Thursday, January 28, 2010

Ethan in relationship to the desert

"The desert flatters the human figure by making it seem dominant and unique, dark against light, vertical against horizonatal, solid against plane, detail against blankness."(74) In all wester fims the desert is blatently thrust upon the audience as the domineering landscape all characters succumb to, a place that can hold no secrets, and holds no refuge, a place where only the hard can survive. "Nature makes it obvious, even to the most benighted, who her chosen are:"(73) Ethan from the searchers,is a chosen one. What strikes most viewers, are the similarities between the land and the hero of a Western. The landscape is bleak, harsh, hard, hot, and mostly the landscape is alone, no water to lure animals, only rocks, and sand. Etha is of the sort, a solitary man, who enjoys nothing more than being on his horse alone, his hardness and roughness makes it hard for any women to come near him, and his loner like stance makes it hard for any man to befriend him.

Due to the significant connection between character and landscape, it seems only befitting, that only the landscape can open up the heart of the hero, giving him an emotional dimension. . What I am referring to is when Ethan finds Debbie, he is set to kill her for revenge. Debbie slides down the hill, and he runs after her determination seared into his eyes. But then grabs her and hugs her, all his revenge gone, and all his emotions evident. This is due to the openess of the desert, the desert as I have mentioned earlier can hold no secrets, its vast oppeness makes a person open up fom the inside, understanding the fact that they are only a small part of the world, thus they accept what they are, and what they feel, which is why only in the desert can a man bethrottled in a murderous rampage change pace and become a loving uncle. That is only because the desert has enough space, to hold every human emotion possible.

Blog #1 - The Searchers

John Wayne's character, Ethan, in The Searcher is used to not only embody the physical characteristics of the desert but also its tendency to constantly change. While Ethan's appears to fit Tompkins' description of the western hero: "To be a man in the Western is to seem to grow out of the environment, which means to be hard, to be tough, to be unforgiving (73)," his temperament isn't as solid as the audience is led to believe. We, as an audience, perceive Ethan to personify "the desert's fierceness in his hard struggle to survive, its loneliness in his solitary existence, and its silence in his frugal way with language (Tompkins 84)." However, the true value in Wayne's character is hidden beneath his hardness and is only glimpsed in his characters' transformation in the climax of the film.
After the seemingly endless search for Debbie, Ethan and Martin discover that she is hardly the nine year old girl they once knew. She has adopted the Comanche way of life as her own. While Martin remains determined to bring her home, Ethan remains true to the characteristics of the desert and disregards any emotion in the pursuit of revenge. However, when Ethan has the opportunity to kill her, he turns against the hardness of the desert, revealing the real the value of The Searchers, for Ethan finally understands that the desert is not only a hard, dry, infinite plain, but as Tompkins explains "The hero's passage across the landscape has ultimately a domesticating effect. Though it begins in anxious movement and passes through terror and pain, it continually ends in repose. A welcoming grove of aspens, a spring, and a patch of grass probide shelter and sustenance... If nature's wildness and hardness test his strength and will and intelligence, they also give him solace and refreshment (81)." The Searchers uses this moment of vulnerability to convey the other side of the desert and the hero, Ethan.

The Searchers/Tompkins

In relation to the western landscape, Tompkins' writes "be brave, be strong enough to endure this, it says, and you will become like this-hard, austere, and sublime" (71). Truly, Ethan has been hardened by the call of nature. He shows no emotion, never displaying the vulnerability of those who travel alongside him. While Brad is crazed by the unrelenting desert, Ethan stands alongside it, matching its fierceness. His physical appearance parallels that of the landscape. He is reddened by the sun, caked with dirt, rugged like the desert itself.

Much like the characteristic cowboy, "he was as merciless as the frontier that bred him" (73). Ethan was relentless in his search for the Comanche tribe. He was intent on finding his niece, with or without the help of the others. Though months passed without solid leads, Ethan continued his search for Debbie. He was not phased by blizzards, or scorching heat. Tompkins writes that "if nature's wildness and hardness test his strength and will and intelligence, they also give him solace and refreshment" (81). Ethan does not belong sheltered up within the confines of a home. He seeks the openness and barrenness that the desert offers him. And after returning Debbie to her home at last, he rides out back into the desert, a land of endless possibilities.

The Searchers in Relation to Tompkins' Chapter on Land

John Wayne's character, Ethan, personifies the western landscape. Jane Tompkins refers to the characteristics of the landscape in saying, "The qualities needed to survive on the land are the qualities the land itself posesses- bleakness, mercilessness. And they are regarded not only as anecessary to survival but as the acmeof human moral perfection" (Tompkins 73). Ethan posesses all the traits necessarily not only to survive, but to triumph in his goal of revenge. By acheiving his goal, Ethan conquers the land, the one thing larger than himself.

Tompkins also writes, "The single most important relationship they have is to the land" (Tompkins 78). The viewer knows that all that stands between Ethan and his goal is the land (and the American Indians, although it is made evident in context that the white man is superior in the film through the protagonist's demeanor). Therefore, it is the land that stands alone as the most important single element in the film.

Finally, when the heroes get back to town, the viewer knows the story is wrapped up. Tompkins says, "Town is a mecca, a haven, a journey's end" (Tompkins 86). Upon arrival, the viewer knows immediately that everything is going to work out and there will be a happy ending, and of course, there is. The symbolic use of symbolism in the landscape of The Searchers makes the tale not just a simple story, but a complex experience.

Jane Tompkins states that “The blankness of the plains implies-without ever stating-that this is a field where a certain kind of mastery is possible, where a person (of a certain kind) can remain alone and complete and in control of himself, while controlling the external world trough physical strength and force of will.”

There are many instances when we can relate the above statement stated by Tompkins to the movie “Searcher”. In the movie there are several time when the Captain (Reven) and Ethan have different opinion and all the people with them follow the Captain, but Ethan is of the view that he does not need anyone along with him. Any time he is ready to go alone, he does not require anyone’s company. He always went on doing what he thought he should do and did not wait back just because someone was not coming along. Also, the physical that Tompkins talks about, is very well portrayed by Ethan whenever required. He is ready to fight if anyone comes in his way, at that time he sees no bonds. It is just himself and his goal

We can say that Ethan had attained the mastery that Tompkins is talking about that a person can remain alone and control his life.

The Searchers and Jane Tompkins

Jane Tompkins opens the chapter discussing the role of the land and the landscape in western films, by introducing the fact that the land is a prominent factor in all westerns. She states, "All there is is space, pure and absolute, materialized in the desert landscape," (70). The film, The Searchers, is no different than any other western, in that it opens with a view of the landscape through an open door. This symbolizes the opportunities the settlers saw by moving out west. Tompkins also stresses that "The landscape challenges the body to endure hardship-that is its fundamental message at the physical level," (71). In the Searchers, the main character, Ethan, returns home to the settlement after being out in the plains for awhile, only to find that his niece, Debbie, was taken away by Indians. Ethan then sets off to track the Indian tribe and rescue Debbie. Throughout the film, one can easily pick out that Ethan is the epitome of the Alpha male character. He survives through horrible conditions out in the desert, but never gives in to the challenges he faces, which relates to Tompkins' statement regarding the land testing and challenging pioneers, also "a man whose hardness is one with the hardness of nature," (73). Ethan had been out in the desert for such a long time, even before he started his long journey to save Debbie. In the scenes where he returns to the settlement, it is easy to tell that he does not fit in with the society. Tomkins would describes this, "perhaps more than anything, nature gives the hero a sense of himself. For he is competent in this setting. He knows his horse will lead him to water, knows how to build a fire and where to camp. He can take care of himself," (81). Tomkins explaination for Ethan's feeling would be that he feels more comfortable living off the land in solitude, because the land can give him everything he needs. Tompkins also discusses the role of the town in a western movie. It serves as a safe haven, completely separate from the journey that is made in the desert. The two worlds almost never meet and are viewed in totally different aspects, as is demonstrated in The Searchers.

When discussing a cowboy and the desert, Tompkins states that “the single most important relationship [he has] is to the land. They are in constant contact with it – thinking about it, using it, enjoying it, fearing it, seeing it, smelling it, touching it, hearing it.” The desert is uncivilized, and as a result, the cowboy is, for the most part, on his own. He learns to survive in the extreme conditions by mimicking them, becoming one with the desert. In The Searchers, Ethan, the hero, is a cowboy who returns to his sister’s home after being alone in the desert for many years. He has characteristics that Tompkins uses to describe the desert: powerful, controlling, hard, unforgiving and hostile. Ethan is powerful and controlling when he leads a search group to find his niece, during which he is unforgiving to the Indians for what they have done to his family and he is hostile with them and anyone who stands in his way of rescuing his niece. The desert is a lonely place and Ethan, after returning his niece to the Jorgensens’ ranch, Ethan leaves and the ranch door closes on him. This shows that he is disconnected from society and belongs with the desert.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Jane Tompkins describes the typical cowboy as “a man whose hardness is one with the hardness of nature.” This shows the direct correlation between man and nature. In The Searchers, John Wayne’s character, Ethan, is a rugged cowboy that resembles the typical view of a cowboy. Ethan’s view towards the Natives was shown in the very beginning when he was re-introduced to a family friend, Martin, who was an eighth Cherokee. Ethan was very bitter about Martin’s ethnicity, and even told Martin that he looked like a “half-breed.” Ethan was very dry and unwelcoming, just like the desert. Ethan was also very bleak and lonely, in a sense, similar to the barrenness of the desert. Wayne’s character displayed rage at times throughout the movie which relates to the desert’s unpredictable flurries. Like Tompkins’ states the desert is “hard” and “austere.” Ethan also comes off as hard and austere through his rough and jagged physical appearance. Ethan’s quest to find his family after they were attacked by the Indians was a revenge-driven plot. The cowboy fights for what he wants, and nature is always there with him. As Tompkins’ states “In the end, the land is everything to the hero; it is both the destination and the way.”
In the text, Tompkins writes "The qualities needed to survives on the land are the qualities the land itself possesses - bleakness, mercilessness. And they are regarded not only as necessary to survival but as the acme of human perfection." John Wayne's character in "The Searchers" certainly has some of the dry and merciless characteristicsthat Tompkins refers to. The film shows the various hard, dry conditions of the West and John Wayne's journey of battling the forces of nature to save his niece.
The men who survive the conditions of the West appear to be a product of their environment. In the film, John Wayne appears to be just as tough and unforgiving as the ground he walks on. One instance of this is when he considers killing his niece so she doesn't have to live her life as a member of the Indian tribe. John Wayne has a personality that is as dry as the land. It is very rare to find a scene where he smiles, which shows the extent of his focus on finding his niece. The only emotions that show through him are anger and determination, which is a result from constantly enduring the challenges of the West.

The Searcher

Tompkins states “The qualities that men implicitly possess- power, endurance, rugged majesty- are the ones that men desire while they live.” Many parallels can be drawn between the desert and the main character in The Searchers. John Wayne’s charter, Ethan, is the stereotypical western hero that embodies the qualities most men strive for in our society. Much like the desert Ethan is a tough and rugged looking charter. In the movie Ethan’s demeanor and personality can be compared to dryness of the desert. Wayne’s character is a man of few words. He only speaks when it’s absolutely necessary and rarely shows any emotion other than anger. Ethan’s anger and need for revenge resembles the fierce and at times unpredictable weather of the desert. When he discovered his family had been attacked the viewer didn’t know what Ethan was going to do or what he was capable of for that matter. I believe the reason for the similarities between the desert and the cowboy is a result of the cowboy’s need for the desert. In West of Everything Tompkins says “In the end, the land is everything to the hero; it is both the destination and the way. He courts it, struggles with it, defies it, conquers it, and lies down with it at night.”

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

The Searchers

Examine The Searchers in relation to Tompkins' chapter on the land.
What ideas does the film suggest about the relationships between the cowboy and the land?
Give examples from the film and quote from the text.