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The Invisible Hand in Popular CultureLiberty vs. Authority in American Film and TV$
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Paul A. Cantor

Print publication date: 2012

Print ISBN-13: 9780813140827

Published to Kentucky Scholarship Online: May 2013

DOI: 10.5810/kentucky/9780813140827.001.0001

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The Western and Western Drama

The Western and Western Drama

John Ford's The Searchers and the Oresteia

(p.31) 1 The Western and Western Drama
The Invisible Hand in Popular Culture

Paul A. Cantor

University Press of Kentucky

Chapter One uses Aeschylus’ Oresteia as background for understanding John Ford's Western The Searchers. Both works explore the thin line between civilization and barbarism, and portray characters tragically crossing it. Like Aeschylus’ tragic figures (and the Homeric heroes to which they are related), Ford's Ethan Edwards is strong, cruel, and violent. But these are precisely the qualities he needs to defend his community against the threats it faces on the frontier. Like the Greeks and barbarians in ancient literature, the cowboys and Indians in Ford's film are mirror images of each other. Ultimately, Ethan cannot fit into the domestic community he defends, and is left isolated at the end of The Searchers. Greek tragedy and Homeric epic offer the best analogies to Ford's film, with its uncompromising vision of the tension between civilization and barbarism.

Keywords:   Aeschylus, Oresteia, John Ford, Western, The Searchers, civilization and barbarism, Greek tragedy, Homeric epic

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