"The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance" tells the tale of two western alpha male cowboys, Tom Doniphon and Liberty Valance, whose lives are jolted by the arrival of a naive "tenderfoot" from the east, Ransom Stoddard. Stoddard arrives with the mindset that the problems existing within Shinbone can be solved by enforcement of the law. However, such behavior is foreign to the westerners. Instead, Doniphon warns Stoddard "you'd better start packing a handgun... I know those law books mean a lot to you but not out hear. Out here a man settles his own problems" (896). Both Doniphon and Valance share this view in life; they know only a life of death and gunfights. Matheson reflects upon this as she states that "in Shinbone, the individual does not enforce the law; he is the law" (896). While this comes as a rude awakening to Stoddard, it is a way of life for Doniphon and Valance. They solve their problems on their own, aided only by a gun. Ultimately, Stoddard succumbs to the ways of the west, as he realizes his helplessness against Valance. As he comprehends that his law books won't stand a chance against Valance, he resorts to using a gun.
Doniphon can further be recognized as an alpha male cowboy in the fact that he abandons his chance at love, "holding himself responsible for the course of events that he himself sets in motion" (897). Matheson realizes his predicament as she states "like all film noir antiheroes, Doniphon is caught in an existential double bind" (897). Yet in the end, he forgoes his love for Hallie in order to protect Stoddard. Realistically, Doniphon could have easily stood aside and watched as Valance killed Stoddard, which he would have inevitably done. Yet, instead, he killed the villian on behalf of him, losing his chance at love and happiness. Thus, once again, the alpha male cowboy's sense of personal duty and responsibility outweighs his desires.