The Western as Commentary about Decaying Values

3537 Words15 Pages
The Western as Commentary about Decaying Values

The Western, as a genre, is subversive of the values that its Christian characters possess. Western films frequently depict social depravity in terms of the mythology that developed during westward expansion. The mythology was inspired by the threat of the frontier wilderness to Puritan culture. In order to preserve their society, some Puritans departed from their ideal Christian lives. Western films portray compromises that cultures make of the values that they define themselves by in order to protect the integrity of their other values.

A contemporary Western, Open Range, which Kevin Costner stars in and directed, released in 1995, deals with a conflict between morality and justice and the genre mythology. In it, Boss Spearman and Charley Waite herd cattle across the Western frontier. When they allow the herd to free-graze in Fort Harmon country, they infuriate a prominent rancher, Baxter, who tells them “Free-grazers ain’t gonna take the feed off my cattle.” A confrontation with Baxter’s henchmen results in them killing one of Boss’ helpers and another, Button, is severely hurt. Boss and Charley are faced with the options either to run away, in which case Button would die, or to risk their lives by entering the town to find him a doctor.

Boss and Charley both are generous to each other, their workers, and people they encounter. Charley is a former Civil War fighter who is trying to escape his past with the guidance of the old, collected cowboy, Boss. Both have clearly been in fights before; however, Charley’s past troubles him in a deeper way than his demeanor suggests. He explains that he first shot a man in the throat ...

... middle of paper ...

...fe from the dangers of their enemies and feel that they have the freedom of pioneers. Even as the wilderness and the frontier become more distant, the mythology that arose in the American west keeps its people inexorably determined to maintain the democracy and the freedom that it provides.

Works Cited

Fiedler, Leslie A. The Return of the Vanishing American. Briarcliff Manor, NY: Stein

and Day, 1968.

Slotkin, R. Regeneration Through Violence: The Mythology of the American Frontier

1600-1860. Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 1973.

Turner, Frederick J. “Contributions of the West to American Democracy.” The Turner

Thesis: Concerning the Role of the Frontier in American History. Ed. George R.

Taylor. Lexington, MA: D.C. Heath and Company, 1972.
Open Document