionist point of view. 147
As far as Vienna is concerned, Crawford is given "the role of the saloon woman while fitting her out with some of the gunman's iconography and fitting her into the gunman's place in the narrative structure" (Perkins, 1996:223). She is presented from the beginning as the familiar Western icon of the lone hero, with a very strong character, her strength deriving from her being quiet, solitary, self-possessed, determined, and from her ability of gaining allies through respect rather than intimidation; she possesses almost superhuman powers, since she embodies both masculine and feminine qualities; she is tough, and she is able to survive to external threats. Vienna is the perfect embodiment of the self-made "man": she has built a saloon with the sacrifice of her virtue, and she has erected her place on land that she knows to be the site of a railroad development; she is the boss of several male employees, who in two occasions comment on her unusual gender behavior directly addressing to the camera and the viewer:
- "Never seen a woman who was more a man. She thinks like one and acts like one. Sometimes makes me feel like I'm not!" - "I never believed I'd end my years workin' for a woman... and likin' it!" Vienna demonstrates her "manliness" by wearing trousers, carrying a gun, and declaring from the beginning to be a good gunfighter; moreover, she plays the role of the hero by receiving the initial challenge from Emma, - when Emma swears that she is going to kill Vienna, she answers "I know. If I don't kill you first." - and facing her antagonist in the climactic duel. However, the most interesting aspect is that her figure is neither entirely masculinized nor completely transformed into the traditional Western hero image (Peterson, 1996:329-332). As a matter of fact, from her way of dressing to the decisions she takes, her "womanliness" is revealed: on the one hand, she occasionally wears dresses, and even when she is in trousers and riding boots with a tie at the neck of her dark shirt, as in the initial sequence, we can notice that the trousers are closely 148
tailored and belted to show off her waist; on the other hand, although she is presented like a gunman hero, she does not share his traditional set of values. First of all, she acts for her own self-interest, since her pioneering has a mercenary end and her property stands in contradiction to the traditional icons of benign development, like home, school, and the church; moreover, to obtain her property she has gone against all conventions consciously and with determination, criticizing the maledominated society of the West:
"I'm not ashamed of how I got what I have. The most important thing is that I have it [...] A man can lie, steal, and even kill. But as long as he hangs on to his pride, he's still a man. All a woman has to do is slip once, and she's a tramp." Secondly, Vienna's ownership of the saloon makes her presence a form of settlement, rather than an accessory to the wanderer's life. She claims that she has built her house upon the rock, and that she is not going to leave the place, but to fight for it. Thirdly, it is Viennaâ€™s idea of fighting which is weird for a Western hero, as it is evident from the discussion between her and Johnny about Emma and the townspeople, who are looking for her and want to lynch her:
V.: "I've hired you for protection. I don't want any killing." J.: "What do you think they're coming to do to you? Make up your mind: to stay is to fight!" V.: "I'm going to stay, I'm going to fight. But I won't kill." J.: "To fight you've got to kill! I don't know any other way!" V.: "You are gun-crazy. You'll never be any different." However, although she seems a superhuman being, able with her determination to overcome any obstacle and to demonstrate at the same time that it is also possible to turn the values of the traditionally maledominated West upside-down, in the end she is forced to draw her gun to kill Emma, showing herself as another victim of the Western "fatal environment" (see 1.2.). 149
As far as Johnny is concerned, from the title of the movie we might think that he will be the leading character, and therefore, according to the conventions of the Western genre, the hero. However, from the moment when we see him riding his horse in the very first sequence, we immediately understand that there is something strange about this character, because he fails to meet our expectations: although he rides into town on a horse like a typical Western hero, big, strong, and silent, he rides with a guitar slung over his shoulder instead of packing a gun; he witnesses a stagecoach robbery without intervening; when he arrives at Vienna's saloon, we see him drinking a cup of coffee rather than whiskey, and saying "There's nothing like a good smoke and cup of coffee"; he, like all the other male employees, receives orders by Vienna; finally, his presence is almost shadowed to our eyes by Vienna's strong personality, to the extent that we focus our attention on her story rather than on his, and we begin considering her the heroine of the movie. However, once again, things are not as simple as they seem. As a matter of fact, if at the beginning Johnny shows his feminine side, and presents himself as Johnny Guitar, while the plot develops his "dark" side surfaces, and the real Johnny, that is the former gunfighter Johnny Logan makes his entry (Peterson, 1996:332-333). The fact that he has changed his name means that he has also tried to change his life: he has come back to Vienna and wants to settle with her, because "a man's got to place roots somewhere." Johnny's "coming back" and his desire to settle are also weird for a Western hero, to the extent that Johnny Guitar seems to be the sequel of many Western movies ending with the departure of the hero who leaves his lover behind because, in Vienna's words, "he couldn't see himself being tide up to a home." However, Vienna and the audience slowly realize that Johnny is still the same, and that he is still ready to draw his gun without a good reason, "You're still gun-crazy, aren't you?... You haven't changed at all, Johnny... You've changed your name, and you thought it would change everything." As a matter of fact, if by changing his name probably Johnny has avoided a lot of troubles, since being famous for the fast draw meant in the West to be 150
ready to demonstrate one's own skills on every occasion, his violent nature has not abandoned him. Although he carries his gun in the saddle bag, his first appearance is of a peaceful man, and he is ironical about his skills - when the marshal asks him why he does not wear guns, he answers "'Cause I'm not the fastest draw west of the Pecos," while without a doubt, he is - with a gun in his hand he transforms himself into a dangerous gunfighter. His statements are ironically used to make a selfparody of his role of Western hero, a criticism of the Western set of values and conventions: when he witnesses the bank robbery and the Dancing Kid asks him, "Want to be a hero or stay alive?" his answer is, "I got a lot of respect for a gun," meaning that he is much more interested in saving his life rather than playing the hero, and that he is well-aware of the dangerousness of a man with a gun; towards the end of the movie, in a captivity/rescue frame, when he saves Vienna from a lynching and she asks him why he came back for her, he answers, "First chance I've ever had to be a hero. I couldn't pass it up." The meaning of the latter statement is rather interesting and worth analyzing: on the one hand, we know that Johnny is lying, because during the movie he has had other chances to be a hero, more precisely during the stagecoach robbery and the bank robbery, but in none of these occasions he decided to intervene; on the other hand, he is probably recognizing that up to that moment his "heroic" actions had not been heroic at all, but only derived from his desire for revenge and by an Ethan-like hate-madness (see 18.104.22.168.) which led him to lose self-control, to draw his gun and to kill too easily. "Gun-crazy" is the term used by Vienna to describe Johnny, and rightly enough, as we can see the madness in his eyes when he has a gun in his hand. Therefore, his heroic action when he saves Vienna consists for him in liberating her and running away with her, not in facing with his gun the members of the lynch mob, like he would probably have done in the past. The main change in his image is that he has probably understood that, even if he is expected to do so, he doesn't have to play the hero at any price, but only when the situation really requires it. Even if in subsequent occasions we see him ready to draw his gun at the slightest 151
provocation, he is the only character in the movie who does not kill anyone. To conclude, both Vienna and Johnny seem to embody heroic and antiheroic qualities of the traditional Western hero, but only to a certain extent. As we have seen, the criticism of the Western conventions and of the Western hero's code of honor which justify the use of excessive and extra-legal violence is evident throughout the movie. The hero and the heroine use their "dark" knowledge only for self-defence. Their continuous changes of identity throughout the movie - Vienna changes from pants to dresses, and she has changed her profession; Johnny switches from guitar wearing to gun wielding, and he has changed his name - demonstrate their ability to adapt to the circumstances, to behave according to the traditional Western conventions and to show their dark side only when really needed. Like Shane, Johnny Guitar wishes to be a peaceful man, but the circumstances make the use of his skills necessary: even if he is inactive throughout the film, Vienna would have been hanged by the lynch mob if he had not saved her. Vienna is also forced to rely on her skills, since although she declared that she would have fought without killing anyone, in the final shootout she draws her gun to save her own life and to kill Emma. However, it is indeed Vienna's desire to turn the code of the West upside-down which puts her life in danger, and it is this desire of her which in the end becomes reality: Johnny has not let his violence prevail over reason, and she has not violently reacted to the course of events until her life was in real danger.
3.2.4. A Man Who Could Kill His Own Brother: Anthony Mann's Hero in The Man from Laramie (1955)
Another interpretation of the dual identity of the Western hero and of his combination of heroic and antiheroic qualities has been expressed by the director Anthony Mann in his movies through the analysis of the enigmatic personality of the main male characters, usually interpreted by James Stewart. Before focusing on the image of the hero 152
in The Man from Laramie, which was released in 1955, we must remember that Mann has long been considered central to the new inflections of the genre of the "psychological" Western or "superwestern" which characterized the post-war period, and which brought new social and psychological aspects to the traditional formula (Bazin, 1955:53). As a matter of fact, "psychological" Westerns were often films with more problematic heroes and more critical attitudes to American civilization than had been common, and they were mainly concerned with
the shifting of the genre from the myth of foundation to a concern with social transition, the passing of the Old West into modern society, and the Western hero's increasingly complex and ambiguous relationship to that process. (Pye, 1996:168) As a consequence, traditional contradictions inherent in American society
civilization/wilderness have been displaced not only on the dichotomy hero/villain, but also on the dichotomy civilized side of the hero/"dark" side of the hero, who in the movies previously analyzed has been usually doubled into two different characters, one embodying mainly his heroic qualities, and the other mainly his antiheroic qualities (most evidently, the couples Martin/Ethan in The Searchers, Ranse/Tom in The Man who Shot Liberty Valance, Joe/Shane in Shane, and Vienna/Johnny in Johnny Guitar); in the superwestern the same contradictions and the same opposition are focused on the hero himself and become dramatized very intensely as a psychic split that is impossible to resolve. In The Man from Laramie the focus of the attention seems to be back on the traditional opposition between hero and villain, rather than following the complex triangle structure of hero/antihero/villain: rather than being visually divided into two irreconcilable but at the same time complementary halves cooperating for the achievement of the same aim the elimination of evil - the conflictual identity of the hero is melted into a single character, and only projected onto the image of the villain. The change is significant, because it leads to a much more problematic 153
character who cannot tolerate being torn between civilization and wilderness, and will have to chose to stick to one way of life or the other. In The Man from Laramie, as well as in other movies directed by Mann like Winchester 73 (1950) and Bend of the River (1955), the choice is a forced and troubled one: "the hero's dead-end is personal and historical: the possibilities of an unexplored West are no longer imaginatively available" (Pye, 1996:169), and, no matter how hard the hero tries to assert the claims of wandering, wilderness and independence, it is unavoidable for him to get trapped by the "blessings of civilization" (see 22.214.171.124.). Therefore, he will in the end be obliged to kill the villain on which his "dark" side is projected, symbolically renouncing it. The psychology of the hero is analyzed by Mann in a classic plot based on the hero's desire for revenge, since we learn that Will Lockhart (or "the man from Laramie," interpreted by James Stewart) is in search for the person responsible for his brother's murder. As a matter of fact, his brother and the soldiers that were with him have been massacred by a group of Indians in possession of rifles which they got from an illegal trade with white people. When he arrives in a small town in New Mexico, Lockhart will discover that the trade is organized by the two sons (one of them has been adopted) of the most powerful man of the region, Alec Waggoman, and circumstances will enable him to take his revenge against the villain and to destroy the great quantity of rifles the Indians were waiting for to organize further attacks. Will Lockhart has all the traditional features of the Western heroes. From the initial dialogue with his friend Charlie, who has accompanied him from Fort Laramie to the town in New Mexico, we learn that he is a soldier, and therefore a warrior; that he is a silent man and a respectable person, and that like Hawkeye, he is a solitary man with "no kin and no people" (see 126.96.36.199.), since Charlie tells him, "I'm a lonely man, Mister Lockhart. So are you. I don't suppose we spoke ten words coming down here. But I feel I know you, and like what I know"; moreover, from the beginning his desire for revenge is made clear through the expression on his face when he stops to meditate on a grave 154
his brother's grave - and through his resoluteness in words and actions. Like the bravest heroes, he is determined to do "what he has to do," and when asked if he wants to talk about his brother and what happened, he answers that he is through with words, and that he must act. Another feature he shares with the classic Western hero is that he claims in more than one occasion to be a wanderer, and that he is not going to settle, because he doesn't feel the need for a home, and he always feels he belongs where he is. As far as this issue is concerned, it is interesting to notice how the hero's point of view is counterbalanced by Charlie, who claims: "My father told me I was lucky to be half Irish and half Indian, so that I could have two homes. But I have none." Lockhart and Charlie share therefore the same fate, belonging both to civilization and wilderness, and at the same time to none of them. Their similarity explains the sympathetic relationship between them, even if they look at things from completely different points of view. It is as if Charlie had accepted his condition with resignation and tries to convince Lockhart to do the same thing. As a matter of fact, in a few words Charlie explains how things are changed, and if once it was a privilege being able to stand between civilization and wilderness because one could gain knowledge and protection from one and from the other, and it was possible to mediate between them, now the two worlds are isolated, except for contacts based on self-interest and violence. A demonstration is given by the fact that both representatives of the civilized world and of the savage world make attempts on the hero's life: on the one hand, the son of the cattle baron, and on the other hand, a mysterious Indian. Moreover, when Charlie understands that Lockhart is ready to kill to avenge his brother's death, he tries to persuade him that hate is something evil and that revenge is of no use, implying that the hero's values are in the new civilized world outdated and subject to criticism, not to praise. Even if Charlie's words have no immediate effect, we will watch throughout the movie Lockhart's gradual shift of attitude, and the significant effort the hero makes in search of his identity.
As a matter of fact, if on the one hand the searching and the killing of the villain can be read as a powerful act of revenge, they can be also interpreted as the elimination by the hero of his dark side. First of all, it must be pointed out that in the movie the image of the villain is doubled: on the one hand, Dave, the cattle baron's real son, a young boy characterized by an irrational behavior and a violent loss of self-control; on the other hand, Waggoman's adopted son Vic, the most rational of the two, but at the same time the most self-interested and evil-minded. Together, they form the hero's antagonist, as they are both responsible for the illegal trade with the Indians, and therefore for the young Lockhart's death. Dave and Vic perform a significant role in the movie, since the troubled identity of the hero is best understood in his interaction with them. The most irrational and violent side of the hero is projected on Dave, whose desire for revenge on Lockhart is paralleled by the hero's desire for revenge on his antagonist. The best episode visually exemplifying the conflictual relationship between these two characters is the one in which during a chase Lockhart shoots at Daveâ€™s hand to disarm him; Dave is so blinded by rage that, after seizing Will and disarming him, he voluntarily shoots back at the heroâ€™s hand, answering violence with violence. The villain represents thus the mirror image of the hero's worst side, the one he is trying to get rid of. As a matter of fact, at the time of the episode, Lockhart has already been subject to a radical even if forced, at least in part - change: he has accepted to work as a cowboy for another landowner of the region, to thank her for having ransomed him from jail, after being arrested for a crime he had not committed. As far as Vic is concerned, he represents the dark side of the hero because he is neither respectable nor honest in the relationship with his father and with his fiancĂŠe, to whom he lies more than once, and with his brother, whom he kills. For most of the time of the movie, Lockhart's relationship with the two brothers is one of opposition, according to the traditional Western plot centered on the motif of the double and of the opposition between the figures of hero and villain: from the beginning, Dave shows 156
his antipathy for the stranger, and does not miss an occasion to humiliate or defy him; Vic seems to be more diplomatic in his relationship with him, but we soon learn that he is Lockhart's rival in love, as his fiancĂŠe is the girl the hero seems to have fallen in love with. However, if the traditional resolution of this plot would be the victory of the hero over the villain and the restoration of moral order, in The Man from Laramie the resolution will be quite different because, as we have seen,
the relationship becomes increasingly complex as it is dramatized not just by opposition but by similarity: the hero and villain constructed as versions of each other or as bound in a mutually defining relationship: two sides of the same coin. (Pye, 1996:170) The opposition between hero and villain is given not only by Lockhart's desire for revenge against the two brothers, but also by the struggles originating in their striking similarities: Dave and Will can be both irrational and violent; Vic and Will are attracted by the same woman. Their similarities are therefore cause of opposition. In other words, in the film's symbolic structure, the villain can become a projection of forces within but repressed by the hero, and the two figures can be characterized by parallels in personality. At the end of the movie, our expectations about the killing of Dave and Vic by the hero are not fulfilled: Dave is killed by his own brother, and Vic is killed by the Indians with the same rifles he had sold them. The triumph of the hero consists no longer in showing at any price that he is invariably both morally good and best at fighting. He cannot be both, and he must accept that he cannot escape reality, but must realize that he is experiencing the collapse of two fantasies that are central to Western resolutions, but which remain fantasies: the fantasy of the "ideal man" as a perfect blending of wilderness and civilization, and the fantasy of such a figure contentedly settled in a world which offers him no other choice but be entrapped by the "blessings of civilization" (Pye, 1996:172-173). 157
3.2.5. Sam Peckinpah and the Death of the West: Guns in the Afternoon or Ride the High Country (1961)
Peckinpah's Guns in the Afternoon (the movie is also known as Ride the High Country), released in 1961 and set during the first years of the twentieth century, is one of the first of the so-called "crepuscular" Western pictures which on the one hand expresses nostalgia for a dying genre, and on the other hand is responsible for its decline. The main characters of the movie are two old Frontier heroes interpreted by two actors who had a long experience in the genre: Randolph Scott, known mainly for playing the hero of Budd Boetticher's famous "Ranown Cycle" - a group of Westerns with a very similar plot - and Joel McCrea, who worked in many "B" Westerns. In Peckinpah's movie, McCrea plays the role of Steve Judd, a former marshal who commits himself to the task of gathering the gold deriving from the Coarse Gold Mine and carrying it to the bank of the town. The task is not easy, and he asks his friend Gil Westrum (Scott) to help him in the job. Gil accepts the offer, but with a precise idea in mind: gathering the precious metal and then running away with it. Steve will prevent him from becoming a criminal, and in the end the two of them will restore their friendship. In my opinion, the initial sequence of the movie is the most interesting one, because it presents the old Western heroes in a postFrontier context, where civilization - in its positive and negative aspects makes their presence anachronistic. When Steve arrives into town, we immediately understand that he has not yet realized the changes brought by progress: he arrives riding a horse, while the first cars are already circulating; moreover, he thinks that the crowd in the street is welcoming him, probably because once he was a famous marshal and believes that everyone remember his deeds. However, the situation is not exactly the way he imagined it: in the town there is a fair, and the people are waiting for the arrival of a race, more precisely a competition between horses and a camel, and instead of welcoming the famous Western hero, they are shouting to make him get out of the way, and someone even calls him 158
"old man." Even more significant is the introduction of his friend Gil, who owns the stand of "The Oregon Kid, the Frontier Lawman who Tamed Dodge City and Wichita, and who single-handed sent the notorious Omaha Gang to their Graves." Gil is dressed as Buffalo Bill and has adopted the same principle of the â€œWild Westâ€? show (see 3.1.1.): when Steve tries to recall if they had ever been to Dodge City or to Wichita and in the end realizes that they have never been in those towns, Gil tells him that in his kind of work it is necessary to be good at telling stories. They are two old men who found themselves in the period of transition from the Old West to the new social organization and who react to the closure of the Frontier in very different ways: Steve has always been on the move, but if when they were young it was possible to live from hand to mouth, now organization is needed, and he is trying to adapt to the new civilized way of life maintaining the honest principles he has always hung on to; Gil, on the contrary, seems to have rather successfully adapted to the new opportunities offered by post-Frontier society, such as the exploitation of Western skills and legends as a form of entertainment, but he hasn't found a serious job yet, and he is not going to look for it, but trusts his good luck and is ready to make use of dishonest means to survive. Once again, the two heroes, although old and anachronistic, represent two sides of the same coin: the heroic and the antiheroic sides of the Western hero reacting to social and historical changes which no longer require his heroic but extra-legal actions - or, at least, so it seems. As a matter of fact, as soon as Steve and Gil, together with the young Heck, get out of town and reach first an isolated farm where a very religious father lives with his daughter and which brings to the viewer's mind the first small and scattered Puritan settlements in the North American territory, and later on the small camp of the goldhunters - another sort of Frontier settlement - things change, and their guns become once again useful to help good triumph over evil. Moreover, significantly enough, the question to solve is framed into a 159
captivity/rescue plot involving a young white woman, the daughter of the farmer, named Elsa, whom our heroes will have to rescue from the man she has married, Bill Hammond, and from his corrupted brothers. There is also the traditional final shootout, with the two old men facing the three young brothers (one of them had already been killed in a failed ambush). Steve and Gil decide to face the villains in the open air, as they have always done, while the Hammonds at the beginning think that they can kill them from where they hide, but in the end, with too much selfconfidence, decide to accept the challenge and to "help the grandpas to dig their own graves." However, Peckinpah's movie blends the re-enactment of the very origins of the Myth of the Frontier and of the image of the Western hero captivity narrative has been one of the first forms of literary mythology in the New World - with the end of the West, and therefore with the crisis of myth and of the values it transmitted, and in it the narrative conventions of the classic Western go hand in hand with the sarcasm accompanying the isolation of the hero. The significance of the Western code of honor and of the redemptive and pedagogical function of the journey through the “wilderness,” back and forth from the gold mine, are mixed with the heroes’ disillusion caused by the rejection of these values by the civilized and corrupted society in which their sad fate is that of being called “old men” or being forced to work as entertainers in fair stands. Therefore, the solutions are of two kinds: accepting continuous humiliations or becoming part of the corrupted system, but standing in both cases at the margins of society. It is on this choice that Peckinpah bases the conflict between Steve and Gil. If the former marshal is not ready to accept compromises and is decided to hold on to his moral integrity and to his pride, even if in this way he will never be able to live a comfortable and decent existence in the eyes of society, Gil is ready to cheat and to steal if necessary to improve his condition. However, Gil too has not completely forgotten his principles and his code of honor, and the regenerative force of the Frontier experience will once again lead to the redemption of the hero: when Gil sees Steve dying for his principles, he 160
realizes not only the importance to stick to one's own values, but also the necessity of respecting the significance of myth and what it represents, considering it for what it really is, that is a form of expression of American culture and ideals, rather than transforming it in a degrading commercial activity. Moreover, as far as the question of the survival of myth is concerned, it is of particular interest the last scene of the movie, where Gil is assisting the dying Steve, and the latter asks him not to let Elsa and Heck seeing him dying that way. It is his last desperate attempt to avoid the demystification of his own myth and of the image of the Western hero, even if in the end he embodies from the beginning this demystification, being an old man rejected by society and who in more than one episode realizes that he is completely losing his heroic skills which once were almost superhuman - to the extent that he gets killed. Steve and Gil therefore embody Peckinpah's double attitude towards the myth of the Western hero: on the one hand, the unavoidable death of the hero, whose presence is considered useless in a civilized society; on the other hand, the survival of the values he embodies through Gil’s redemption and Steve's inheritance to Heck and Elsa.
3.2.6. The First Wave of Revisionism (1960-80)
Before dealing with two of the most significant Western movies belonging to the second wave of revisionism - which coincides, at least up to this moment, with the last attempt to deal with the genre - it is necessary to explain briefly what happened in the lapse of time going from the release of “crepuscular” Westerns like Guns in the Afternoon to the revival of the genre in the 90s. As I have already mentioned in the section about the evolution of the Western, the revision and/or revival of the genre has been attempted four times since 1970. Among the alternative Westerns produced during the first phase, going from 1969 to 1972, the most interesting ones are what Slotkin calls “counterculture” (or “New Cult of the Indian”) Westerns, which were based on a re-evaluation of Native American history and ethnography. 161
Little Big Man, directed by Arthur Penn and released in 1970, is the most clear example of how these movies criticized not only the ideology of race war (with references to the Vietnam war), but also the conventions of the Western genre. The hero of the movie (interpreted by Dustin Hoffman) is presented as an alternative to the John Wayne model of American heroism: he is “the complete Western anti-hero: in the course of the film he assumes and satirically deflates the standard Western roles of rescued captive, White Indian, scout, gunfighter, and gambler” (Slotkin, 1993:630-1). The 1975-76 revival of the genre built upon the genre forms of the previous period, but abandoned political concerns. Among the movie produced in this period there were “crepuscular” Westerns such as The Shootist (Don Siegel, 1976), which reminds us of Guns in the Afternoon, since it emphasizes the anachronistic image of the Western hero by placing two old actors like John Wayne and James Stewart in a modern setting. The two subsequent attempts to revive the genre (in 1980-81 and in the late 80s) resulted once again in formalist exercises, which are not particularly relevant to our purposes. Although it would be interesting to study some of the movies above mentioned, I preferred to focus on the second wave of revisionism, which is the logical consequence to the changes the genre has been subject to since the late 60s, and which summarizes in a sense these changes through a thorough reflection of the Western conventions and an equally thorough revision of them.
3.2.7. The Hero's Question of Identity in Two Revisionist Westerns of the 90s: Dances with Wolves (1990) and Dead Man (1996)
Kevin Costner's Dances with Wolves and Jim Jarmusch's Dead Man, respectively released in 1990 and 1996, are two examples of the Western genre's elasticity to deal with the issues concerning American culture most deeply from different points of view. As a matter of fact, if the wave of revisionism to which the two movies belong has often been regarded disloyal to the classical Western's world and destructive of the 162
genre, it has been recently recognized that the revisionist pictures released from the 60s onward have not eroded or diminished or killed off the Western; on the contrary, it has been realized that, since "a traditional ideological goal in American literature and film has been the search for Americanness" (Baird, 1996:278), and the classic Western embodies the Americans' obsession with their past and their identity and the continuous reflection on these issues, the new Western is, from this point of view, a modern version of the old one, and, maintaining the belief in the significance of the genre as "incarnating history - both America and its own" (Kitses, 1998:21), it interrogates in whole or part aspects of the Western and, consequently, of American history, and it now is the Western. Therefore, even if without a doubt the genre is no longer what it was, it is interesting to notice how the questions it poses and analyzes are the unresolved questions classic Westerns tried to give an answer to. And the most debated issue fascinating modern directors is once again the one concerning the ambiguities and the aura of paradox surrounding the Western hero's identity and the American national identity he embodies. Both Costner and Jarmusch analyzed in their movies the complex personality of their main characters, Lieutenant John J. Dunbar (Kevin Costner) and the accountant William Blake (Johnny Depp), who will go in search for their identity on the Frontier. Dances with Wolves relates the story of a young soldier who abandons the civilized world to experience the wilderness way of life and to "see the frontier... before it's gone." He is welcomed by a Sioux tribe and adopted by a family, his experience teaching him that Indians are not "savages" and that white people's violence and outrages make them much more primitive than Indians. The focus of Costner's attention is the hero's "going Indian" through adoption and renaming (Baird, 1996:285-287), an issue which has been linked with the question of identity since Colonial literature, and has particularly been dealt with by James Fenimore Cooper in his Leatherstocking Tales (see 188.8.131.52.). As a matter of fact, Dunbar's acceptance by the Indians and his entering the wilderness are 163
marked by his being named, at first without his knowledge, by the Sioux who have seen him "dancing" with his "pet" wolf, Two Socks. Dunbar had been trying to get Two Socks to return to his fort as he rode out to the Indian camp, but the wolf would playfully snap at his heels disobeying the soldier. The Indians watched in the foreground of the shot, surprised that a White man could have such a relationship with a wild animal, and began calling the White soldier "Dances-with-Wolves." This process of renaming of Dunbar by the Indians should recall the similar process to which Cooper's hero was subject in the Tales: Natty Bumppo was renamed by Indians according to his deeds, first as Deerslayer, and then as Hawkeye. The search of his identity leads the American hero to abandon a name with no direct relation to the universe and to accept a name which shows a correspondence between the bearer and the experience, and therefore reveals his true self, to the extent that John Dunbar writes in his diary, "I'd never known who John Dunbar was... But, as I heard my Sioux name being called over and over, I knew for the first time who I really was":
This renaming of a White man with a natural name and his shedding of his European name is the quintessential American myth - the self-made man rediscovering both America and, most important, his own true self in the process. Freed from the oppressive yoke of European tradition, self-made even to his name [...], this character of literature and film has, after two hundred years, become only more solidified in our consciousness. (Baird, 1996:286) We can say that Dances is really about the transformation of the white soldier Lt. John Dunbar into the Lakota warrior Dances with Wolves, as the hero discovers his true identity experiencing a sort of "resurrection": the scene in which he escapes from the field hospital riding a horse in a suicidal charge on the Confederate troops and miraculously survives should be considered together with the scene in which he witnesses the death of the Pawnee leader, killed as he himself had expected to die. It is exactly in this moment when Dunbar is finally liberated by his past and is resurrected as Dances with Wolves (Walker, 1996:286-287). It is as if the 164
death of the Indian or villain, which in many Westerns represented the suppression of the hero's dark side, has in Dunbar the opposite effect, that is of killing his "white" but evil side and of awakening his dark and savage side which is given much more positive attributes than in the past. Dunbar's renaming and resurrection experiences are accompanied by a number of episodes which mark his gradual assimilation into the Indian tribe. Since one of the most significant moments in the quest of the hero has been in different cultures the hunt, in Dances with Wolves it is exactly the buffalo hunt to assume a central position in Dunbar's transition from the White man's world to the Indian world. As a matter of fact, the hunt is for the adopted White a rite of initiation in which he gets his first kill and eats the fresh liver of his killed animal, transforming the moment in an important point of no return of his going Indian. Another significant episode immediately following the buffalo hunt is the one in which Dunbar/Dances-with-Wolves participates in the culturally important role of storyteller, recounting his own hunting feat over and over to the tribe's great enjoyment. Finally, Dunbar becomes integral part of the tribe when he marries Stands-with-a-Fist, a White survivor of a past massacre, who has nearly forgotten her first family and language. Through her story Costner turns upside-down the captivity/rescue frame of the traditional Western, because instead of rescuing the white woman and restoring her to civilization (see 184.108.40.206.), the hero completes with her his process of going Indian. However, the two of them could never be considered as entirely Indians, because of their white race. They will forever remain Whites who went Indian, and will form a race apart, belonging both to the Whites' world (civilization) and to the Indian world (savagery), but at the same time leaving both of them: at the end of the movie we see Dunbar/Dances-with-Wolves and Stands-with-a-Fist riding away from the world, towards a mythical space which can accept their existence. If Dances with Wolves has been defined a "sympathetic" Western (Baird, 1996:278) permitting the metamorphosis of the White into Red, a path which had often been rejected in classic Westerns in favor of the 165
most frequently chosen outcome consisting in the annihilation of the Indian, Dead Man is almost impossible to categorize, as it could be said to belong to a number of subgenres at once. It has been defined (Rickman, 1998:381-404) a psychological Western because of its interest in the analysis of the characters' personality rather than of the action; a revisionist Western because it offers an adjustment away from both contemporary Hollywood entertainment and the lineage of the classic Western; a mythic Western for its being highly symbolic; a comic Western because of the passivity of the hero William Blake (if we consider him the hero of the movie, as there is also another possibility, as we shall see); and, finally, an "acid Western," according to J. Hoberman's definition of Dead Man as "an imaginary, post-apocalyptic 70s, a wilderness populated by degenerate hippies and acid-ripped loners forever pulling guns on each other or else asking for tobacco" (quoted in Rickman, 1998:395). The film's story is set in the Old West of the 1870s. The accountant William Blake travels to the West in search of a position with Dickinson Metal Works, and in the Western town of Machine he is fatally wounded in a gunfight. His physical body dies as his spiritual journey is supposed to begin, as a Native American named "Nobody," who has mistaken wounded accountant Blake for the British poet Blake, guides him back to "the bridge made of waters," the ocean, where he will be "taken up to the next level of the world - the place where William Blake is from - where his spirit belongs." Our last glimpse of Blake is of the canoe bearing his body drifting off over the horizon. Therefore, in Dead Man the "hero's journey" through a mythic landscape Joseph Campbell spoke of (see 2.1.2.) becomes literally Bill Blake's journey through the Western landscape - the land of myth par excellence - to the land of the dead, an exemplification of the man's journey on the Earth, from birth to death, in search of his true identity. As a matter of fact, the movie is based on the hero's classic journey across the entire American West, from Blake's initial train ride from the East into the Western town of Machine through to his flight from the 166
town, where he is accused of murder, to the Northwestern shore, aided and accompanied by his spiritual guide Nobody. In the movie's last scene, we see the hero traveling further west in his canoe to reach the spiritual realm. However, if traditionally the hero's journey should lead him to the achievement of knowledge, or of a "boon," in Dead Man there is no passage from innocence to experience characterizing the mythic journeys. Although Bill Blake experiences the "fall" after committing murder and must undergo a series of ordeals, in the end we discover that he hasn't learnt anything from his experiences, that he was already a "dead man" from the moment he began his spiritual journey. "Dead man" because Blake lets passively things happen and remains oblivious, and his ignorance of where he has been, where he is going, what happened to him, and even of his own fate -death in the sea canoe - is demonstrated by the fact that at the very end of the movie, when Nobody tells him that he is going "back where he comes from," Blake's response is, "You mean Cleveland?" Jarmusch has remarked on his protagonist,
"Dead Man is only kind of a western because Blake's such a passive character. He starts out as this blank piece of paper, and pretty soon everyone's trying to scrawl graffiti all over him. That's what's going on when Mitchum's [the owner of Dickinson Metal Works] saying, 'He's an outlaw, he's a killer, he's a scum.' And then Nobody does the same thing by telling him not only are you a killer of white men, you're the dead poet William Blake. Everyone's sort of writing and projecting things onto him." (quoted in Rickman, 1998:399) Blake's extraordinary passivity might be interpreted on the one hand as the inversion of the Western hero's ideal of the self-made man and of his belief in the regenerative and redemptive power of the Frontier, which in Dead Man presents itself as a degenerate place showing signs of ruin and decay rather than idyllic landscapes (at the beginning of the movie, during Blake's train journey to Machine, we see through his eyes an abandoned covered wagon and abandoned tepees, and later on we see the Western town decorated with skulls, coffins, piles 167
of bones and inhabited by unfriendly and sick people, together with other traces of decay and failure scattered throughout the movie); on the other hand, Jarmusch's statement reminds one of all the famous heroes whose stories have been mythologized in dime novels, often through invention and exaggeration, or who tried to become famous through that process, shaping themselves their identities and their stories. "More broadly, the entire American West can be seen as a blank canvas onto which successive generations make their mark, leaving their traces behind" (Rickman, 1998:399). Therefore, Jarmusch's West is presented not as the land of unlimited opportunity and a place where people find themselves, but as the land of the dead and a place where people lose everything, even themselves. The hero does not undergo a process of regeneration, but rather of degeneration, as throughout the movie he waits for his own death. However, we are not sure of when Blake's death occurs. He might be considered a dead man from the point of his shooting at the beginning of the movie, or when he starts his journey in the canoe at the end. Or he might be considered already dead before the film's beginning, which would explain the continuous references throughout the movie to the dead poet William Blake, Nobody's mistaking Bill Blake for the poet, Nobody's vision of Blake's skull beneath his skin after his consumption of peyote, which is said to reveal one's own true self, Blake's passivity, and the name of his spiritual guide, Nobody - a Dead Man's double would indeed be "nobody." Bill Blake represents the Western hero who no longer exists, and whose past existence has only been an illusion. As a matter of fact, according to Jarmusch, the contradictions of the Myth of the Frontier he embodied through his blending of traits - civilization/wilderness, European culture/Indian culture - cannot coexist, because they are logically insoluble. Only myth could hold both possibilities together, since it doesn't work according to the logical discourse, and therefore create an ideal image for Americans, the Western hero. However, it is difficult to go on believing in dreams or legends, and Dead Man presents 168
us with a protagonist and a genre under erasure. To conclude, I would like to quote a passage from Gregg Rickman's article The Western Under Erasure: Dead Man, in which he declares:
A final paradox remains, however, in this paradoxical work: even as Dead Man erases its genre it confirms its ongoing vitality, dependent as this very interesting film is in so many ways on the genre's form and conventions for its very existence. What's always half "not there" and always half "not that" is by its very definition at least still half present, "there," and "that." What's alive is dead, but also what's dead is alive. (Rickman, 1998:401) As we shall see in the next chapter, the paradox Rickman refers to is also the paradox we will find in Clint Eastwoodâ€™s movies, since if Dead Man or revisionist movies in general while erasing the genre they confirm its vitality, Eastwood tries to revise Western conventions working within tradition, unable to leave definitely the world of myth behind.
CHAPTER 4 Clint Eastwood and the Western Hero/Antihero
4.1. The Significance of Clint Eastwood's Persona and Movies There are many reasons for which, after my analysis of the origins and evolution of the image of the Western hero/antihero in some of the main representative stages of American popular culture, I have decided to draw my attention in the last chapter to the work of one of the most famous American "starteurs" of the twentieth-century movie production, Clint Eastwood. The term "starteur" is used by Lawrence F. Knapp in the introduction of his book, Directed by Clint Eastwood: 18 films analyzed (1996), to define the small number of star-auteurs who on the one hand affirm the basic assumption of the "auteur theory," according to which the directors should express themselves in a personal and consistent manner, and on the other hand have been able to distinguish themselves maintaining their independence intact (Knapp, 1996:1-4). In particular, "starteurs" are those artists who both interpret and direct their movies, and therefore create their screen personae by themselves or, as Knapp puts it,
[those artists who] have a self-reflective relationship to their work; their films are an extended dialogue with their screen personae, an attempt to shape, reshape, and break the mould that gave them their initial creative and commercial independence. (Knapp, 1996:2) This is clearly Eastwood's case, as he himself has claimed, "To me, what a Clint Eastwood picture is, is one that I'm in" (quoted in Knapp, 1996:4). Eastwood's complete control of his screen persona in most of his movies thanks to his condition of actor-director is among the reasons 171
why I have decided to focus on his image. However, the main reason of my choice is that Eastwood, like John Wayne before him, has won a place of honour as an American icon, a status probably deriving also by his condition of "starteur," but above all by the fact that, if Wayne represented the American mainstream of thought expressed in classic Westerns between the early 30s and the late 60s, Eastwood embodies the tensions and anxieties of the late twentieth century creating a persona both mythic and contemporary, in which the contradictions between myth and modernity, immortality and human frailty are evident. Clint Eastwood's significance lies therefore in the creation within Western tradition of a modern hero/antihero, sometimes completely disillusioned, sometimes hopeful in the future. Another reason which justifies my choice is Eastwood's long experience in Hollywood cinema, which allows a more complete study of the development of his screen persona over the years and an exploration of the hero in the different genres he dealt with, such as urban crime dramas, war movies, and Western movies. As far as this last point is concerned, it is significant to notice that the continuity of the image of the hero in Eastwood's movies - although belonging to different genres - has its origins in the Hollywood movie production, in which, after seeing the light in the Old West as a gunfighter or a cowboy, the American hero has been successfully transferred and adapted to different environments: the private-eye or the heroic soldiers of the American army will be respectively the heroes of urban crime dramas and war movies, deriving from the historical and social changes of a nation in continuous and rapid development. These characters share the main features of the traditional American hero, as they have a common crusade: to kill evil; they claim to keep their moral integrity hard and intact, even if there are ambiguities in that integrity lingering from the time of Cooper's Hawkeye to our own; they have always been associated with violence as the outlaw, even if they use it to protect civilized society from any kind of savagery; their qualities of toughness and physical courage have always led the audience to 172
sympathize with a figure who, in the end, is indistinguishable in method from his adversaries; they are professionals; they are cold-blooded and they never sleep, meaning that they are always ready to "do what has to be done"; they are almost invariably avengers believing in personal justice. In other words, as far as urban crime dramas is concerned, the detectives created by dime novelists in the second half of the nineteenth century, then resumed by the hard-boiled school (1910-40), and finally transferred to the world of cinema, can be considered as the modern America's loners who continue taking justice into their own hands (Ruehlmann, 1984:3-17). If in the Old West people â€œsettled their own problemsâ€? (see 220.127.116.11.) as presumably out in the wild country there was no other way to make justice, in urban crime dramas personal justice is practised in the modern but corrupt cities where the legal machinery is inefficient. As far as war movies are concerned, American soldiers who sacrifice themselves for the defence of civilization can be seen as the heirs of David Crockett, or of John Wayne in The Alamo (John Wayne, 1960). It is rather significant that Wayne himself played the role of the hero in The Green Berets (John Wayne, 1968), a movie which was conceived from the start as a work of propaganda to convince the American people that it was necessary for them to be in Vietnam, and which exploited the mythic image of Wayne - who was considered the American hero par excellence - to justify American policy (Slotkin, 1993:520-533). Another interesting fact which helps us to understand the existence of a strong relationship between war movies and Westerns concerning both themes and heroic images - is the remake of the war movie Objective, Burma! (1945) into a Western, Distant Drums (1951) by the same director, Raoul Walsh. If Objective, Burma! is about the adventures of an American parachute troop led by Capt. Nelson (Errol Flynn) which after accomplishing a mission in Burma remains blocked in the enemies' territory and whose only possibility to survive is to march a long way through the dangers of the jungle, the Western is set in Florida, 173
1840, and is about a military expedition led by the solitary Capt. Wyatt (Gary Cooper) with the aim to destroy a fort in the middle of the forest where the illegal trade of weapons with the Indians takes place, and about the long return march through the marshes, chased by the Indians. Both movies, despite the fact that some of the characters die during the return journey, have a happy ending, and both are centered on the heroic figure of Capt. Nelson and of Capt. Wyatt, two solitary individuals whose mission is to put at the society's disposal their superhuman skills and their knowledge of the "Indians" to subjugate savagery. Therefore, both urban crime dramas and war movies can be defined as "Westerns" taking place somewhere else, in the wilderness of the "Metropolis" or in the wilderness of an enemy country. Returning to this chapter's main theme, although Clint Eastwood also interpreted leading characters in war movies, more precisely in Kelly's Heroes (Brian G. Hutton, 1970) and Heartbreak Ridge (Clint Eastwood, 1986), given the fact they are a minority if compared to the number of Westerns and urban crime dramas he directed and/or acted in, I will focus on these genres rather than on war movies, considering first his most significant Westerns, that is High Plains Drifter (1973), The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976), Pale Rider (1985), and Unforgiven (1992); then, to demonstrate how other genres can take over the Westernsâ€™ mythographic function, I will deal with the Dirty Harry series, which includes five episodes - Dirty Harry (1971), Magnum Force (1973), The Enforcer (1976), Sudden Impact (1983), The Dead Pool (1988).
4.2. Clint Eastwood's Westerns: Revisionism within Tradition Eastwood's associations with the Western genre go back to his 1959 debut as the cowboy Rowdy Yates on the TV series Rawhide. But his successful career as a Western hero began with his acceptance of the role of the â€œMan with No Nameâ€? in Sergio Leone's "spaghetti Westerns," more precisely in the Dollars trilogy, including A Fistful of Dollars (1964; US 1967), For a Few Dollars More (1965; US 1967), and The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (1966; US 1968). These movies have often been defined a playful parody of the American classic Western and a profound homage to it, as only a deep knowledge of the Western tradition could lead to such a perfect reversal of its conventions. As a matter of fact, if in Leone's movies at a first glance traditional situations and traditional Western types - including, of course, the hero - are perfectly reproduced, we soon realize that we are not watching a classic Western, but a picture in which the hero is not "good," but acts for selfinterest; he is not at all worried about civilization's fate; he is a cynical man, and his dark skills are so exaggerated that border on absurdity. Like all Leone's movies' characters, he is moved by base instinct. As a consequence,
he ends up by doing right not because he acts out of any grand principles, but because power equals morality, and his skill with weapons is thus more potent than anyone else's. In effect, he subverts the customary western formula, which always implies that distinctly higher moral standards have the effect of steadying the beset hero's hand, fixing his eye when, at last, he draws. (Schickel, 1997:142) Eastwood's cooperation with Leone influenced the character of the heroes he would interpret in the future, to the extent that Eastwood's Westerns usually employed a variant of the emotionless Man with No Name persona which was created for the Dollars trilogy. As a matter of fact, although he also interpreted leading roles in quasi-musical Westerns 175
like Paint Your Wagon (Joshua Logan, 1969), modern-day comic Westerns like Bronco Billy (Clint Eastwood, 1980), and even police dramas that were really Westerns in disguise like Coogan's Bluff (Don Siegel, 1969), his most successful Westerns have been High Plains Drifter, The Outlaw Josey Wales, Pale Rider, and Unforgiven, which were directed by himself between 1973 and 1992, and in which the heroes, as we shall see, shared many features with the Man with no Name. However, besides the influence of the Italian "spaghetti Western" on the director's choices, the main feature of Eastwood's Westerns is their blending of classicism and revisionism. As a matter of fact, unlike Leone, the American "starteur" does not parody classic Westerns, nor does he merely evoke their characters and themes, but he investigates the whole genre, from the image of the gunfighter to that of his antagonists, from each type populating the town where the hero usually arrives to the community as a whole. To conclude my work on the Western hero/antihero, my analysis of Eastwood's Westerns will be centered in particular on the characterization of the hero in each movie and on his developments over the years, from movie to movie. We will see the progressive demystification of Eastwood's persona, but never its complete deconstruction. Like in the Dirty Harry series I will deal with in the second part of the chapter, Eastwood criticizes the dark and antiheroic side of the Western hero by displaying it in his movies - both Inspector Callahan and the heroes of his Westerns are accused of excessive violence, abuse of authority, lack of respect for the criminals' rights, disregard for the Law, personal justice. However, Eastwood's thought might be summarized in the sentence used by his Dirty Harry in Magnum Force: "I hate the goddamned system, but until someone comes along with some changes that make sense, I'll stick to it!" meaning that if the "system" of Western conventions seems to be wrong because it has always portrayed an ideal image of the antiheroic side of American history rather than historical reality, he will continue to work within that set of conventions, at the same time reversing them, in order to show the 176
other side of the coin. As far as the image of the hero is concerned, his characterization is based on the same principle: Eastwood focuses on his dark side, and above all on the hero's self-consciousness of the negativity of his "darkness" and at the same time of the necessity to play once again his role, even if he is perfectly aware that the civilization arising from his acts of violence won't probably be saved from evil, which is not an external threat, but lies within society; finally, he also focuses on the hero's sadness and bitterness provoked by the dual acknowledgement, on the one hand, of the brutality of his own character, on the other hand, of his own uselessness.
4.2.1. Eastwood Directs His First Western: High Plains Drifter (1973)
According to Richard Slotkin, High Plains Drifter belongs to the "alternative Westerns" produced during the 1969-72 period, and more exactly to the formalist type which has roots in the "spaghetti Western" of Sergio Leone and which features "abstract, fairy-tale-like plots, gunfighter protagonists who ignore the normative motives of Western heroes, and landscapes devoid of historical association" (Slotkin, 1993:628-9). However, unlike the Dollars trilogy, Eastwood's movie is no parody, but rather
an audacious mixture of Revelation, High Noon (Fred Zinneman, 1952) and A Fistful of Dollars (...) Eastwood's first successful blend of style and selfanalysis, a western allegory of sin and deliverance that transforms the Man with No Name into the Stranger (Clint Eastwood), an archangel sent by the Lord to punish the wicked town of Lago. (Knapp, 1996:56) There are of course similarities between the Man with No Name and the Stranger: they are men of few words, cynical, cold-blooded, they have a very fast draw, and they are ready to kill anyone threatening their existence. But the most striking similarity is that we don't know where they come from, we don't know the reasons of their decisions, and we 177
don't know anything about their past. We might be indirectly given some answers during the movie, but many questions usually remain unresolved. In High Plains Drifter the identity of the Stranger is never revealed, as at the end of the movie, while he is exiting through the graveyard, one of the citizens asks him, "I never did know your name," and the Stranger simply replies, smiling, "Yes you do." He does not even confirm that he is a gunfighter, and just lets the people guess it from his fast draw. As a consequence, some critics wrote that the drifter was the ghost of the martyred sheriff, who was killed by the citizens of Lago because he discovered that the mine on which the town depended for its prosperity was on federal land; others insisted that he must be the murdered man's brother (so it is according to the Italian version, which unmasks the hero at the very end of the movie, when he reveals his identity); still others identified him with an avenging angel, which fits with the symbolic interpretation of the picture, and which would explain the drifter's detailed knowledge of previous events, expressed in dreams, as he could not have acquired such information except through supernatural means (Schickel, 1997:288). Moreover, the symbolic reading is also supported by the fact that we see the Stranger materializing out of nothingness, and while the initial red credits anticipating the crimson paint and bloodshed that will transform Lago into a hell on earth appear on the screen, we see him descending from a series of hilltops - as Knapp points out, in religion and mythology, mountain tops are frequently the home of God and his celestial court (Knapp, 1996:57). The opening ride of the Stranger into Lago also reminds us of Shane's arrival into the valley, but we will immediately understand the different nature of the two heroes: while Shane was a Western Savior, the Stranger is "a western version of Michael the messenger and Gabriel the warrior, an archangel associated with apocalyptic images of fire and blood" (Knapp, 1996:61). His mission is not to preserve civilization from the forces of evil: in Lago civilization is paralleled with corruption, selfinterest, and wickedness, times have changed from Shane's honest 178
homesteaders' community, and consequently the image and the mission of the hero have changed too. As John Wayne claimed in his critique of the movie, High Plains Drifter's townspeople do not represent the spirit of the American pioneer, the spirit that had made America great. Eastwood himself claimed that the picture is just an allegory, and that it is not intended to be the West that has been told hundreds of times over, but to be a speculation on what happens when they go ahead and kill the sheriff, then somebody comes back and calls the town conscience to bear (Schickel, 1997:291-292). Nor does Clint Eastwood's hero represent the traditional American hero, since rather than trying to show off American virtues,
[High Plains Drifter] tests, redefines, the nature of screen heroism, asking the audience if it can come to terms with the darkest (or anyway the most enigmatic) side of Clint's screen persona. (Schickel, 1997:293) It will be enough to say that as soon as the Stranger arrives into town, he shows off his antisocial and criminal behavior killing three men and raping a woman. Not to mention his revenge plan leading to the destruction of the whole town. As far as the townspeople and the Stranger are concerned, the relationship established between them is the focus of the movie, reminding us both of the opposition townspeople/hero in High Noon, where the citizens of Hadleyville turn their back on the marshal who had protected them for years (see 18.104.22.168.), and of the greed and self-interest dominating the relationship between the Man with No Name and the ones he decides to work for in A Fistful of Dollars: the Stranger accepts to work for the inhabitants of Lago, who seek protection from the desire for revenge of the three killers they hired to murder the former marshal of the town and they sent into jail after the killing was done; nobody in town knows who the Stranger is, and nobody trusts him, but they need him so much that they even accept his condition to help them only if he can have everything he wants. With this pretext, he will be able to attack 179
the citizens' weak point, to the extent that the prosperity they have illegally reached - through the exploitation of a federal mine and through the murder of their marshal - will be destroyed by their own hands. Everyone has to pay - literally and figuratively - for his own sins: the drifter will ask the townspeople that everyone participates according to one's own possibilities to the defence of the town, as everyone is responsible for the death of the marshal, both those who hired the killers and those who did nothing to save him when he was pleading for help. This is the only reason why he looks for cooperation from the whole community, even if he perfectly knows he could do the whole job by himself. Not only does he ask their help when he doesn't need it, but he also obliges them to do things which are of no use in the capture of the three killers, such as preparing a picnic in the main street and a banner saying "Welcome home, boys," painting the whole town red and changing its name into "Hell," transforming the weakest person in town, Mordecai, into marshal and mayor, and training the men of Lago into a small volunteer army ready to receive the â€œboys.â€? The townspeople soon realize that there is something strange in the drifter, that he is destroying their town and he is placing them one against the other, which is in fact his real aim. As a consequence, while some of them try to get rid of the Stranger and die in the attempt, others realize that they have no choice but to rely on him, as the killers are approaching to town and the townspeole are defenceless. The ending of the movie confirms our expectations about the Stranger and it is a further demonstration of the blindness of the townspeople who don't even understand what they are being punished for. As a matter of fact, at the moment of the three bandits' arrival and after having organized everything, the Stranger rides out of town and lets its inhabitants kill each other; he will only intervene to kill the criminals and, on an apocalyptic background, to make justice for the murder of the former marshal. The most interesting aspect of the movie, besides the question of the unrevealed identity of Eastwood's character, is that the drifter organizes Lago's downfall with the same means the townspeople 180
used to build it - meanness, self-interest, passivity when they most need him, and murder- and he even uses at the end of the movie the same weapon the gang of criminals had used to kill the marshal - a whip. In the end, "Lago is decimated, the wicked are killed (...) and the weak are reminded of their mortality and impending damnation if they do not rediscover faith and mercy" (Knapp, 1996:63). To conclude, if we consider the characteristics of the Stranger, we might say that Eastwood builds his image following on the one hand the traditional image of the Western hero parodied by Leone's exaggerations and reinserting it into the American movie genre par excellence, the Western, which is "no longer what it was," meaning that it is no longer the classic Western with which the genre has been identified for decades, but the revisionist Western, where conventions are questioned or even turned upside-down (Kitses, 1998:15-30). As I have already mentioned, in High Plains Drifter we don't find a group of honest citizens threatened by the forces of evil, but a group of dishonest and cowardly citizens threatened by the same forces of evil they used against the moral and ethical nucleus of the town. They do not represent progress and civilization nor, in Wayne's words, the pioneer values, because, instead of working for the benefit of the whole community, they have only thought about their economic interest: the moral and topographical isolation of Lago, its lack of contact with the outside world (there is no railroad, newspaper, telegraph office, and visitors are not welcomed), and the lack of children anticipate that the town has no desire for future progress (Knapp, 1996:56). As a consequence, the hero has to adapt to these changes, even if he retains some traditional features: he is an avenger, but he must struggle not only against savagery, but against both civilization and wilderness; he continues standing on the edge between the two poles, as he shows both his "dark" side, avenging the marshal with the same means the criminals used to kill him and sometimes behaving like a criminal himself, and his "white" side, destroying everything which could hinder progress and civilization in their purest form; he is a superhuman presence, ghostly and truly invincible; like 181
every Western hero, he is bound to disappear as soon as his mission has been accomplished, this time not really as a scapegoat of the civilizationâ€™s need to subjugate savagery, but as a divine punishment against the errors of both.
4.2.2. The Humanization of the Western Hero: The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976)
Eastwood's The Outlaw Josey Wales, released in 1976, is the most interesting Western of the 1975-76 revival. Even if, as Slotkin suggests, the director integrates the sensational stylistics of the â€œspaghetti Westernâ€? with the historical/ideological concerns of the big Western historical epic (Slotkin, 1993:632-3), the movie is more inspired by the classic Western authors rather than by Sergio Leone. As a matter of fact, in the picture we find fewer references to the Dollars trilogy than in High Plains Drifter, while traditional Western plot and characters are revived, so that
The Outlaw Josey Wales is not a Western allegory of sin and salvation. It is a Western epic of rage and redemption. (Knapp, 1996:75) However, categorizing the movie among classic Westerns would be of course not only a simplification, but also a mistake, since, as we shall see, it clearly offers a middle ground between Western revisionism and Western traditionalism, blending the classic cult-of-the-outlaw/revenge tale with an unusual development of the plot and of the hero's character. As far as the hero is concerned, if in the previous Western Eastwood had played on the identification between the Stranger and the Man with No Name, emphasizing his surreal qualities, in The Outlaw Josey Wales he brings his hero back to earth and humanizes him, giving him a past and a name. Moreover, narrating the central episode of Josey Wales' life, he gives the audience an explanation of the character's nomadic and solitary existence: Josey is haunted by the rage and the 182
desire for revenge deriving from the massacre of his family - his wife and his little son - by a group of Union soldiers led by Capt. Terrill, and he is transformed by these feelings from a peaceful Missouri farmer into a warrior of the Confederate guerrillas, and then, at the end of the war, to an outlaw refusing to surrender to the Union and therefore constantly on the run. The character reminds us of the classic image of the Indian-hater, a peaceful man transformed into a professional Indian killer by the obsession with revenge originating in a misfortune suffered by Indian hands (see 2.4.1.). Of course, in this case, the "Indians" are the Union soldiers, against whom Josey will carry out his own "savage war." However, if at the beginning of the movie he experiences a metamorphosis from peaceful farmer into professional "Indian" killer, at the end the hero, after consuming his revenge, finds his true identity, and returns the peaceful farmer he was, although marked by experience and by a deeper knowledge, and therefore wiser. It is evident that throughout the movie, Eastwood guides the Man with No Name through a journey of self-discovery,
metamorphosis. In other words, Josey Wales' experience follows the classic nuclear unit of the hero's mythic journey (see 2.1.2.): separation, when Josey is deprived of his family and is involuntarily forced to change his life; initiation, when he metamorphoses into the â€œGray Rider,â€? a legendary outlaw in search for vengeance, who on his path meets a number of characters helping him to rediscover his true self; return, when he finally decides to settle with the people he met during his journey in the valley where the Crooked River Ranch lies and to create a little community where "true civilization" comes into being. The encounter between Josey and the members of the little community gathering around him has a double meaning: on the one hand, it transforms him into a guide, a Moses-like figure who protects them and leads them safely to the beautiful valley, the new Promised Land; on the other hand, each character takes part in his "return journey," as Jamie, the boy who fought with Josey during the war and who was on the run with him, reawakens 183
Wales' paternalistic instincts, the two Indians, Lone Watie and Little Moonlight, restore his faith in fellowship and personal integrity, and Grandma Sarah and Laura Lee, two pioneers he saves from the Comancheros, help him to rediscover family ties and to revert to his former self (Knapp, 1996:80). Therefore, although Josey is one of Eastwood's traditional wounded loners who doesn't want any relationships and wants to avoid commitments that might lead to further losses and betrayals as it had happened in the past,
(...) "The more he doesn't want them, the more they keep imposing themselves upon him." Working on, manipulating, that shred of good nature that is still present in him, until at last, without his ever overtly acknowledging it, "this little commune" heals and restores him to human family. It was the first time his radically isolated screen character had come to such a comfortable end, the first time a film did not leave him as it found him - alone with his self-sufficiency. (Schickel, 1997:324) While most of the picture focuses on the process of redemption experienced by Josey Wales, the ending brings together reflections on other issues related to the image of the Western hero. First of all, it is interesting to analyze the discourse Josey elaborates when he goes and faces Ten Bears, the Chief of the Comanches populating the region of the Crooked River:
J.W.: "I came here to die with you or to live with you. Dying ain't so hard for men like you and me. It's living that's hard when all you've ever cared about has been butchered or raped. Governments don't live together, people live together. With governments you don't always get a fair word or a fair fight. Well, I've come here to give you either one or get either one from you. I came here like this so you know my word of death is true and that my word of life is then true. The bear lives here, the wolf, the antelope, the Comanche. So will we." T.B.: "It is said that governments are chiefed by the devil tongues. There is iron in your words of death for all Comanche to see - and so there is iron in your words of life. No signed paper can hold the iron, it must come 184
from men. The words of Ten Bears carry the same iron of life and death. It is good that warriors such as we meet in the struggle of life... or death. It shall be life." First of all, it seems that the hero's redemption led to the creation of an ideal community, of a new Eden, where all creatures live in peace. It is as if Josey and his little community have been given a third chance: if the first chance had been wasted by the corrupted aristocracy in the Old World, and the second attempt had resulted in a much more corrupted society in the New World, where "governments are chiefed by the devil tongues," the third chance must not be missed. Therefore, Josey's flight as an outlaw becomes a pilgrimage to the Ranch as wagon master and shepherd, and the settlement established will represent the beginning of a new life of peaceful coexistence with all the creatures of this world, including Indians, and far from the corruption and the lies of the government. As far as this issue is concerned, both Josey's words and his choice to settle in an isolated valley show his contempt for the inability of the system to make people live harmoniously together, and therefore his necessity to leave "civilization" behind and to make his Utopia real. While throughout the film Wales encounters carpetbaggers, merchants, and opportunists who represent the limitations of capitalism, "with the creation of the Crooked River Ranch community true civilization comes into being - not the ramshackle silver and cattle towns that impede its progress" (Knapp, 1996:83). Another significant aspect emphasized in the dialogue and linked to the criticism of the system is the condition of outcasts Josey and Ten Bears, together with the members of the little Utopian community, share. As a matter of fact, the community is made up by an outlaw, an old Indian who has been "civilized" by white people and therefore has forgotten how to live like an Indian, an Indian woman who has been cast out by her tribe and rescued by Josey from virtual slavery, an old lady, her granddaughter, who doesn't have a very good health, even a snarly hound dog. They all are in their ways outcasts, betrayed by unfeeling government policy, marginalized by the blindness of the government power which is not able to make "real" justice (Schickel, 1997:319-323). 185
It is interesting to notice how these issues are also dealt with in the Dirty Harry series, where Inspector Callahan is an outcast too, reluctantly belonging to a system which without a doubt he would like to replace with Josey Wales' Utopian way of life in the Crooked River valley, built on human rather than legal principles (see 4.3.). However, before settling and leaving definitely his past behind, Josey Wales has to face another problem, that related to his condition of hero, on which the movie reflects on in two main episodes. First of all, when Josey must face a bounty hunter in a saloon where he has paused during his pilgrimage with the rest of the party. The bounty hunter enters the establishment, where this dialogue ensues:
B.H.: "I'm looking for Josey Wales." J.W.: "That'd be me." B.H.: "You're wanted, Wales." J.W.: "I reckon I'm right popular... You a bounty hunter?" B.H.: "Man's got to do something to make a living these days." J.W.: "Dyin' ain't much of a living, boy... You know, this isn't necessary. You can just ride on." (the bounty hunter thinks that over and leaves. But in a moment he returns.) B.H.: "I had to come back." J.W.: "I know." (Josey shoots, and kills the man.) Although this scene should be a classic Western face-off, it inverts Western convention, as it plays with the humanity and the selfconsciousness of the two characters implied. It is as if both Josey and the bounty hunter are aware that there is a mythic tradition - or movie tradition - which compels them forward, and which they must respect, even if they would both prefer to reject it. They must fulfill the expectations surrounding the image they created for themselves. However, this is not Eastwood's final answer to the question, as providing his characters with self-consciousness about their role is only the first step towards a more revisionist stance. As a matter of fact, at the end of the movie we find Josey Wales confronted once again with the issue of celebrity pursuing gunfighter heroes, this time rejecting to fulfill the expectations required by his own status: when he realizes that his 186
identity brings him only troubles, at first he decides to renounce to his life at the ranch; then, after having the possibility of avenging his family by killing Capt. Terrill, he decides that it has no longer sense being "the outlaw Josey Wales," renounces his name to rebuild his old identity, and recognizes that the war is over. Josey Wales' growing consciousness that a man can escape from the false image that has grown up around him, and that he is not bound by Ringo's statement "I don't know what else I could do" (see 22.214.171.124.), is Eastwood's criticism towards a system which has always provided a myth - Schickel talks about a lie - around which everything had to revolve. Wales' choice to renounce his celebrity and his mythic image to "find a satisfying life in a modestly defined ordinariness, even if that requires a change in identity" (Schickel, 1997:335) and a return to the humble life of the tiller of the soil, is for instance something else which could be done.
By putting Eastwood's western persona through such a rigorous journey of divine and human revelation, The Outlaw Josey Wales resolves the dilemma that is the Man with No Name by revealing the man within the myth. In many ways, The Outlaw Josey Wales marks the logical end of Eastwood's western persona - his next two westerns, Pale Rider and Unforgiven, are essentially variations on High Plains Drifter and The Outlaw Josey Wales. (Knapp, 1996:85) 4.2.3. Pale Rider (1985) As the Remake of Shane
With the release of Pale Rider in 1985, Eastwood tried once again to review Western conventions within the classical tradition, this time in a very explicit way, as the movie is a remake of George Stevens' Shane, released in 1953 (see 126.96.36.199.). Shane is for the director not only a source of inspiration - he copies the film's story line and conflict. Instead of being set in a valley, Pale Rider takes place in a canyon; the conflict between a community of homesteaders and a cattle baron is replaced by the conflict between a small group of independent gold miners and a land 187
baron named LaHood, who is using hydraulic strip mining to flush the ore out of the land, an operation which is destroying the whole area. As in Shane, a stranger (apparently a preacher) arrives to help the weak, those who represent the pioneer values rather than those who use progress to exploit the land for self-interest. As a matter of fact, the homesteaders and the independent gold miners' final goal is not to get rich, but to place roots where they have chosen to live, and therefore they are always represented as a community with the desire of establishing a settlement where families and children embodying the real future of civilization could safely be brought up, while land barons are always represented as isolated men, with almost no familial ties, surrounded only by people who are linked to them exclusively by economic interest. Among the small community of gold miners there is a family in particular which gives hospitality to the stranger, and which reminds us of the Starretts, only this time Joey has been replaced by a girl, Megan. Moreover, there are many episodes throughout the movie which refer to Stevens' Shane, such as the love triangle between the Stranger, Hull, and his girlfriend; the fascination of the girl for the Stranger, which turns into love; the scene in which the Stranger and Hull try to break a huge rock recalling the uprooting of the big old stump by Shane and Joe; the hiring of a professional killer by LaHood, and the final shootout between him and the hero. However, if the situation is not that different from what we have found in Shane, the image of the stranger has been constructed in a manner that consciously reverses the movie:
The older picture was uncannily neat and tidy. Stevens wanted to leave no doubt that the Old West was an American Eden. He also wanted to imply what Pale Rider would say more literally, that his eponymous hero was touched by supernatural powers. Blond and pallid in his white buckskins, Alan Ladd sometimes seems to give off a near-angelic glow. Clint, of course, went the other way, toward autumnally lit scruffiness. (Schickel, 1997:405)
If Shane could be considered as a guardian angel, in Pale Rider the hero throughout the movie he will be simply called â€œthe Preacherâ€? - is an older and kinder version of the Man with No Name, and shares many features with the Stranger in High Plains Drifter: first of all, his basic costume - a frock coat - leads the audience to identify him with the drifter; secondly, if the Stranger came to Lago to avenge the murder of the marshal, the lonesome rider seems to have some unfinished business with someone who is helping the cattle baron, more precisely with Marshall Stockburn, whom has been hired by LaHood to ridden the canyon of the "tin pans," as the independent miners are called in the movie; thirdly, he is a stranger too, nobody knows where he comes from, and he doesn't like to talk about his past, even if from the violent way he defends Hull Barrett at the beginning of the movie, everyone suspects he is a gunfighter (Hull's girlfriend says, "Who but a gunfighter could do such a thing?"); finally, he is introduced like a supernatural being or an emissary from a higher plane, descending from the mountains and in the end returning from where he came, even if rather than leave his identity an enigma as he did with the Stranger, Eastwood sets him forth clearly as a representative of the Lord's wrath. As a matter of fact, when he rides into the miners' camp for the first time, Megan is reading from Revelation (chapter six, verses five through eight) the following passage describing the fourth horseman of the apocalypse, an archangel (Knapp, 1996:120):
And when he opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth beast say come and see and I looked, and behold, a pale horse, and his name that sat on him was Death, and Hell followed with him. The ghostly presence of the lonesome rider is also highlighted by his ability to appear and disappear at will, by the scars on his back which make us think that if the man is alive after having been shot six times it is a miracle, by Stockburn's reaction when LaHood describes to him the stranger, as he says that the Preacher reminds him of someone, but that
he is sure the man he has in mind is dead, and therefore couldn't possibly be him, and by the voice from the past we hear calling him. Besides these peculiar features which make the image of the stranger so mysterious and so superhuman, what is interesting in Pale Rider is the complexity of the stranger's identity, on the one hand an avenger, on the other hand a preacher. As a matter of fact, the first image we have of him is of a violent man defending the weak Hull from LaHood's men; then when he takes his shirt off, we see a number of scars caused by bullet wounds on his back, as a demonstration of a violent past; however, when he presents himself to Hull's family - Sarah and her daughter, Megan - and to the rest of the community he wears a clerical collar instead of a gun. His actions remain ambiguous, since while he tries to instil faith in the gold miners and to unite them against the common foe, he also defends them from the attacks of LaHood, answering threat with threat, and violence with violence. Then, when he realizes that Stockburn and his deputies are in town to defend the land baron's interests, and that they have killed one of the gold miners, he goes into an office and retrieves a safety deposit box containing his pistols, unfastens his collar and lets it fall into the box, wears his guns and finally makes justice. From this scene we might think that the Preacher, like Shane, was probably a former gunfighter as everyone suspected, but also that he might have tried to change his life before his "dark" skills were requested once more to defend civilization from savagery, or from "progress" as LaHood means it, that is a progress made of disregard for ecological concerns, corruption, self-interest, and pursued with the law of the gun. Unlike the ending of High Plains Drifter, which does not reveal the identity of the Stranger, in Pale Rider the final shootout with Marshall Stockburn confirms our suspicion about the Preacher's past: we already know from his scars that he has been shot repeatedly in the back by someone, and the fact that he shoots Stockburn exactly in the same places he has been shot, leaves no doubt about the marshal's identity and about what happened. Moreover, unlike the Stranger who never answers 190
questions about his identity and takes his revenge without revealing who he is to his antagonists, distancing from Western convention according to which the duellists perfectly know each other and respect the rules of the game, the Preacher wants to be sure in the final face-off that the marshal has no doubt about whom he is confronting. However, if in High Plains Drifter distances and darkness made the stranger unrecognizable, Pale Rider seems to rely on the opposite device, as the distance which is usually maintained in classic Westerns and which renders the portrayal of violence so unrealistic is radically shortened:
Instead of being a block apart when they draw, they are feet, then inches, apart. And by rubbing our noses into the squalor and chaos of violent death, the filmmaking here brilliantly reverses classicism's more abstract take on the subject. (Schickel, 1997:406) However, as it resulted from the analysis of the character, there is no radical change from the Stranger to the Preacher, and the latter is only, as Knapps puts it, "a kinder and more pantheistic archangel than the Stranger in High Plains Drifter" (Knapp, 1996:121). The Preacher remains thus an avenger, even if Eastwood makes much more clear his dual personality juxtaposing the symbols of the clerical collar and of the guns, replacing one with the others, while the Stranger was wearing his pistols from the beginning of the movie. He arrives in the canyon to answer Megan's prayer to help them, while the Stranger was called into Lago by the dying marshal's curse to punish the whole town. We might say that in this movie Eastwood has somewhat softened his hero - probably as a direct consequence of the continuous references to Shane - but has not retraced his steps, as the Preacher remains in a sense a disillusioned figure who accomplishes his mission without hoping in a radical change of the world. As a matter of fact, if on the one hand he saves the representatives of civilization from the impending danger, Eastwood shows his doubts about what kind of civilization he has saved, and if it was worth it. In my opinion, the director expresses his point of view in dealing with the relationship between the Preacher and 191
the community, and then with the one between the Preacher and Hull: first of all, when the Preacher seems to have left the miners' camp after having convinced them to struggle for their rights, we realize that it was his presence which held them together, and that without him they do not feel strong enough to defy LaHood; moreover, when the Preacher decides to face Stockburn and his deputies, they show their meanness and selfishness by asking him if he is going to face them alone; secondly, Hull, unlike Joe in Shane, participates in the final shootout, killing LaHood and saving in this way the Preacher, who had not realized that the man was aiming at him. Therefore, even if on the one hand the hero accomplishes his mission as always and makes good prevail over evil, on the other hand he questions the nature of the "good" he worked for and realizes that he failed in more than one thing, as he had not been able to create a real community, but only a community which in the future could be overwhelmed by self-interest and wickedness as the townspeople in Lago, and he had not been able to prevent Hull from the exercise of violence and therefore from the expression of his primitive impulses, which make the presence of the hero, who should have taken this burden over his shoulders, almost meaningless.
4.2.4. The Hero as Victim of His Own Past: Unforgiven (1992)
Unforgiven, released in 1992 and up to now the last of Eastwood's Westerns, took part in the nineties' revival of the genre, and followed of course not only the revisionist stance characterizing those years (represented by movies like Dances with Wolves and Dead Man, which I have analyzed in 3.2.7.), but also the director's will to challenge Western convention and to meditate on the hero as a man, and not as a mythic figure. Unforgiven subverts all expectations about Western types and situations: prostitutes turn out not to be golden-hearted, but angry and vengeful, as they decide to place a heavy price on the head of the cowboys who disfigured one of them; the town marshal ("Little Bill" 192
Daggett) turns out to be an ugly sadist who, unlike the reassuring peacekeeper of Western lore, is not the source of his community's stability, but of its chaos; the celebrity gunfighter ("English Bob"), before whose reputation all are supposed to tremble, is revealed to be an empty blowhard, and the seemingly psychotic adolescent (the "Schofield Kid"), who aspires a similar fame, turns to mush when he actually kills someone. The movie seems dominated by a confusion of roles, since, as Eastwood said, "...the good guys aren't all good and the bad guys aren't all bad... Everyone has their flaws and everyone has their rationale and a justification for what they do" (quoted in Schickel, 1997:456). The character embodying most evidently this confusion is William Munny, the hero of the movie who, lured out of retirement to right a wrong, does not find moral satisfaction in the act, but despair, rage and something very close to madness. As in The Outlaw Josey Wales, Eastwood leads his character through a series of metamorphoses, but in the end the result is for Munny the opposite of the one Wales reaches. At the beginning of the movie, Munny is struggling in the mud to divide the pigs with fever from the healthy ones, and when the Kid arrives at his farm bringing the older man word of a bounty being offered in the town of Big Whiskey, the boy tells him that he doesn't really look like a cold-blooded assassin as his fame has it. Further on we discover that Munny went through his first metamorphosis when he was cured from his "wickedness" by his dead wife, and that since then he has always been faithful to her will. Since he tries to convince himself that he has really changed, and since he is haunted by the inadmissible desire to return to his past life, Munny's refrain throughout the movie is "I ain't like that no more," not only meaning that he has lost his competence as a gunfighter - he is not even able to ride his horse, and he no longer has a good shot with the rifle - but above all referring to his ability to make a distinction between different motivations, and therefore to decide when his violent skills are appropriate or not: for instance, his decision to participate in the hunt of the two cowboys depends exclusively on the 193
difficult economic condition in which he and his children lie, and not on other reasons, even if the end does not justify the means, as Eastwood will point out. Munny's continuous repetition of the sentence is an expression of his inner conflict, the conflict between the repressed, instinctive impulses of “a man of notoriously vicious and intemperate disposition” and the demands of his “transformed” self. He is caught between the two distinct men he is: on the one hand, his past identity of drunken and near-psychotic killer, a parody of the Western clichés of badness; on the other hand, the pig farmer redeemed by his wife, a parody of the Western clichés of goodness. Munny's inner conflict is also symbolically represented by the juxtaposition of the two worlds he belongs to, that is the quiet world of his farm, where he lives in peace, although poorly, with his family, and the corrupted world of Big Whiskey, where he will partake of the dominant violence and selfinterest. This conflict is overcome in the movie step by step, as Eastwood begins displaying his familiar persona after Munny recovers from fever, and then he definitively changes after being informed that his best friend Ned Logan - who had renounced to the job after the first killing - has been captured and tortured to death by the town marshal. In the first case, fever burns away Munny's confusion, and he emerges from it reborn: he is reborn as a gunfighter, as his killing skills are returned to him, and his piety is stripped away; he is reborn as a man who accepted the fact that redemption cannot be found in a state of passive goodness, but in a continuous struggle fallen man cannot escape; he is also reborn as a modern man, "cursed with guilty self-consciousness, haunted by the knowledge that all actions carry with them the threat of terrible, unintended consequences" (Schickel, 1997:457). In the second case, he undergoes a second metamorphosis, and, obsessed by the desire for revenge, returns to the violent killer he once was: he takes a swig of whiskey and transforms himself into a merciless incarnation of the Man with No Name.
Like the metamorphoses experienced by Josey Wales led him to rediscover his true self, the process of transformation suffered by Munny leads to the same result. However, there is a substantial difference between the two cases because, although Munny finds his subjugated true identity as Josey did, the two characters represent opposite poles: on the one hand, Josey was in origin a farmer who let himself be transformed by circumstances into an outlaw, but who in the end became again a man of peace; on the other hand, Will was in origin an assassin who once killed women and children; then with the help of his wife he became a peaceful farmer, but circumstances led him to kill again. Therefore, with Unforgiven Eastwood reverses the redemptive progress of The Outlaw Josey Wales by having Munny lose his faith and sobriety and return to his former self. And, even if at the end of the movie Munny returns to a peaceful life with his children, and we are informed that he "will prosper in dry goods in San Francisco," everyone can say that he has not changed at all from the violent man he once was, and that he hasn't learnt anything from his experiences. However, Munny's failures pushing him towards madness and homicidal fury are the starting point for Eastwood's further reflections on the related issues of violence and heroism, which had already been explored in previous movies, but which in Unforgiven find a mature and more biting critique. As far as the issue of violence is concerned, the movie seems to be pervaded by characters who, for one reason or the other, drift into violence: (...) out of simple greed (to some degree moving almost everyone in this story), out of macho posturing (the Kid), out of misapprehended reality (Munny, since rumor has vastly exaggerated the wrong done the prostitute, providing a convenient rationale for his venality), out of misplaced loyalty (Ned, who is the most innocent, therefore the most tragic, figure in the story), out of oversimplified morality reinforced by psychopathy (Daggett), out of egotism and moral laziness (English Bob, the professional killer). (Schickel, 1997:455) 195
Eastwood's criticism of the characters' violent behavior expresses itself through the continuous demonstration that the exercise of violence in the movie is always caused by the characters' failure to live up to their responsibilities, and therefore is always considered as a synonym of weakness, from the excesses of marshal Little Bill's sadistic violence to the Schofield Kid's final rejection of the violence he has perpetrated. As a matter of fact, if the sheriff's unbridled physical force that turns lawkeeping into abuse depends on his incompetence in delivering the Law we must remember that everything began because of his summary and fatally mistaken dispensing of justice, avoiding a trial and compensating the saloon keeper for his "investment" rather than the prostitute for her cut-up face - the Kid's one act of violence in the whole movie - despite his claims of being a dangerous killer - depends on his desire for fame and for being considered a real man, not just a kid. To make these characters' weakness more evident, Eastwood parallels their failures with other incompetences which at a first glance might be considered comic absurdities, but after a closer analysis they are seen as "serious and disabling deficiencies in the skills on which each character depends for his livelihood" (Thumim, 1993:343-4): Little Bill is known for his diabolical carpentry, and the house he is building with his own hands and which he is so proud of is a demonstration of his incompetence, to the extent that one of his deputies claims that there is not "a straight angle in that whole goddamn porch, or in the whole house," and that "Maybe he's tough but he sure ain't no carpenter"; the Schofield Kid's near blindness allows him to hit only close range targets, damaging of course his career as a gunfighter. However, while Little Bill continues to conceal his deficiencies with the abuse of authority and of violence, the Kid decides that he is through with violence after his first killing, when he confronts the realism of murder by executing the second cowboy they were looking for:
K.: "It don't seem real. How he's dead. How he ain't gonna breathe no more. Never. Or the other one neither. On account of just pullin' a trigger." 196
M.: "It's a hell of a thing, killing a man. You take away everything he's got and everything he's ever gonna have." K.: "Well, I guess they had it comin'." M.: "We've all got it comin', Kid." Then, when the Kid declares that he will never kill again, Munny asks him: "What about the spectacles and the fancy clothes?", that is the reward of violence, the Kid replies, "I'd rather be blind and ragged than dead." This answer is a clear acceptance by the Kid of his limitations and of flawed humanity. As far as Munny is concerned, in him too the exercise of violence is synonym of weakness and incompetence. It will be enough to remember the scene in which he is desperately trying to separate the healthy pigs from the ones with fever, and the conditions of his farm, which make us think about a not very successful farmer; then, his inability to mount his horse and his insecurity in riding it; finally, the fact that he no longer has a good shot. However, his violence lies between the extremes of the two characters previously analyzed, because if on the one hand in the dialogue with the Kid we see him reflecting on his actions and admitting their â€œwickedness,â€? on the other hand, when blinded by whiskey and by the desire for revenge he transforms himself in a coldblooded assassin, a figure very close to Little Bill. However, in the final dialogue with Little Bill whom he is going to kill, we can notice one significant difference between the hero and the sadistic sheriff:
L.B.: "You be William Munny out of Missouri, a killer of women and children." M.: "I've killed everything that walks and crawls, and now I'm here to kill you, Little Bill, for what you done to my friend." (Munny guns down all the deputies and wounds Daggett.) L.B.: "I don't deserve this. I was building a house." M.: "Deserve's got nothing to do with it." L.B.: "I'll see you in Hell, William Munny." M.: "Yeah." (Munny blows Little Bill's head off.)
If Little Bill believes that he can justify his means with his ends, as it has always happened in classic Westerns, on the contrary Munny realizes that violence is not redemptive, no matter one's motivations, but that it is only used as a denial, or even expression, of weakness. The difference between the hero and Little Bill, is that the former has become aware during his self-discovery journey (symbolically, the fever from which he was healed - or resurrected - after three days) that the actual effects of violent acts are destructive not only for the victim, but also for the perpetrator, while Little Bill remains blind to the evidence that violence is brutal and squalid, anything but noble or ennobling. Munny's redemption lies exactly in his self-consciousness that violent actions remain wicked no matter the ends they are carried out for (Grist, 1996:297-301). As a consequence, the recognition of the brutal reality underlying the Western myth leads to question the Western hero's image and his heroism traditionally based on violence, together with their mythical significance. This recognition is given not only by Munny's newacquired awareness of the nature of violence, but also by the juxtaposition in the movie of the realism with which western life is represented and the falsity and the exaggerations with which it has always been portrayed in dime novels and in popular literature in general, or in other words, by the representation of the gap between the event and its recounting, and hence of the formation of the story - and of history. The issue has been quite explicitly dealt with by Eastwood through the characters of English Bob's "biographer," W.W. Beauchamp, and of the would-be gunfighter - or, better, the consumer of Western fictions - the Schofield Kid. The writer/observer Beauchamp (...) represents all those westering hacks whose nineteenth-century dime novels and penny dreadfuls would become the source of most of the western movies' classic tropes. The symbol of everyone's desire to convert the mean realities of the frontier experience into inspiring national myth, he is, quite literally, a man who will print the legend instead of the truth. (Schickel, 1997:456) 198
His interest for English Bob will die away as soon as he discovers that Little Bill's account of the facts is much more appealing and much more accurate than that of the gunfighter. As a matter of fact, the sheriff claims that he is telling him the true story, while English Bob accounts were not reliable. However, we should remember that terms like "accurate" and "reliable" when referred to western stories meant exaggerated and, above all, appealing for the audience. It is evident that, even if on the one hand Little Bill is diminishing the mythic figure of English Bob by telling his own version of the events, on the other hand he is exaggerating or even inventing facts like English Bob before him, and that he is building around him the image of the perfect lawman and invincible gunfighter, only interested in augmenting his fame, not in reporting facts accurately, at least as far as his own image is concerned. The only one who is not interested in advertising his image is Munny who, after defeating Daggett and his deputies, is the man who has proved to have, in the writer's eyes, the largest star quality. As a matter of fact, when Beauchamp asks him how did he know whom to shoot first, Munny sadly but honestly replies, "I was lucky in the order. I've always been lucky when it comes to killin' folks." This is a further demonstration of the fact that, unlike English Bob and Little Bill, Munny is not proud of his condition, of his darkest impulses prevailing and leading him to achieve invincibility when it comes to gunfights and "killin' folks." It is the same attitude he and his friend Ned assume when the Kid asks them confirmation about the stories which circulated about them, as they frequently reiterated in their re-tellings that the protagonists of the legendary events were too drunk to shoot straight half the time, let alone to remember who shot who, and why. As far as the Schofield Kid is concerned, he is the main victim of the falsity of Western fiction. He is a young boy whose fascination for the Old West and its gunfighter heroes leads him to become one of them, or better, to claim falsely to be one of them and to boast of having killed dozens of people in the past - considering that he is not yet twenty. It will be the Kid's acknowledgement of his fear when he confronts real murder 199
and real death which will make him and the audience understand the difference between fiction and reality, between myth and reality, so that "suddenly, carpentry, pig farming or even dealing in dry goods, even though they may not enjoy such spectacular sound, lighting and effects, seem preferable alternatives." (Thumim, 1993:348). He realizes that he is not, and that he doesn't want to become like William Munny, "the killer of women and children," and that death is a serious thing, not so clean and easy as dime novels - and, we can say, classic Westerns - portray. Therefore, the figures of Beauchamp and of the Kid juxtaposed to the figures of the "living legends" of the West, such as English Bob, Little Bill, and William Munny, represent the distance existing between the young generations who know of the West, but do not know it, because they have never experienced it and they have only learnt about it through legends and fiction, and the men who remember the real West because they were there and they have earned their status as "men" by virtue of their survival which has required their competence as gunfighters. Through the preservation and the re-telling of old stories by these men, Eastwood claims that it is their duty to "educate, discipline and protect the younger ones," meaning not only the younger characters in the movie, but also the readers of the future, the audience for the stories, and therefore to tell them the truth about the past (Thumim, 1993:350-351). In
"regeneration-through-violence" on which the American Myth of the Frontier has been based since Colonial times, but a redemption centered exactly on the rejection of this belief and of the myth which has been created around it. The fact that, despite this acknowledgement, Munny cannot change, and therefore cannot avoid to do "what has to be done" even if this statement has no longer meaning for him, is the saddest claim of the movie. Although he is aware that "he could do something else," the Western hero is still "entrapped in the fatal environment" (see 1.2.), and he will have once more to accomplish his mission before disappearing forever - this time, not riding off into the sunset, but into pitch black night. Our last view of him recalls the very beginning of the movie - he is 200
back on his farm, silhouetted as he stands at his wife's grave. Amid his disillusionment, that is his only margin of hope, his chance for redemption: that he is aware of what he has done, and that there is nothing redemptive in it, because redemption cannot be reached through violence, but only through the acknowledgement of one's own sins (Sheehan, 1992:26-27).
4.3. Dirty Harry: the Western Hero in the Urban Context
The Dirty Harry series appeared in the early 1970s, exactly when contemporary film critics had announced the decline of the Western genre, which began to lose its central position in Hollywood's production or, as more recent criticism pointed out, when the wave of revisionism occasioned the release of Westerns which questioned convention and which did not lead to the "death of the Western" as it had been claimed, but only to a much more disillusioned reflection on the genre and on its mythical significance. However, as we have already mentioned in the previous chapter when dealing with the evolution of the genre (see 3.1.3.), the displacement of the Western from its privileged position did not imply the disappearance of the underlying structures of myth and ideology on which it had been based from its origins. New genres took over the Western's mythographic function, and among these there were the urban crime dramas, which found in the readily available wilderness of the streets of the Metropolis infested with crime a contemporary place for the traditional loner to live in. Therefore, series such as Dirty Harry revived the image of the hard-boiled detective depicted by Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler, and usually interpreted in the movies of the 40s by Humphrey Bogart. Richard Schickel, in his biography of Clint Eastwood, suggests:
Think now about Raymond Chandler's famous "Down these mean streets" description of his private eye. Almost every phrase in it applies to Harry Callahan as well as it did to Philip Marlowe: He is "neither tarnished nor afraid... He is a relatively poor man or he would not be a detective at all. He is a common man or he could not go among common people. He has a sense of character or he would not know his job. He will take no man's money dishonestly and no man's insolence without due and dispassionate revenge. He is a lonely man..." (Schickel, 1997:264) Moreover, Slotkin suggests, 202
the heroes in these films are clearly the heirs of the hard-boiled detective, the gunfighter, and the Indianhater. (...) their urban gunslingers are steely-eyed, cynical, fast on the draw, and likely to resolve the plot with a climactic gunfight. (Slotkin, 1993:634) The Western hero maintains thus the unique features and ambiguities which have characterized him since the appearance of Daniel Boone, but he will have to deal with the post-Frontier setting into which he has been transferred, where he will have not only to face the forces of darkness represented by more or less dangerous criminals, but also the flaws of the legal system he belongs to which, instead of protecting honest citizens and guaranteeing a safe environment, favours corruption and injustice. It is significant that Dirty Harry, a cycle of five movies which was produced between 1971 and 1988, appeared after Clint Eastwood had already interpreted leading roles as Western hero both in Sergio Leone's "spaghetti Westerns" and in Hollywood's traditional Westerns, and after his screen persona as The Man with No Name had been well established. The actor's interpretation of Inspector Harry Callahan in the series had in fact a double result: on the one hand, the traditional mythic image of the Western hero with which Eastwood was identified by the audience was more easily transferred from the western setting to the urban setting, from the "Frontier" to the "Metropolis"; on the other hand, the same image suffered a process of demystification, as "the indestructible, Christ-like Man with No Name resurfaced as Dirty Harry, a mortal man beset by social disarray, bureaucratic interference, and personal turmoil" (Knapp, 1996:37). As A Fistful of Dollars had established Eastwood's mythic persona, Dirty Harry established his modern persona, his embodiment of a modern Western hero/antihero who with his personal code of honor is willing to fight both against criminals' savagery and civilization's corruption. The Eastwoodian hero has often been associated with the Bogartian hero/antihero: he doggedly pursues the truth, even if it means the downfall of his client, love interest, best friend, or, in Callahan's case, 203
of the system he belongs to; if he has to resort to violence to survive or break the case he will, even if it means to degenerate into a primitive state like the criminals he is pursuing (Knapp, 1996:43). However, the audience is led to sympathize with the hero, because from the context he seems to be the only one who can replace the role of the inefficient legal system and to ensure the progress of civilization, and the attempted demystification of his image is never complete. As we shall see from the analysis of the series' episodes, he is always willing to put at the society's disposal his superhuman qualities and to play his heroic role, no matter how anachronistic and quixotic it might be considered: Callahan refuses to stand aside and watch America deteriorate into chaos, and with his own forces he will try to restore order to society and "to eliminate the scum from San Francisco," both as far as crime and police corruption are concerned.
4.3.1. Callahan's Code of Frontier Justice in Dirty Harry (1971)
Throughout the first episode of the Dirty Harry series, directed by Don Siegel and released in 1971, we are given different explanations of the reason why they call Inspector Harry Callahan "Dirty Harry": his friend Inspector DeGeorgio says, "One thing about Harry. He plays no favorites, and hates everybody," not to mention his rude ways of dealing with people; Harry, after preventing an attempt of suicide, has a chance to explain his nickname to his mate Gonzales, "Now you know because they call me 'Dirty Harry'... every dirty job that comes along..."; and his mate Chico Gonzales believes they call Harry that way because the Department always assigns him the most difficult cases. The most significant reason why he has been given the nickname is his "policy," which is unique in the San Francisco Police Department. As a matter of fact, from the very first scenes of the episode - when he prevents a bank robbery - we immediately understand that Harry Callahan is no common man: on the one hand, we learn that he is willing to cheat and to use illegal means to defeat criminality, replacing civic law with his own code 204
of frontier justice; on the other hand, his attitude leads him to disobey his superiors, and to criticize bureaucracy and corruption which make the police department so useless. Inspector Harry Callahan's "code of frontier justice" is repetitively made plain throughout the movie: his use of excessive violence in dealing with criminals, his illegal means for obtaining evidence, his drawing the gun too easily are the most known features of the San Francisco cop, and also the most criticized by his colleagues and by the society as a whole, as an excessive violent behavior should be associated with criminals, not with members of the police department. But Harry has his own policy to break the cases, and he considers his means fully justified by his ends, a policy identifying him with the traditional Western heroes of the past, of whom he is a modern representative. As a matter of fact, Harry defends society using the same violent means criminals use to disrupt it: he is part of the legal system working to preserve the civilized world, but he is aware of its limitations, because his "dark" knowledge leads him to think that violence must be answered with violence if society doesn't want the dark forces of evil to prevail; we will notice therefore almost no difference between the means used by criminals and the means used by Harry against criminals, to the extent that "hunter and prey are virtually doubles, with only the thinnest margin of sanity separating them" (Schickel, 1997:261). It is significant that the headline of one of the posters which was rejected at the time of the release reads: "Dirty Harry and the Homicidal Maniac. Harry's the one with the Badge" (Schickel, 1997:272). One of the best examples of Harry's use of unorthodox means, which at the same time highlights his possession of "dark" knowledge, is the sequence repeated at the beginning and at the end of the movie, respectively when he disrupts a bank robbery by four black men, and when he captures Scorpio, the psychopathic serial killer who was threatening San Francisco. In both cases, at the end of the chase, when he intimidates the criminals pointing his .44 Magnum at them, Harry says:
"Ah, Ah. I know what you're thinking. Did he fire six shots or only five? Well, to tell you the truth, in all this excitement, I've kinda lost track myself. But being that this is a .44 Magnum, the most powerful handgun in the world, and would blow your head clean off, you gotta ask yourself one question: 'Do I feel lucky?' Well, do you punk?" After saying this, Harry shoots at the criminals, but while in the first case there is no bullet left, in the second case he finally kills Scorpio. On the one hand, if from a superficial reading of these sequences we might be led to think that Harry is completely "gun-crazy" (see 3.2.3.) as his cruelty and cold-blood make him ready to kill men or to be killed as if it were a game depending on how lucky they are, or, better, on how much they dare, on the other hand, we understand that he is not at all out of his mind, because even if he lets us and the criminals believe that there is the possibility that he has lost control of the situation, he has not, and in both cases he is perfectly aware of how many shots he did fire, and if he is going to kill the man or not. He is a professional, and has a perfect control of himself and of his weapon. Moreover, he is "the man who knows Indians," as he prevents the criminals' moves, and he seems to know in advance what they are planning to do. If in the case of the bank robbery he knew that the thief would have never accepted to risk his life, when he deals with Scorpio and understands that he is not only a killer, but also a psychopath: his instinct tells him that he will act irrationally and will try to kill him even with a .44 Magnum pointed at his face, and therefore shoots first. There is another scene in the movie which deals with Harry's "abuse of authority," precisely when he discovers where Scorpio lives at the San Francisco Kezar Stadium. The director thought that â€œthe abandoned stadium would be the perfect lair for [the] killer, an empty, floodlit football field the perfect arena for a violent confrontation between detective and preyâ€? (Schickel, 1997:259). As a matter of fact, after a short chase, Harry seizes the killer and to make him confess the place where he buried alive a young girl before her oxygen supply runs out, he tortures him, hurting the wounded leg of the criminal. Harry's 206
point of view is clear from the following discussion between the cop, the district attorney, and Judge Bannerman, which is the most significant dialogue of the movie because it criticizes both the legal system and Harry's policy: if it cannot be denied that the first has its flaws and therefore does not offer the population the necessary protection, the latter doesn't offer a better solution, as Harry acted illegally and Scorpio can't be incriminated for lack of evidence:
D.A.: "I've just been looking over your arrest report. A very unusual piece of police work. Really amazing!" H.: "Well, I had some luck!" D.A.: "You're lucky I'm not indenting you for assault with intent to commit murder!!!!" H.: "What???" D.A.: "Where the hell does it say you have got the right to kick down doors, torture suspects, deny medical attention and legal counsel? Where have you been? (...) I mean, you must have heard of the Fourth Amendment. What I'm saying is the man had rights!" H.: "Well, I'm all broken up about that man's damned rights!" D.A.: "You should be. I got news for you, Callahan. As soon as he is well enough to leave the hospital, he walks!" H.: "What are you talking about?" D.A.: "He's free!!!!" H.: "Mean you're letting him go?" D.A.: "We have to. We can't trial." H.: "And why is that?" D.A.: "Because I'm not wasting a half a million dollars of the taxpayers' money on a trial we can't possibly win! The problem is we don't have any evidence." H.: "Evidence? What the hell do you call that?" (pointing at the hunting rifle he found in Scorpio's quarters) D.A.: "I call it nothing. Zero!" H.: "Are you trying to tell me ballistics cannot match the bullet up with this rifle?" D.A.: "It does not matter what ballistics can do. This rifle might make a nice souvenir, but it's inadmissible as evidence." H.: "And who says that?" D.A.: "It's the Law!!!!!!" H.: "Well, then the Law is crazy!!!" (now talking with Judge Bannerman) 207
J.B.: "Well, in my opinion the search of the suspect's quarters was illegal. Evidence obtained there such as the hunting rifle, for instance, is inadmissible in Court. You should have got a search warrant. I'm sorry, but it's that simple!" H.: "A warrant! But there was a girl dying!" D.A.: "She was in fact dead, according to the medical report." H.: "But I didn't know that!" J.B.: "The Court would have to recognize the police officer's legitimate concern for the girl's life, but there is no way they can possibly condone police torture. All evidence concerning the girl, the suspect's confession, all physical evidence would have to be excluded. (...) The suspect's rights were violated..." H.: "And Ann Mary Dicken? What about her rights??? (...) who speaks for her?" D.A.: "The District Attorney's Office, if you'll let us." It is clear that for Harry that justice and the Law Judge Bannerman is talking about have nothing to share, and it is equally clear that he is going once again to take the law into his hands to resolve the case. However, despite both Callahan's violent policy and the inefficiency of the legal system are strongly criticized throughout the movie, the audience is given no third choice, and between the two opposite poles of violence and efficiency/bureaucracy and inefficiency is led to justify the necessity of the first combination, if not to accept it. Moreover, the movie also provides another kind of justification for Harry's violent means, assimilating him with the image of the Indian-hater, and therefore of the avenger: years before his wife was killed in an accident caused by a criminal, and Harry's violence might be considered a safety valve for his rage. As we have seen, the movie offers a number of aspects which make the audience justify Harry's behavior, probably because, like Ringo in Stagecoach â€œhe (together with the audience) does not know what else he can doâ€? (see 188.8.131.52.). However, through the other characters' reactions, it also offers cues of reflection on Harry's excesses. Therefore, on the one hand we can find sequences criticizing the world of bureaucratic corruption and ineffectiveness, like the one when Callahan 208
is summoned to the mayor's office to answer questions about the stilldeveloping Scorpio case:
M.: "All right, let's have it." H.: "Have what?" M.: "Your report, what have you been doing?" H.: "Oh, well, for the past three-quarters of an hour I've been sitting on my ass in your outer office, waiting on you." On the other hand, there are other sequences in which police officers strongly criticize Harry's ways, for instance when they are talking about the rifle .48 Magnum which Harry is going to use for a rooftop ambush,
"This thing would stop an elephant. But he's no elephant, Harry, he is no animal of any kind. Remember that." or when his superior gives him instructions before going to hand in the ransom to Scorpio, and when he sees him concealing a knife under the trousers says,
"Nothing queer, nothing fancy... (...) It's disgusting that a police officer should now use a weapon like that." However, it is the aspects for which he is most criticized which finally allow him to get rid of Scorpio and to make the town safe: "Faced with an amoral universe, Harry uses immoral means to bring about a moral end. His tenacity is a substitute for traditional heroism; his perseverance, his salvation and redemption" (Knapp, 1996:45). At the end of the movie, Inspector Callahan will repeat a gesture which recalls the ending of a traditional Western movie, High Noon, in which the marshal Will Kane, after fighting alone against his antagonists for his own benefit and for the benefit of the whole community, drops his badge in the dust and rides away from the town (see 184.108.40.206.). In the same way, Callahan throws his badge in the river, probably with a higher degree of self-consciousness and disillusionment than his ancestor that he is the civilization's scapegoat, aware that after accomplishing his mission 209
he has to "leave" a world where he is not considered a hero, but a creature from the past who only demands - but never obtains, despite his successes - that some sort of morality prevails, even if arbitrary and primitive.
4.3.2. Dirty Harry and Lynch Law: Magnum Force (1973)
Although Clint Eastwood hadn't planned on doing a sequel to Dirty Harry, Magnum Force, directed by Ted Post and released in 1973, takes up exactly where the first episode of the series left off. The most striking feature of the movie is that Harry is still on the force, despite having thrown his badge away in the first film, and that the fact has no explanation, to the extent that when asked about it, Eastwood simply grinned and said: "Maybe there was a bit of elastic attached to the badge. It sprang right back into his hand after the movie finished.â€? The movie begins with a close-up on the well-known .44 Magnum symbolically firing at the camera, and therefore at the audience. As a matter of fact, since after the release of the first movie Eastwood's character had been accused of fascism, Magnum Force was an attempt to clarify some aspects of the San Francisco cop which had been considered extremist. This explains the plot of the movie, according to which Dirty Harry must deal with a suborganization of vigilantes within the police force. They persecute criminals who have not been rightly punished by the law, and decide to enforce justice, the kind of justice we would think Inspector Callahan would approve of with a smile. But as the plot develops, we realize that we have misjudged Harry - and so have the killers. As a matter of fact, if the vigilantes' real enemy is the system, which does not work as it should, unfortunately for them the system is what Harry is sworn to protect, as he himself claims to Lieutenant Briggs:
H.: "I hate the goddamn system! But until someone comes along with some changes that make sense, I'll stick to it." 210
L.B.: "You're about to become extinct." This exchange between Harry and Lieutenant Briggs, who is at the head of the Police Department and at the same time at the head of the "death squad," makes us understand what kind of "endangered species" Harry belongs to: he is without a doubt a misanthrope, but he is also a public servant who believes in the law enough to risk his life to preserve it, which is exactly the contrary the audience might have understood from his dropping the badge at the end of Dirty Harry. If we have a closer look at the movie, we will realize that it inverts many aspects which in the previous movie had led to a misunderstanding of the character's policy: Inspector Callahan cannot be considered a common police officer for his abuses of violence and authority, but he cannot either be considered a criminal, an enemy of civilization, even if his means might be defined primitive and savage. Like all American heroes, he stands on the edge between savagery and civilization, but it is always the latter he is sworn to defend. The initial scene of the movie is about the release of a powerful San Francisco criminal, who has not been convicted for complicity in murder because of lack of admissible evidence. A wild mob-like demonstration is waiting for him outside the Courts, and, referring to the previous episode of the series in which Scorpio had been released because the evidence collected by Callahan was inadmissible in Court, a demonstrator shouts that "this has happened before and it will probably happen again!" A few minutes later, the criminal gets killed by someone who has decided to enforce personal justice. And, contrary to what we might think, Callahan is in charge of the case. Thanks to the dialogues, we are led by the hand throughout the movie to understand the difference between "justice" as Callahan means it and "justice" as the vigilantes mean it. Why should the audience consider Harry the hero of the movie and the vigilantes criminals, if in the end they want the same thing? Why for vigilantes does the end not justify the means while for Harry it does? The dialogue between Harry and the vigilantes who asked him to join the team, and the one between Harry and Briggs towards the end of the 211
movie are of particular interest if we want to give an answer to the questions above. As a matter of fact, in both occasions Harry clarifies his position regarding justice and the system:
V.: "Do you have any ideas of how hard is to prosecute a cop?" H.: "You heroes have killed a dozen people last week. What are you going to do next week?" V.: "Kill a dozen more." H.: "What you guys are all about being heroes?" V.: "All our heroes are dead with the first generation. Let's learn to fight. We are simply ridding society of killers who would be caught and sentenced anyway if our Courts worked properly. We began with the criminals that the people know, so that our actions will be understood. It's not just a question of whether or not to use violence, there simply is no other way, Inspector... You should understand that. Are you with us or are you against us?" H.: "I'm afraid you've misjudged me." ******** L.B.: "A hundred years ago in this city people did the same thing. History justified the vigilantes. We are no different... Anyone who threatens the security of the people will be executed. Evil for evil, Harry. Retribution." H.: "That's just fine. How does murder fit in? If the police start becoming their own executioners, where is it going to end, ah, Briggs? If you start executing people for jaywalking, then executing people for traffic violations, then you'll end executing your neighbour 'cause his dog pissed on your lawn (...)" L.B.: "You had a choice to join the team, but you'd rather stick to the system." H.: "I hate the goddamn system! But until someone comes along with some changes that make sense, I'll stick with it!" L.B.: "You're about to become extinct." In both cases there is a clear reference to the violent days of the Frontier past, when the lack of authorities which could enforce the law in the most remote areas of the vast new settled territory led the citizens to maintain order in the settlements through the enforcement of lynch law, the same method used by Western heroes to defeat their antagonists and the enemies of society. However, once civilization and a legal system were 212
established, the heroes and the representatives of lynch law were due to disappear, because they would have been considered criminals and their means savage and illegal. This is what happens in Magnum Force. Although the means used by the group of vigilantes and by Harry seem to be the same, although they both hate the system and strive for a better solution, there is a great difference between the two kind of heroes: not to stick to the system means to reject the achievements of civilization and to go back in time degenerating into a permanent savage state; to stick to the system means to defend civilization, if necessary temporarily degenerating into a savage condition. In this case, the hero must be ready to work as a scapegoat, whose primitive means are necessary to the protection of society, not as the rule to its defence, but only as a temporary solution. The responsibility of these acts must therefore fall on an anachronistic individual, a "dinosaur" or a â€œhero,â€? bound to disappear as soon as civilization requires it.
4.3.3. Dirty Harry as a Necessary But Uncomfortable Myth: The Enforcer (1976), Sudden Impact (1983), and The Dead Pool (1988)
Although the first two episodes of the Dirty Harry series are the most significant as far as the analysis of the image of the hero/antihero is concerned, the ones which followed also offer some interesting points of reflection and focus on the contradictory aspects of Inspector Callahan, an individual belonging to institutions which no longer live up to their responsibilities, perpetually at war, and trying to figure out how far one can go in fulfilling one's duties without betraying them in the process, an individual whose presence is considered once again both anachronistic and essential to the survival of society, and who shows that he is a terribly honest character, who does accept neither crime nor political intrigue. In The Enforcer, directed by James Fargo and released in 1976, Dirty Harry's excessive use of force on the one hand, and the inefficiency of the police and the corruption of the authorities on the other are 213
emphasized more than ever. When Harry completely destroys a shop and a police car to prevent a robbery and saves the people held hostages, he is accused by the Chief of the Police Department of having risked the hostages' life and having provoked a lot of damages, which the police will have to pay for:
C.P.: "The department is no longer prepared to tolerate this little Wild West Show of yours. [...] Excessive use of force..." Because of his wild exhibition, he is temporarily transferred from Homicide to Personnel section, where he is informed that "it is the Mayor's intention that this department be brought more into line with the mainstream of the twentieth-century thought," demystifying the sacred images of the past and their primitive methods. However, as soon as Homicide has to deal with a very difficult case, Inspector Callahan is required back to the section: this time he will have to deal with a group of self-proclaimed revolutionaries threatening the city, but his work will be hindered by his superiors, who want to pin the threat on black militants. Harry immediately realizes that there is something wrong and that the police have arrested innocent people only to demonstrate to the population the efficiency of the Department, showing off him and his young and inexperienced colleague Kate Moore as courageous representatives of the modern police force (we have been previously informed that the introduction of women in sections such as Homicide belonged to the Mayor's intentions to modernize the department). The superficiality of his superiors and their interest in the public image rather than in their duty is what Harry cannot tolerate and the reason why he "hates the goddamned system," to the extent that he renounces to his badge, like he had done in Dirty Harry (see 4.3.1.), and that he will try to solve the case on his own, with every tactic at his disposal. The most interesting aspect of the movie from this moment is that we see Inspector Callahan literally on the edge between two worlds: on the one hand, his partner Moore, who admires Harryâ€™s perseverance and determination to defend society, will decide to provide him with inside 214
help; on the other hand, his connections on the street will give him the information he needs to find the criminals. Once again, it is rather clear how the hero’s blending of traits - in other words, his standing between civilization and savagery - is an essential condition for an effective defence of society, as in the end he will be able to defeat “savagery,” rescuing the Mayor and the whole town from the threat of the revolutionaries. Sudden Impact, the fourth episode of the series which was directed by Clint Eastwood himself and was released in 1983, is based on a classic revenge plot: a woman has taken justice into her own hands to avenge her and her sister being raped by a group of people years before. Inspector Callahan works at the case and discovers the identity of the girl, but in the end does not arrest her: when she asks him if there was justice when the aggressors were not condemned for the fact, he feels responsible for the inefficiency of the legal system he belongs to, and decides to do something to make up for the wrong by letting her go. Because of the similarity of the two characters, who seem to share the same principle of justice, the woman-avenger interpreted by Sondra Locke has been given the nickname of “Dirty Harriet” (Schickel, 1997:385). As a matter of fact, she is the only one who can understand Dirty Harry's true nature, when she asks him, "Are you a police officer or public enemy number one?", and he answers, "Both, for someone." However, besides the plot, there are other interesting aspects worth mentioning, which refer once more to the distance existing between Harry's "true justice" and the system's "corrupted justice." During the classic discussion between the Chief of the Department and Harry, after his umpteenth case of abuse of authority, our hero is accused of being a "dinosaur" using unorthodox methods, even if they lead to the solution of many cases; however, his successes are paralleled with a bad public image of the Department, and they cost to the Police Force much more than the failures of Harry's colleagues. It is in this episode that I think Inspector Callahan explicitly claims for the first time his feelings and his preoccupation about the society being destroyed by corruption, 215
apathy, and bureaucracy, and laments that he can't do anything to change things, only his duty, with any means. As a matter of fact, he doesn't let himself be corrupted by what surrounds him, but on the contrary continues to do his duty with perseverance and determination, to the extent that a powerful boss he is chasing claims:
"You know, men, like wine, should grow finer, more civilized. They should mellow, become more worldly. But not Callahan. Callahan is the one constant in an ever-changing universe." The demonstration of the truthfulness of this statement can be found rightly at the beginning of Sudden Impact, when Harry, trying to prevent a robbery, threatens the criminals and tells them that if they do not put their guns down, they will have to deal with â€œSmith, Wesson, & himself,â€? a statement which links his image to the image of the Western heroes of the past. Despite the attempts made by society, authorities, and colleagues to demystify Dirty Harry's myth, in the last episode of the series, The Dead Pool, directed by Buddy Van Horn and released in 1988, our hero appears stronger and more violent than ever. It is as if the scene in Sudden Impact when a gang of criminals had thrown him into the water and he had miraculously survived, rising again from the water, (symbolically the death and resurrection of the hero) had confirmed Harry's superhuman qualities and his immortality. However, in The Dead Pool, if on the one hand it seems that Harry's myth has been finally accepted by the public opinion - because of the arrest of one of the biggest crime bosses in San Francisco Harry has found himself in the unlikely position of public hero - on the other hand, the episode is also a reflection on the fact that his image is being exploited by the Police Force to augment its prestige, which might be a reference to the frequent abuses of the mythic image of the Western hero by American leadership to support or justify its policy. The most significant scene of the whole episode is at the end of the movie, when Harry, deprived of his .44 Magnum, symbolically uses 216
an harpoon gun to kill the psychopath who is threatening the life of famous people. According to what we have said before, this scene could be interpreted as a provocation to the system which to maintain its image and to preserve its hands clean prefers not to fulfill its responsibilities, while on the contrary Harry cares more about the ends than about the means; at the same time it could be a reference to the mythic image of the hero, focusing on his "dark" side which make him a scapegoat for the whole society's "dark" desires for revenge and "primitive" justice against the threatening “savage enemies.” But the use of the harpoon gun make us think about a disillusioned hero who realizes that his presence and his actions will be of no use for the redemption of society who has not only to defend itself from the forces of evil, but also from the evil lying within itself, from its own corruption and its own achievements. Therefore, Inspector Callahan experiences the same disillusion Eastwood’s Western heroes experience, even if, while in the mythic landscape of the West there are sometimes “scraps of hope” for a better future, the Dirty Harry series provides a much more pessimistic vision, together with the hero’s sense of impotence in dealing with the forces of evil.
♦♦ CONCLUSION ♦♦
CONCLUSION As I mentioned in the introduction, the main aim of my thesis was to understand and demonstrate the significance of the Western hero/antihero in American culture, following him in his adventures from his literary origins to his “death” in the Hollywood revisionist movies. Without a doubt, my analysis is far from being complete, since the topic is so complex and vast that I had to overlook many interesting aspects linked to the image of the American hero. As a matter of fact, focusing on the eighteenth- and nineteenth-century literary production and on the twentieth-century movie production - of which I had necessarily to choose the most significant stages - I did not consider, for instance, the social and political implications which influenced and at the same time were influenced by the Myth of the Frontier and its heroic characters throughout these centuries. However, I think that the understanding of the image of the Western hero/antihero is an interesting starting point for future investigation on many aspects of American culture, as the one above mentioned. It is an interesting starting point because I believe it would be of no use to study the cultural and political significance of the American myth and the way in which mythic formulations affect and reflect political beliefs and practices without knowing where this myth comes from and why it plays such a central role in America. As I have tried to highlight when dealing with the concept of Frontier and its interpretations in the first chapter, and further on when focusing on the origins of American literary mythology at the beginning of the second chapter, “Myth can only have a historical foundation,” although its historical sources may be concealed. Even the rules of the Cowboy and Indian game that children play have such origins, although they appear immemorial and changeless. (...) If appreciated historically, the rules of Cowboys and Indians cease to function as rules and appear as a set of forms generated by a particular set of cultural producers in a peculiar historical moment - and as continually modified from period to period by changing ideological pressures. (Slotkin, 1985:20)
The demonstration that the image of the Western hero/antihero has historical origins is given by the maintenance of his double identity heroic and antiheroic - from the accounts of Daniel Boone’s life down to present times. The unique character of the American hero derives from the Frontier experience which shaped American national identity: the Western hero/antihero embodies in his duality the definition of the Frontier as the dividing line between civilization and savagery, where aspects of the two poles coexist. However, despite the acknowledgement of the historical origins of the Myth of the Frontier and its heroes, and despite the attempts to separate “fact” from “legend,” history and myth have remained in the United States so entangled that a complete demystification of the traditional heroic character has not yet been achieved. The Hollywood movies I analyzed in the third and fourth chapters constitute the evidence of the difficulties the process of demystification implies: as a matter of fact, if on the one hand it cannot be denied that most of the revisionist movies including Eastwood’s - try to demonstrate the falsity and the illusory quality of the mythic creation of the Western hero/antihero, on the other hand they seem to be unable to free themselves from the “land of myth,” trapped, like the heroic figures they try to demystify, in the “fatal environment.” Therefore, while “someone is always trying to bury the Western” (Kitses, 1998:15), either the genre will continue to survive and reflect on its mythical significance - like in Eastwood’s Westerns, which are a blend of classicism and revisionism - or its mythographic function will be shifted into other genres, as it has already happened in the past with urban crime dramas such as the Dirty Harry series. As a matter of fact, if the Western genre may one day come to an end, the ideas and the mythic images lying behind it will survive - at least until Americans will continue to feel the need to reflect on their origins and their national identity.
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Grist, L. (1996). “Unforgiven.” In I. Cameron and D. Pye (eds) (1996). 294-301. Haskell, M. (1997). “The First Action Hero.” The New York Times Book Review, March 23: 13-14. Kitses, J. (1969). “Authorship and Genre: Notes on the Western.” In J. Kitses and G. Rickman (eds) (1998). 57-68. Kitses, J. and G. Rickman (eds). (1998). The Western Reader. New York: Limelight Editions. Kitses, J. (1998). “Introduction: Post-modernism and the Western.” In J. Kitses and G. Rickman (eds) (1998). 15-31. Knapp, L. F. (1996). Directed by Clint Eastwood: 18 Films Analyzed. Jefferson, North Carolina and London: McFarland&Company. Lankford, G. E. (ed). (1998). Leggende degli Indiani d’America. Milano: Arnoldo Mondadori Editore. Lawrence, D. H. (1971). Studies in Classic American Literature. Penguin Books. Lewis, R. W. B. (1955). The American Adam. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press. Marsden, M. T. (1984). “Savior in the Saddle: The Sagebrush Testament.” In J. C. Work (ed) (1984). 393-404. Pearce, R. H. (ed). (1969). Colonial American Writing. New York: Holt, Rinehart&Winston. Perkins, V. F. (1996). “Johnny Guitar.” In I. Cameron and D. Pye (eds) (1996). 221-228. Peterson, J. (1996). “The Competing Tunes of Johnny Guitar: Liberalism, Sexuality, Masquerade.” In J. Kitses and G. Rickman (eds) (1998). 321339. Pye, D. (1996). “Genre and History: Fort Apache and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.” In I. Cameron and D. Pye (eds) (1996). 111-122. Pye, D. (1996). “The Collapse of Fantasy: Masculinity in the Westerns of Anthony Mann.” In I. Cameron and D. Pye (eds) (1996). 167-173. Pye, D. (1996). “Double Vision: Miscegenation and Point of View in The Searchers.” In I. Cameron and D. Pye (eds) (1996). 229-235. 222
Rankin, C. (1984). “Clash of Frontiers: A Historical Parallel to Jack Schaefer’s Shane.” In J. C. Work (ed) (1984). 3-15. Rickman, G. (1998). “The Western Under Erasure: Dead Man.” In J. Kitses and G. Rickman (eds) (1998). 381-404. Rosa, J. J. (1969). The Gunfighter: Man or Myth? Norman: University of Oklahoma Press. Rowlandson, M. (1682). “The Soveraignty and Goodness of God, Together with the Faithfulness of His Promises Displayed, Being a Narrative of the Captivity and Restauration of Mrs. Mary Rowlandson.” In R. H. Pearce (1969). 153-174. Ruehlmann, W. (1984). Saint with a Gun. The Unlawful American Private Eye. New York: New York University Press. Schaefer, J. (1984). “Shane.” In J. C. Work (ed) (1984). 61-274. Schein, H. (1984). “The Olympian Cowboy.” In J. C. Work (ed) (1984). 405-417. Schickel, R. (1997). Clint Eastwood. London: Arrow Books. Sheehan, H. (1992). “Scraps of Hope. Clint Eastwood and the Western.” Film Comment, sept-oct. 1992:17-27. Slotkin, R. (1973). Regeneration through Violence. The Mythology of the American Frontier, 1600-1860. Hanover, N. H.:University Press of New England, Wesleyan University Press. Slotkin, R. (1985). The Fatal Environment. The Myth of the Frontier in the Age of Industrialization, 1800-1890. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press. Slotkin, R. (1993). Gunfighter Nation. The Myth of the Frontier in Twentieth-Century America. New York: Harper Perennial. Smith, H. N. (1995). Virgin Land. The American West as Symbol and Myth. Cambridge, Massachusetts-London, England: Harvard University Press. Stern, M. and Gross, S. (eds) (1975). American Literature Survey. London: Viking Press Inc. Thomas, D. (1996). “John Wayne’s Body.” In I. Cameron and D. Pye (eds) (1996). 75-87.
Thumim, J. (1993). “‘Maybe He’s Tough but He Sure Ain’t No Carpenter:’ Masculinity and In/competence in Unforgiven.” In J. Kitses and G. Rickman (eds) (1998). 341-354. Turner, F. J. (1945). The Frontier in American History. New York: Henry Holt&Company. Walker, W. (1996). “Dances with Wolves.” In I. Cameron and D. Pye (eds) (1996). 284-293. Warshow, R. (1954). “Movie Chronicle: The Westerner.” In J. Kitses and G. Rickman (eds) (1998). 35-47. Willeman, P. (1981). “Anthony Mann: Looking at the Male.” In J. Kitses and G. Rickman (eds) (1998). 209-212. Williams, D. (1998). “Pilgrims and the Promised Land: A Genealogy of the Western.” In J. Kitses and G. Rickman (eds) (1998). 93-113. Wills, G. (1996). “John Wayne’s Body.” The New Yorker, August 19:3949. Work, J. C. (ed). (1984). Shane. The Critical Edition. Lincoln and London: University of Nebraska Press. Work, J. C. (1984). “Settlement Waves and Coordinate Forces in Shane.” In J. C. Work (ed) (1984). 307-318.
Web Pages Roosevelt, T. (1906). The Winning of the West. New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons. Vol. IV, chap. I. http://artsci.wustl.edu/~landc/html/roosevelt.html Roosevelt, T. (1912). History as Literature. Annual Address of the President of the American Historical Association. http://www.theaha.org/info/AHA_History/troosevelt.htm
FILMOGRAPHY Dances with Wolves (Usa, 1990). Kevin Costner. Dead Man (Usa, 1996). Jim Jarmusch. Guns in the Afternoon or Ride the High Country (Usa, 1961). Sam Peckinpah. High Noon (Usa, 1952). Fred Zinnemann. Johnny Guitar (Usa, 1956). Nicholas Ray. Man from Laramie, The (Usa, 1955). Anthony Mann. Man who Shot Liberty Valance, The (Usa, 1962). John Ford. Searchers, The (Usa, 1956). John Ford. Shane (Usa, 1954). George Stevens. Stagecoach (Usa, 1939). John Ford. Movies directed and/or interpreted by Clint Eastwood Dead Pool, The (Usa, 1988). Buddy Van Horn. Dirty Harry (Usa, 1971). Don Siegel. Enforcer, The (Usa, 1976). James Fargo. High Plains Drifter (Usa, 1973). Clint Eastwood. Magnum Force (Usa, 1973). Ted Post. Outlaw Josey Wales, The (Usa, 1976). Clint Eastwood. Pale Rider (Usa, 1985). Clint Eastwood. Sudden Impact (Usa, 1983). Clint Eastwood. Unforgiven (Usa, 1992). Clint Eastwood.
DIRTY HARRY (1971) Warner Bros./Seven Arts/Malpaso directed by: Don Siegel plot: Detective Harry Callahan (Clint Eastwood) is a tough street-wise cop, but on the force they call him "Dirty Harry," as he is well-known for his brutal manners, his abuse of authority and excessive use of violence in dealing with the criminality of San Francisco, and most of all for the powerful weapon he always carries, a .44 Magnum. In this episode, a rooftop psycho-killer known as "Scorpio," after killing two people, kidnaps a girl, threatening the authorities and the police to let her suffocate unless the city pays his ransom demand. Dirty Harry is in charge of the case, and he will be also responsible of delivering the money to Scorpio. The wounding of the criminal at the moment of the delivery will enable Harry - who gets almost killed in the fight - to collect information about him, to discover his real identity and the place where he lives, at the abandoned San Francisco Kezar Stadium. After a short pursuit, Harry at last lays hands on his foe and brutally beats information about the abducted girl's whereabouts out of him as he whines for mercy. Not only the police find the girl already dead, but the district attorney is forced to release Scorpio, as his confession and the evidence Harry found in his house - a hunting rifle - have been illegally obtained, and are therefore inadmissible in court. Moreover, Harry is contemptuously chastised for his actions. The criminal soon strikes again, this time hijacking a whole school bus with some children and the driver on it. Dirty Harry is no longer willing to comply with Scorpio's requests, and resolves the situation in his own way, saving the hostages and killing the psychopath. In the end, he symbolically throws his badge away.
MAGNUM FORCE (1973) Warner Bros./Malpaso directed by: Ted Post plot: Magnum Force takes up where Dirty Harry left off. But this time we discover that despite his abuses of authority and his criticism of the system, the latter is what Dirty Harry is sworn to protect. A group of sharp-shooting rookies of the police force traffic section has turned vigilante. They are killing all the criminals whose power and influence make them immune from legal prosecution: labor racketeers, narcotics, bosses, gambling and prostitution czars are all getting the justice they seem to deserve. The vigilantes ask Dirty Harry to join them, as he is well-known for his tendency to takes his .44 Magnum out of its holster quite often, but they have misjudged him: lynch law and murder are not what he is committed to. On the contrary, he prosecutes them, and discovers that the chief of the Homicide department is at the head of a whole "death squad" suborganization within the police force, which in the end Harry destroys.
THE ENFORCER (1976) Warner Bros./Malpaso directed by: James Fargo plot: In this third episode of the series, Dirty Harry, reinstated to Homicide after using excessive violence during an armed robbery, must deal with a terrorist group led by a raving maniac. Harry is teamed with a woman detective, Kate Moore, who has just began her service in the Homicide, and who is not immediately well-accepted by him because of her lack of experience. Although Harry considers the case too dangerous for a rookie, he is obliged to work with her, as she represents one of the Mayor's attempts to "modernize" the police force. Once again the flaws of the system are highlighted: the police seizes a group of innocent black militants instead of the real terrorists, and do not want to admit the mistake. As a consequence, the Mayor of the town is kidnapped by the real criminals and held hostage at Alcatraz. Dirty Harry and Kate will have to rescue him, and during the operation the woman will lose her life to save Harry.
SUDDEN IMPACT (1983) Warner Bros./Malpaso directed by: Clint Eastwood plot: Although many people would like him to retire, Dirty Harry's mission continues: he is getting rid of all the "scum" in San Francisco with his violent and unorthodox methods, and more than ever criminals must deal with "Smith, Wesson&himself." He does not mind menacing or intimidating to resolve his cases, he is tired of the authorities' corruption and apathy. The fourth episode of the series is centered on a revenge. Jennifer (or "Dirty Harriet," as many reviewers could not resist calling her), a young painter of haunted pictures and victim along with her sister of a gang rape years before, has decided to kill one by one her abusers. She kills four of them without being suspected, but Harry is in charge of the case, and he soon understands her desire for revenge. When the last criminal she wants to kill kidnaps her, Harry saves her, and after killing the man, he has to decide whether or not to arrest her. In the end, he ascribes the man the responsibility of all the murders, using as evidence the gun the criminal had taken from Jennifer.
THE DEAD POOL (1988) Warner Bros./Malpaso directed by: Buddy Van Horn plot: In the fifth and last episode of the series, Detective Callahan must defend himself from the killers paid by one of the most powerful criminals of San Francisco, who has been condemned thanks to Harry's testimony at the trial and whose case has transformed our detective into the most famous cop in the town, to the extent that now he can't do his job without someone thrusting a microphone or a TV camera in his face. The chiefs of the police force want him to cooperate with journalists satisfying in this way the curiosity of the people and creating a good image of the police work in town. But Dirty Harry hates hypocrisy, he only wants to be free to do his duty, and refuses being used by the police force and by the journalists, who are always looking for the scoop even in the most dramatic situations. Moreover, being famous is not that safe: a psychopath is regularly killing all famous people whose names are contained in the list of the "dead pool." In this game entrants make up lists of well-known people they expect to die within the year, the person with the most correct guesses being the winner. In the list there is also Harry's name. Although the criminal is able at first to divert investigations on a horror-picture director, Harry in the end discovers his real identity. Meanwhile, the killer has kidnapped a TV reporter whom Harry had known in previous circumstances, but, after a chase, the cop is able to rescue her and kill him, replacing his .44 Magnum which he had lost before with a bigger and most powerful weapon, a ĂŹprimitiveĂŽ harpoon gun.
HIGH PLAINS DRIFTER (1973) Universal/Malpaso directed by: Clint Eastwood plot: Marshall Jim Duncan was murdered in the small town of Lago when he discovered that the mine the Lago Mining Company was exploiting was a governmental property. As the whole community depended on the incomes provided by the mine, the whole town had agreed to his murder, and had paid for its execution three criminals, whom later they accused of robbery in order to get rid of them. Now, after a year spent in jail, the killers are returning to Lago to take their revenge. But they are not the only ones whose desire for revenge is directed towards the community of Lago. A stranger (Clint Eastwood), whose identity will remain unknown, has arrived in town. He is coldblooded and has a quick draw, probably a gunfighter. At first the people think that the Stranger will be able to defend them from the three criminals, and hire him to welcome them back. But the conditions on which he accepts the job are very high, as they must promise him he will have everything he wants: from this moment the Stranger will dictate his conditions, he will ask everyone to contribute to his plan - since everyone was responsible for Duncan's death - he will even train the men and organize a small army, he will make them paint the whole town red and will rechristen it "Hell," and will make them prepare a picnic in the main street and a banner saying, "Welcome Home, Boys." When some members of the community realize that instead of defending them he is turning one against the other, hindering their business, and wasting their money for nothing, they will try to kill him, but in vain, as he is always the smartest and the quickest. When the "judgement day" comes, he lets the criminals kill most of the people, and then he kills them off using the same means they used to kill the Marshall - whipping them to death. After taking his revenge, he will leave the town and disappear into nothingness.
THE OUTLAW JOSEY WALES (1976) Warner Bros./Malpaso directed by: Clint Eastwood plot: Josey Wales (Clint Eastwood), a farmer of Missouri, after witnessing his family's massacre by a group of Union soldiers led by Capt. Terrill, joins the Confederate guerrillas to take his revenge. For the same reason he has fought the war, he decides not to surrender to the winners. Although he is being chased in more than one state with a high reward on his head, and his fame of cruel assassin makes it difficult not to be recognized by bounty hunters, he always finds a way to kill his persecutors and escape. Along his trail he meets a number of characters who share his condition of "outcast," and who will become his only true friends: at the beginning he shares his adventures with Jamie, who had fought with him during the war, and who will die soon because mortally wounded; then he will meet Lone Watie, an old Cheyenne who after being "civilized" by white people has completely forgotten his Indian way of life, and has also been rejected by his tribe because he let himself being deceived by the whites; he will save from virtual slavery Little Moonlight, an Indian woman who begins to follow him everywhere and to consider him a great warrior; he also saves from the Comancheros Grandma Sarah and her niece Laura Lee, who are directed to the Crooked River Ranch, a farm in a beautiful valley situated in the Comanche territory. When they arrive at the ranch, Josey is the only one who does not want to settle, obsessed as he is with the memory of his wife and son brutally assassinated, and also persecuted by Union soldiers, who are still looking for him. However, after having had his revenge against Capt. Terrill, and after being considered officially dead by the governmental officials, he decides to transform the ranch into his new home, where he will dwell in peace with his new family and with the Comanches living in the area.
PALE RIDER (1985) Warner Bros./Malpaso directed by: Clint Eastwood plot: A remake of George Steven's Shane (1953), Pale Rider is the tale of a struggling community of gold prospectors in the Old West, under constant savage attack from the land-hungry LaHood, who wants to exploit the land for all its worth, and who is interested as a further income in Carbon Canyon, where the peaceful community lives and works without much luck. The story is centered on a family in particular: Sarah and her partner Hull Barrett, and Sarah's daughter, Megan. Worried for the situation, the girl prays for a miracle, and it arrives in the form of the Preacher (Clint Eastwood), a grim and silent avenger who renews the faith of the small community, takes up their causes, and fights for them. As a matter of fact, although he dresses as a preacher, he acts as a violent and skilled gunfighter, and when he realizes that his "dark" skills are required, he replaces his clerical collar with his guns. In the end he will have to duel with the Marshall and his deputies, who have been hired by LaHood to convince the gold prospectors to leave their properties. The Preacher - we know him only by that name - will kill them all, ensuring a peaceful life to the community of Carbon Canyon.
UNFORGIVEN (1992) Warner Bros./Malpaso directed by: Clint Eastwood plot: To avenge the scarring of one of them by two cowboys, a group of prostitutes of the town of Big Whiskey gather the money necessary to reward the bounty-killers who will accept the job. Although Marshall Little Bill does not allow anyone to replace him in representing the law and tries with every means to discourage criminals to come to town and earn the reward, the retired gunfighters William Munny (Clint Eastwood) and Ned Logan, together with a boy who informs them about the whole thing, are ready to start shooting again in order to earn some money for their families. But for Will, who has been redeemed from his previous life as a criminal by his wife, is not easy to resume the gunfighter profession: his shot is not as good as at the old times, and he finds it difficult even to ride a horse. The boy has never killed a man in his life, and his near blindness allows him to hit only close range targets. The only one who could do the job is Ned, but he has not the courage to kill, and, after the murder of one of the cowboys, he abandons Will and the boy but, on his way home, is seized by Little Bill, tortured, and killed. Meanwhile, Will and the boy finish the job and collect their money. When Will is informed of Ned's death, his old rage overcomes him, and his desire for revenge leads him to town, where he kills the Marshall and all his deputies. He has become for a while the old William Munny, the thief and the killer known for his cruelty and irascibility. After the episode, he disappears with his children, someone says to San Francisco, where he prospered in the trade of dry goods.
RIASSUNTO La decisione di approfondire le mie conoscenze sulla figura dell’eroe/antieroe western nella cultura americana deriva dalla necessità di trovare risposte valide ai mille quesiti che sorgono quando si è posti di fronte alla massiccia invadenza dei film americani – western e non – senza avere gli strumenti necessari per comprenderli fino in fondo. L’idea che l’italiano medio ha del principio attorno al quale ruota gran parte – se non l’intera – produzione cinematografica americana non è del tutto sbagliata: l’eterna lotta fra “buoni” e “cattivi”, in cui i cattivi sono inesorabilmente destinati a soccombere di fronte ad una presenza quasi sovrumana, quella dell’eroe, che è disposto a sacrificarsi per il bene dell’umanità e che riesce sempre ad avere la meglio. Si tratta comunque di una semplificazione. L’invariabilità dello schema su cui si basa la cinematografia hollywoodiana, così come la costante presenza della figura eroica, dovrebbero suscitare una serie di interrogativi invece di essere considerate gli elementi distintivi della cosiddetta “americanata”. Quali sono le origini dell’eroe americano? Perché la maggior parte della produzione cinematografica hollywoodiana è centrata su questa figura? Qual è il suo ruolo nella cultura americana? Che cosa rappresenta? Sono queste le domande a cui ho cercato di trovare una risposta, partendo dal presupposto che senza dubbio uno studio approfondito dell’immagine dell’eroe/antieroe western aiuterà a capire meglio la cultura americana in generale. Nonostante avessi sospettato la complessità dell’argomento, mi sono resa conto delle sue profonde implicazioni culturali quando ho scoperto che le origini della figura dell’eroe americano risalgono alla letteratura dell’epoca coloniale. Ho ritenuto quindi necessario dividere la mia tesi in due parti, dedicando la prima alla letteratura e la seconda al cinema.
Nei primi due capitoli mi sono soffermata sulle origini e sulle fasi principali dello sviluppo della figura dell’eroe nella mitologia letteraria americana: ho considerato in primo luogo il significato storico e l’interpretazione mitologica del concetto di “Frontiera”, teorizzato solo dopo la sua chiusura nel 1890, ma già presente nella letteratura americana dell’epoca coloniale, a cui è strettamente legata la figura dell’eroe; succesivamente ho proposto un percorso che porta dalla “nascita” del primo eroe americano nel diciottesimo secolo fino agli eroi dell’ultima Frontiera nel diciannovesimo secolo. Durante questo excursus ho focalizzato la mia attenzione sulla figura dell’eroe come simbolo della “Frontiera”, cercando di spiegare come le sue qualità eroiche e antieroiche derivino dalla sua inalterabile situazione di stasi tra civiltà e barbarie. Nella seconda parte della tesi ho ripreso l’argomento attraverso lo studio della figura dell’eroe/antieroe nella produzione cinematografica hollywoodiana. In particolare, il terzo capitolo si centra sull’analisi di alcuni dei maggiori film western del secolo scorso: dai classici di John Ford (Ombre rosse, Sentieri selvaggi, L’uomo che uccise Liberty Valance) alla seconda ondata di revisionismo (Balla coi lupi e Dead Man), i film western analizzati hanno il pregio di costituire di per sé una riflessione critica sul mito e sulla figura dell’eroe/antieroe, e quindi di rappresentare i diversi approcci al genere sviluppatosi dagli anni 30-40 fino agli anni 90. L’ultimo capitolo, dedicato alla figura di Clint Eastwood, vorrebbe essere non solo un ulteriore approfondimento dell’oggetto di studio, ma anche una sintesi degli approcci contraddittori del cinema americano del ventesimo secolo verso il western e la figura dell’eroe/antieroe. I film di Eastwood considerati – i più significativi tra i suoi Western e gli episodi della serie poliziesca dedicata all’Ispettore Callaghan – possono infatti essere definiti classici e revisionisti allo stesso tempo, dato che sono un tentativo di revisionismo delle convenzioni del genere all’interno della tradizione: se da un lato Eastwood tende a rivelare le contraddizioni e il carattere illusorio dei
suoi eroi, allo stesso tempo non Ă¨ in grado di rinunciare alla loro presenza, cosĂŹ come non lo Ă¨ la cultura americana in generale.
RESUMEN La decisión de profundizar mis conocimientos de la imagen del héroe/antihéroe del western en la cultura norteamericana ha nacido de la necesidad de encontrar respuestas válidas a multitud de preguntas que pueden surgir frente a la gran presencia de películas norteamericanas en nuestra cultura si no se tienen las herramientas adecuadas para entenderlas de verdad. El italiano medio que piensa que toda – o casi toda – la producción cinematográfica de Hollywood rueda alrededor de la eterna lucha entre “buenos” y “malos”, en la que los malos sin duda alguna serán vencidos por el héroe, una presencia sobrehumana cuya tarea es salvar el mundo, no está tan equivocado. Se trata de todas maneras de una simplificación. Las películas norteamericanas, caracterizadas por la invariabilidad de sus cánones y la constante presencia de la imagen del héroe, tendrían que suscitar algunas preguntas en vez de ser tachadas de monotemáticas: ¿Cuáles son los orígenes
cinematográfica de Hollywood se basa casi enteramente en este personaje? ¿Qué papel desempeña en la cultura norteamericana? ¿Qué representa? Éstas son las preguntas a las que he intentado encontrar una respuesta. Mi tesis se divide en dos partes: la primera consiste en el análisis de la imagen del héroe/antihéroe en la literatura, en la segunda traslado el mismo tipo de análisis al cine. En los primeros dos capítulos me he fijado en los orígenes y las etapas fundamentales del desarrollo de la figura del héroe en la mitología literaria norteamericana: en primer lugar he reflexionado sobre el sentido histórico y la interpretación mitológica del concepto de “Frontera”, teorizado sólo después de que se cerró la frontera agraria en 1890, pero que está presente en la literatura norteamericana desde la época colonial, y que está estrechamente relacionado con la figura del héroe/antihéroe; luego he presentado un itinerario que lleva desde el “nacimiento” del primer héroe norteamericano del siglo XVIII hasta los
héroes de la última Frontera en el siglo XIX. A lo largo de este excursus me he fijado en la figura del héroe como símbolo de la Frontera, explicando cómo sus cualidades heroicas y antiheroicas derivan de su posición estática entre civilización y barbarie. En la segunda parte de mi tesis he vuelto a profundizar en el asunto a través del análisis de la figura del héroe/antihéroe norteamericano en la producción cinematográfica de Hollywood. El tercer capítulo, en particular, consiste en el análisis de algunas de las más importantes películas del Oeste del siglo pasado: desde las clásicas de John Ford (La diligencia, Centauros del desierto, El hombre que mató a Liberty Valance) hasta el segundo revisionismo (Bailando con Lobos y Dead Man), las películas analizadas tienen la cualidad de ser en sí mismas una reflexión crítica sobre el mito y la imagen del héroe/antihéroe, y por lo tanto de representar diferentes maneras de aproximarse al género que se desarrolló desde los años treinta y cuarenta hasta los años noventa. El último capítulo, dedicado a la figura de Clint Eastwood, no sólo quiere ser una profundización del objeto de estudio, sino también una síntesis de los contradictorios puntos de vista del cine norteamericano del siglo XX sobre el western y la figura del héroe/antihéroe. Las películas de Eastwood que he estudiado – las más significativas de sus películas del Oeste y los episodios de la serie policíaca dedicada al Inspector Callahan – se pueden definir clásicas y revisionistas al mismo tiempo, porque con ellas ha intentado ser revisionista dentro de la tradición del género: Eastwood quiere por un lado revelar las contradicciones y el carácter ilusorio de sus héroes, pero por el otro no puede renunciar a su presencia, y tampoco lo puede hacer la cultura norteamericana en general.
Published on Oct 20, 2013
Graduation Thesis by Giuliana Sana (2000/2001) Degree Course in Translation and Interpreting at the Advanced School of Modern Languages for...