The Searchers: Brian Henderson

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“That’ll Be the Day”
The millions who have seen the western classic, The Searchers, probably ended up searching for John Ford and some answers themselves. Many viewers have questioned the motivation behind John Wayne’s crude, but wonderfully played character. Would he really have shot his own niece? What was Ethan really thinking? To find the answer it is actually best to analyze the character of Martin, who according to author Brian Henderson stands for everything that Ethan does not.

Henderson’s thesis starts off vaguely by pointing out musical scores at each end of the film which show that Ethan Edwards does not have a “peace of mind”. What we do know about Wayne’s character from the beginning is that he despises Native Americans and probably holds more prejudices as he still dons his Rebel uniform. Viewers get a sense of how strong his hatred of Indians is as he is quick to dismiss his own nephew after learning he is an eighth Cherokee. From Martin we learn how Ethan really feels and how Henderson thinks John Ford’s directing may have been influenced.

Henderson makes great points when talking about the issues and ideals of two cultures who were showing each other no signs of tolerance. While Debbie has been taken by the Indians and integrated in their culture, the same can be said about Martin

and the Edward family. Each has been stripped of their childhood, forgetting whatever they learned about their respective heritage. Martin even describes how he can barely recollect his youth. Examples such as the scene where Martin does even not realize he has been married to a Native American and even kicks her; make it easy for viewers to understand this thesis.

The author keeps building his theme of prejudice by describing how the character of Debbie is merely treated as an object. Throughout the course of the film she has no opportunity to make a decision for herself. Ethan talks about wanting to recover Debbie before Scar “contaminates”...
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