Friday, February 15, 2013

Western Heroes - Josey and Ethan

           Based solely on The Outlaw Josey Wales and The Searchers, it is clear that there is a connection between Ethan and Josey. They both epitomize the western hero, building from a rather stereotypical, genre-defined character. However, as Sickles argues, this is pretty much where the connection ends. Josey and Ethan are very different, as defined through both their interactions with others, the choices they make, and the struggles we can see going on within them. From this, I definitely agree with the points Sickles' makes within his article.
            They are both on similar journeys that started in similar places, yet as characters, Josey and Ethan respond to their universes very differently. Sickles sums this up quite clearly in this sentence:
"Although both films employ murder/revenge motifs that lead to an extended chase that forms the bulk of the narrative, there is an important difference in perspective. Ethan is the monomaniacal, hate-filled pursuer, whereas Josey is the one pursed by an irrationally deranged man" (222).
           This characterizes the contrast between the two characters.
           Both strike out looking to avenge the murder of their families. However, Ethan maintains a very definitive, bigoted outlook throughout the movie. He even goes so far as to almost kill Debbie, the girl he is meant to be rescuing, because she had been "tainted" by the Native Americans who had kidnapped her. He treats Marty as less-than-human because he has Native American in him. At the end of the film, he is unable to find a sense of belonging and once again leaves.
            Josey though, is almost completely the opposite. He accepts a Native American as his companion. He tries for peace between him and the Native Americans before he looks for blood. He moves on and does find a place within a multi-racial community.
            This is what makes Sickles's argument so compelling. He picks out the points at which the greatest divide can be seen between the two characters and emphasizes those as evidence.

            One of the main areas of comparison in terms of iconography between the two films is the setting. In The Outlaw Josey Wales, Josey occasionally comes across civilization, the stereotypical “western” town. Even though the one town is almost completely abandoned, it is still there, representing a possible new beginning for our hero.
This is not the case in The Searchers. From beginning to end, it stays almost entirely in empty landscapes. Every now and then, they will come across a single home, but never is there a true civilization for the characters to convene at. This might actually be somewhat indicative of Ethan’s character. He isn’t looking for family, isn’t looking for someplace to belong as he realizes at the end of the movie that he will never be able to be a part of the lives he helped to reunite. However, the significant turn of character in Josey Wales stems from the fact that he does find somewhere he belongs. I think that not only does the town enable this to happen, it is also somewhat representative of it.
More characteristics of westerns that can be seen in both movies are the costumes, the horses as transportation, and the presence of Native Americans in the narrative. Still the use of Native Americans is very different between the two films. Native Americans in westerns are often vilified. They are made the enemy, a murdering force out to destroy the lives of those moving westward. This is exactly how they are portrayed in The Searchers. The raped and murdered Ethan's brother and family, kidnapping the two daughters. The Comanche chief is the villain that Ethan must track down and destroy in order to get Debbie back. As a result, the chief is killed.
However, in The Outlaw Josey Wales, Josey befriends a Comanche. Ten Bears becomes his companion, his confidant through a large portion of the movie. Though Josey does have to track down a Native American chief, the end result is very different. Both parties agree to peace. In this movie, the union army is the main villain, the group that destroyed Josey's family. In The Searchers, it is the Native Americans.
This idea ties back into Sickles's suggestion that the characters and stories in both of these movies were influenced by the time period in which they were shot. Not only does The Outlaw Josey Wales show a more well-rounded, believable version of the old west, it also shows a sense of building equality between races, something that most likely came as a result of the 70s. The Searchers was shot in a far more racist time period and as a result, Native Americans were treated quite poorly. There definitely seems to be a correlation between the time period and the amount of prejudice.
Again, these areas of similar iconography with different meanings actually support Sickles' argument. They are points in which Josey and Ethan treat the situation and those around them very differently. It's a point of belonging versus alone, acceptance versus prejudice, and in both cases, Josey and Ethan end up on opposite ends of the spectrum.

            The comedic elements in the films are also treated very differently. In The Searchers, much of the humor stems from a somewhat cold place. It shows up when Marty rolls the Native American woman down the hillside. It appears when the Yankee soldier comes bumbling into the story. It shows up again in many of John Wayne’s deadpanned remarks, remarks that are very calculated and almost cynical. The humor doesn’t come from a place of affection or sympathy. Rather, it is more taken at the expense of others.
            This is sometimes the case in The Outlaw Josey Wales. For example, when he spits tobacco, particularly when he spits it on the dog. Also, the same is true of the grandmother. Humor is sometimes found in the slightly slanderous remarks she makes about people from other states and of other races. In this case however, there is an amount of irony in it. This is seen in the fact that despite all of her comments towards others, the grandmother becomes a part of a wildly diverse family. She accepts Josey and finds herself a place among all of the people she had previously condemned. I think there is some humor in that simple fact.
            The Searchers, however, does not reach the same point. It does not make any attempt to counteract the somewhat racist humor strewn throughout it. Instead, it accepts that as its means of adding light to dark situations.

           Though Josey and Ethan do come from similar backgrounds and embark on similar journeys, the choices they make define them as individuals and as a result, define their stories as seemingly characteristic of the time period in which they were created.


  1. Clarify- Don't have any questions! :)
    Value- Very in depth analysis and I agree with all of the points you present, especially the one in regards to the differences in how both films/protagonists dealt with Native Americans.
    Concerns- Not sure if this is very important, but with your point about the difference in comedy for the both films you state that the comedy in The Searches stems from a cold / dark place, but I feel at times Josey Wales (although more modern) additionally had comedy of this sort.
    Suggestions- Maybe you could explain the differences in the dynamics of characters in both films a bit more (for instance, talk about how Josey Wales is able to accept a new woman in his life by the end of it, similarly to how Ethan accepts the girl by the end.)

  2. Wow, beautifully written! I think you address this more in the beginning of your post, but how do the differences between Josey and Ethan embody the differences between the two films?

    Yeah, no. I actually can't find anything wrong with this. It's beautiful. All the points that you make were incredibly relevant to both the article and to each other. Perhaps you could state your thesis more clearly in the beginning?

    I don't have much else to say. This is an awesome post!