WR 100 NA
Violence and Social Order in Western Society
The natural order and hierarchy in Western genre films involves a great deal of violence to upkeep its structure. In the film The Searchers, the main character Ethan Edwards embodies a western “gun-slinging hero”. He returns home from the Civil War to his brother’s house, only to encounter even more fighting with the Comanche Indians. Once leaping from one fight to the next, Ethan and his fellow Westerners including Martin, a relative not by blood, seek revenge on the Comanches for murdering and kidnapping Lucy, a family member. The conflict between the Comanche Indians and the Westerners surrounds the entire film, essentially war encompasses their lives. This sheds light on the fact that violence and fighting shapes the natural order of civilization. It remains a question whether violence is for the sake of fighting, or to protect people in danger. Ethan’s actions throughout the film while seeking revenge and searching for Lucy appear violent, but it is the way of life for these Westerners. Violence governs the natural order and ladder of Western society in The Searchers, and defines their different social positions. The proper place of violence in Western society is constantly being challenged by the differences between Ethan, who uses excessive violence, and Martin, a figure of civility.
While Western civilization attempts to make itself appear tranquil with the scenic and panoramic scenes in the film, it is soon interrupted with violence and fighting from Ethan and Martin. As soon as Ethan walks into his brother Aaron’s home, trouble is assumed due to the gold coins he produces from his pocket, leading the viewer to insinuate that he is up to no good. This is then followed by news of cattle being stolen by the Comanches, which leads Ethan to go track them down and fight. This represents the constant violence which interrupts the tranquil scenic views and lighthearted music taking place in between scenes. “We notice that the Western depicts a world of precarious balance in which the forces of civilization and savagery are locked in a struggle for supremacy” (Shatz 49). It appears as if there is a struggle between the calm and quiet of the world around them and the constant violence that is plaguing their lives. The violence takes innocent men like Ethan’s brother and kills them when he is merely at home with his children and wife.
The social positions of the men in Westerns are also defined by their roles in fighting and war. For instance, the Reverend/Captain has two seemingly contradictory jobs. He first preaches the words of God but then is able to go fight with Ethan. The Captain’s ability to switch from a Reverend to a violent fighter against the Comanches further displays how violence governs their social order. Ethan on the other hand is a “man of leisure, whose possessions are irrelevant, and [he] has no concept of employment” like a typical “gun-slinging” Westerner and only represents the violent aspect of the Western man (Warshow 107).
The duality of the Reverend’s character further exemplifies that violence plays a role in almost every aspect of Western life, from religious purposes to fighting. Looking at his character, it is unexpected that he is an active member of the Texas Rangers, but it comes with the territory of being a Western Man. Martin too is seen as an orderly and not outwardly violent individual, and a figure of civility. He is forced to begin fighting and search for Lucy as soon as his family is threatened, further highlighting his Western values of prevailing against opposing forces, specifically, the Indians. He therefore too plays a dual role, as most Western men must.
The violence in The Searchers seems unnecessary at times, but the savage actions committed by both the Westerners and Indians determined their social positions of who was the victor and who was defeated. The way the