Tuesday, February 9, 2010

In The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, Ransom Stoddard is a man with good morals living in a corrupt, Western Frontier. Stoddard is a lawyer who believes that the law will conquer all evil-doers, but he was soon proven wrong. Tom Doniphon, the alpha-male cowboy, quickly informs Stoddard “You’d better start packing a handgun….I know those law books mean a lot to you but not out here. Out here a man settles his own problems” (896). Stoddard soon comes to realize that Doniphon was right, and that he must settles his own problems rather than relying on the law. Stoddard can’t kill a man, Liberty Valance, because he does not have the mind set for it, which is why, Doniphon takes care of the problem himself.
Liberty Valance’s appearance did not suggest he was the alpha male. Valance was dressed in dirty, rugged clothing and was not cleanly shaved. Valance lacked cleanliness. Matheson addresses the importance of hygiene, or lack thereof, in Westerns and how the exterior of a character reveals his or her role; “cleanliness and dirt register how normal or abnormal a character’s psychology is” (892). Matheson also quotes Martin Pumphrey stating “Heroes, Pumphrey says, are not ‘stained, grimy, or disheveled in the style of the rough, unmannered villains.’ Heroes may be dusty but not dirty. Their clothes may be worn but not greasy” (892). Valance’s clothes from the beginning were very filthy which portrayed his dishonest and corrupt personality. Valance also represents a sociopath. He shows no emotion and no remorse for his actions. Matheson refers to this sociopathic lifestyle as “Hobbesian” (891) referring to Thomas Hobbes’ philosophical ideas, the author of The Leviathan, who describes life in man’s state of nature as nasty, brutish and short.
John Wayne’s character, Tom Doniphon, is quickly revealed as the hero. Doniphon was the one who saved Ransom Stoddard after he was beaten and robbed by thieves, specifically Liberty Valance. Doniphon was always neatly shaved and his clothes were very much respectable. In the scene where Liberty Valance comes to Hallie’s restaurant, Doniphon is dressed in a nice, clean-cut suit. The difference between the hero and the villain becomes even clearer when Liberty Valance enters the restaurant and the two almost encounter a dual; Liberty Valance’s grim attire is almost opposite to Doniphon’s trim suit. Doniphon and Valance do, however, share common qualities, which Matheson points out. The two characters are both “callous, remorseless, and manipulative” (897). What sets Doniphon apart from the rest of Shinbone is the fact that he is a man of his word. Stoddard talks about the bullying of Valance and says that Valance needs to be stopped but Doniphon is the only person that takes action. What proves Doniphon is a true, alpha-male cowboy, is the fact that he does not get the woman, Hallie, in the end but Stoddard does. Doniphon did this not for himself, but for Hallie by “acting in good faith” (897).

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