Manifest Destiny In Relation To Shane, Stagecoach, And The Searchers - Columbia College Hollywood - GH380 MP History: Westerns - Research Paper

1164 words - 5 pages

Wyatt Daane
Manifest Destiny In Relation to Shane, Stagecoach, and The Searchers
The Manifest Destiny is the idea that western expansion has been sanctioned by God
and it is the duty of the people to imperialize the land from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific. The
American frontier is a direct result of westward expansion and the manifest destiny. It is a
combination of geography, expansionist ideals, folklore, and cultural expression of life on the
edge of civilization. These concepts operate in the films “Shane”, “Stagecoach”, and “The
Searchers” by displaying characters who act on a conflict revolving around the journey west.
In his novel, Horizons West, Jim Kitses outlines a series of binary oppositions between
the individual and the community, nature and culture, and West vs. East. These oppositions
provide the backbone for westward expansion in relation to the western genre of cinema. We
see a multitude of characters from all three films that deal with these oppositions. Shane is what
Anthony Mann would have described as an “Overreacher” or a frayed and honorable sojourner
who can never settle. Ethan Edwards is a similar character type from The Searchers, except he
comes into Western cinema at a transitional time when the idea of cowboys and the frontier
wasn’t as romanticized as it was before World War II. Both Ethan and Shane are characters that
have to always keep moving and that movement is depicted from east to west. Along the way
they are shown the differences between culture’s. We see Shane appear from the east into
homesteader territory and get involved with the homesteaders of the land trying to establish a
claim within an evil cattle baron’s land. We see Ethan enter a world of savage Comanche
warrior’s that kidnap, scalp, and kill women. The conflict of these films center around manifest
destiny ideology. They display an idea that a better life can be created farther west on the
frontier, a better life to raise a family or to escape something. The latter is something we can
observe in the film “Stagecoach” as the majority of character’s spin their own fate and conflict by
moving west. Dallas is escaping her life as a prostitute by moving west, banker Gatewood is
trying to escape his crime by moving west, Ringo Kid is evading police by moving west, etc.
Every character enters their own conflict through this ideology. Kitses discusses John
Ford and his primary themes of the "embattled community”, “the need for strong leadership and
sacrifice" and "the promise of new life." We have three protagonists, Shane, Ringo Kid, and
Ethan, each man believes he is strong and must sacrifice for the greater good. Ringo faces
Apache natives and the 3 brothers out to kill him in order to take Dallas away from the life she is
escaping. Shane faces Jack Wilson and Rufus Ryker for Joey, his family, and all the
homesteaders. Ethan faces Scar, the Comanche war chief, to try and rescue Debbie. Each man
is willing to sacrifice th...

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