At first glance of the film ‘The Searchers,’ directed by John Ford, it may appear that Ethan Edwards is a racist warrior obsessed with racial hatred and the absence of love for family. Based on racism that was experienced in the 1960s especially, on the Indians and other, whites the film was seen as harsh; however, in light of today’s events, people view it in a different perspective as it has helped in shaping the American History. Ethan is obsessed about saving his niece from the Comanche’s who burn down his family house killing his family. However, he is left with Marty whom he does not consider as family only because he is adopted. Reason being he is half Comanche’s and Ethan hates Indians, where he transfers this hatred to Marty where he asks him not to call him uncle. He even goes further to threaten Marty if he calls him, Marty as he tells him he will Whoop him in case he refers to him as Uncle (Dirks 1)
Although Ethan hates Indians with all his being to the extent that he is willing to kill his niece because she has become a Comanche after staying with them for five years. The viewers see that he regains his consciousness towards family. At the end of the story, it becomes clear that Ethan develops into a western style hero who is can recognize his family, to forget the racial differences that he and Marty have and accepting Debbie in reuniting the family. He is even ready to leave all his riches to martin who in the first place did not consider as a family. At the end of the fight with the Comanche’s, he asks Debbie to join her as they go home after they rescued her (Dirks 3). He is no longer trying to kill Debbie in order to cleanse her, but accepts her for what she has become because she is family and at the same time recognizes that Martin is also a family.
Ethan is struggling to understand or accept society, or to embrace family life for him. The author illustrates the struggles that Ethan is undergoing to fit in the society. Furthermore, his difficult situation is further emphasized upon the first emerges of Scar, the two are a reflection of each other as they are all seeking revenge for the loss of their families. Ethan and Scar are both victims of vengeance, as Scar’s sons were killed by white people and Ethan’s’ love Martha was a victim of the Native American massacre. They both are searching for revenge, however, came to a different end; Ethan can end with himself and accept the differences between them, but Scar came to his own death. Ethan came to a resolution suggesting that an acceptance would bring a better result.
Ethan’s relationship with the characters is crucial in determining his role and the conclusion of his “story.” His relationship with Martin provides him with his first step of reconciliation with the Native Americans. At the beginning of the film, Ethan is unable to accept Martin due to his close ties with the Comanche’s, but as they spend time together, he comes to understand him as they sleep under the stars together. When Comanche’s warriors attack them, they both run to hide in a cave for their lives (Dirks 1).
In a marvelous gesture, Ethan grabs Debbie forcefully by the shoulders and lifts her into the air, this reminds him of the first physical contact that he had with her five years ago. Seeing the rage in his uncle’s eyes Debbie expects him to kill her, but at that instance when the close up shot of them looking eyes, he touches her, and he realizes that she is his kind, and she cannot tolerate killing her as much as he wanted to at the time. At that moment all the hatred the brutality and the intolerance he feels inside him, disappears, and he feels the need to have a home and a family. Through the interaction with Martin Ethan learns that racial differences are not important and less important than family love. Ethan is a hero in his own way to which he came to a resolution to himself and saved his niece instead of killing her to “cleanse” her.
Ethan Edwards’s brutal actions in the film relate to what happened during the same period, the brutal actions that white people forced upon the Native Americans. The brutality is shown when Ethan shoots the dead Indians between the eyes, this is that the Indian has already died, but he still has to take out his anger on a corpse, this heightens his racism towards the Indians. This action is justified by the fact that he is taking revenge on a corpse; this is just the same as saying the genocide is an “unintended consequence” of European exploration (Stannard 21).
The film is trying to justify the actions of some white Americans by explaining their actions through filming a massacre suffered by their own race. Nonetheless, this was not the case, as in the third flashback, the author’s show Ethan shooting the buffaloes causing a stampede; killing all the buffaloes, he does not care whether the Indians will die of hunger (Dirks 3). Although Marty protests the deliberate killings of the buffaloes, he does not listen to him, as his main reason for shooting them is to starve the Comanche’s during the winter (Dirks 3). The actions should not be justified because they are intentional, for Ethan he had racial hatred going through him and for most Americans getting rid of Indians meant unlimited access to the lads, as there were no minerals to exploit (Standard 43). Even though what is highlighted in the film is a white person who comes to reconciliation.
The second error in the film is that, in the film, there are not shots of the sufferings of Native Americans, but ironically, the film shows the suffering of white women whom the Comanche’s had captured. After keeping them for so long the torture from being far from their families, make them go crazy. This shows that not only did the Native Americans suffer in the hands of the Comanche’s they tortured their women until they went crazy. A half- crazy woman in the film who is moaning on a doll illustrates the suffering that was caused by the Comanche’s on whites (Dirks 2).
Additionally, in the film, both Lucy and Martha were sexually insulted before their death; this highlights the brutality of the Indian tribes rather than the Americans (Rommel-Ruiz 100). This was not the case as in the 1870s the United States government shifted towards a policy of assimilation of Native Americans, “decided to turn them into white men.” Many Native Americans were captured and send to a boarding school with the aim to “civilizing” them. One hundred and sixty nine children were taken, not for better their learning, but for the larger industrial culture. Children were taken away for putting them into domestic labor (Stannard 70). None of this was captured in the film, but only the sufferings on two white women, which ignored the sufferings of hundreds of children.
The film is biased because it does not highlight the sufferings that the Indians went through in the hands of the whites. For example, they were seen as uncivilized to the extent that they were taken to schools to make them more civilized. The film, although states that scar wants to revenge the death of his sons the director does not indicate to the audience about the suffering the Indians went through (Stannard 73). According to Stannard, many Indians were killed, especially women and children by Native Americans and the government with the help of their troops. The government was trying to make Indians disappear so that they could take over their reservations.
However, if you change your perspective, you should be able to sympathize with the tribes who may have brought death upon whites. Because the sufferings they have encountered are much greater than Ethan, and if Ethan’s actions are justified as he is viewed as a hero then the actions of Native Americans should also be justified (Rommel-Ruiz 103). Therefore, it does not mean that ignoring the historical facts should be accepted, but by portraying the film in such a way, the white Americans might be able to see the damage they have caused, as they now see their own race suffer what was suffered by Native Americas. After all, Ethan is a hero who represents both racial groups and acts as a pathway for people to follow, as only forgiveness would bring you happiness.
Dirks, Tim. "The Searchers." Film Site Movie Review. N.p., 2014. Web. 5 Apr. 2014. <www.filmsite.org/sear.htm>.
Rommel-Ruiz, W. B. American History Goes to the Movies: Hollywood and the American Experience. London: Routledge, 2010. Print.
Stannard, David. American Holocaust: The Conquest of the New World. New York: Oxford University Press, 1992. Print.