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Cowboy ClassicsThe Roots of the American Western in the Epic Tradition$
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Kirsten Day

Print publication date: 2016

Print ISBN-13: 9781474402460

Published to University Press Scholarship Online: September 2017

DOI: 10.3366/edinburgh/9781474402460.001.0001

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date: 30 May 2020

John Ford’s The Searchers1

John Ford’s The Searchers1

(p.133) 4 John Ford’s The Searchers1
Cowboy Classics

Kirsten Day

Edinburgh University Press

John Ford’s 1956 The Searchers has attracted more scholarly attention than any other Western, including that of receptions scholars who have noted its kinship with Homeric epic. This chapter enlarges on the most important of these arguments – Martin Winkler’s study of John Wayne’s Ethan Edwards as an Achilles figure and the author’s own analysis of the film as an Odyssean journey – recognizing the psychological identification between protagonist and enemy-as-alter-ego long noted by Western scholars as an important parallel with the dynamic found in ancient epic and expanding on the importance of women’s sexual fidelity to male honor and identity. This chapter then brings the Aeneid into the conversation, demonstrating that like Virgil’s epic, The Searchers is a self-questioning, multi-layered reflection on heroic achievement, offering a problematic hero and extolling the glories of empire while acknowledging the sacrifices inherent in its establishment. Finally, this chapter considers this film as a commentary on racial and Cold War tensions in 1950s America, reflecting on how this fits in with the larger comparison with ancient epic.

Keywords:   John Ford, The Searchers, John Wayne, Homeric epic, Virgil, Aeneid, Martin Winkler

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