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Alienation to Anomie in ‘Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times’

The Alienated and the Anomic in ‘Modern Times’

““Modern Times” A story of industry, of individual enterprise ~ humanity crusading in the pursuit of happiness”

Modern Times (1936) is considered by most to be Charlie Chaplin’s masterpiece. This film was made in the post-silent era of films and is not specifically a silent film. Although there is not a lot of talking, when there is spoken dialogue the dialogue comes from a machine, either a PA system, a recording, etc. At the core of the film are two characters trying to reclaim their humanity in an industrial world. The first character is “A Factory Worker” (Charlie Chaplin) the second is  “A Gamin” (Paulette Goddard). Within these two characters are a sense of Marxist Alienation and Durkheimian Anomie (A sense of Normlessness and or hopelessness). While A Factory Worker begins with Alienation, his alienation transforms into Anomie throughout the course of the film

What distinguishes man from animal according to Marx is that our faculties, capacities and tastes are shaped by society (Giddens, 1971, p. 13). Therefore each individual by this logic is a product of the culture he was born into and the generations that preceded him or her. Durkheim similarly argued that individuals were moulded and constrained by their social environments. This was because their behaviours were regulated by social norms through institutionalized values (Abercrombie, Hill, & Turner, 1984, p. 107). This essay will investigate how these theories are distinct and yet have a logical connection and development within the isolated individual’s of A Factory Worker and A Gamin.

Part 1: ‘A Story of Industry’


The relationship between human characteristics, productive activities, and products of these activities, allowed Marx to define alienation as any reification of men’s objects. The more Chaplin’s Factory Worker creates for ‘Electro Steel Corp’. The more they expect of him and the faster he is expected to work. The more of the product that is created the less power he has. He has no way out. Being alienated from one’s essential nature is to be other than what one is in essence. This is something other than what a man ideally could and ought to be, a free, creative, conscious man with willful control over his life activities. The despair of self-alienation is juxtaposed between a person’s actual life circumstances and his essential nature (Macfarlane, 1978).

This loss of control that he faces by attempting to adhere to the demands of the machinery spins him out of control. This propels him through the levels of Marxist Alienation from his alienation of the product of his labour, to the alienation from the act of production and eventually cuts him off from his ‘species being’.  This is the Marxist ideal of human nature. He cannot create at this point and when he cannot create something in the world he has no place to go but to allow himself to be objectified. This propels him into further torment in his commoditized sense of self in a capitalist world.

The ‘velocity of life has been speeded up by capitalist endeavours and space has been reduced between men’ (Sinai, 1965, p. 20) to the point where they pull away just to get a sense normality, but this normality no longer exists because stepping out of the line of production removes the Factory Worker from his self-created world (Sinai, 1965, p. 20). He can either be alienated by the work or alienated from society and in this case he eventually becomes Anomic.

By Marxist Standards the Factory Worker may be responsible for the creation of his alienation. This leads to the dehumanization that we see in Modern Times where he see him behaving in a mechanized manner when attempting to fix the buttons on the ladies blouse Thus man is his activity, the objects or products of this activity, and his society. Thus, alienation from man’s activities of production, his products, and his social relationships nullifies the development of human potential (Plasek, 1974). The factory worker cannot develop as a human being but can only exist as a tool within a system and alienation becomes unavoidable. It is at this point man where he ceases to be a man and therefore becomes an Alienated object.

The product becomes alien and as the creator of an alienated product the man becomes alienated. The process of production is socially organized under industrial capitalism. The products of human labor are objectified and transformed into commodities for exchange and profit. The more the worker creates the cheaper the commodity he becomes. “A commodity is a mysterious thing. This is because the social character of men’s labor appears to them as an objective character stamped upon the product of that labor” (Knight, 1959, p. 67).

Therefore the Factory Worker logically becomes the creator of his own alienation and this manifests itself in his psyche and filters out into the world. There is hopelessness in powerlessness. Therefore anomie could exist within alienation and be born from the womb of Marxist alienation.

Part 2: ‘Individual Enterprise’

Alienated to Anomic

Chaplin’s Factory Worker is powerless against the machinery that dominates the world and he can either be part of it, as a tool or he can be atomized in an unfulfilled, anomic and alienated existence. There is an absence of unity in alienated individuals. They are divided and ‘Alienated labor turns people against each other and themselves’ (Knight, 1959, p. 165). Good examples of this in Modern Times include the Factory Workers fighting on the production line and the prisoners turning on each other. In the second half of the film, once The Factory Worker moves to an anomic state, he finds a kinship in the department store with the robbers who were once his factory workers. They find a commonality in their despair. They have moved beyond alienation to a point where they begin to understand that there is no place for them in the world. As Gamin says in the final moments of the film ‘what’s the point in trying?’

The Individual

Marx’s conceptions of human Nature were that we have a need to create and this manifests itself in the self-creating aspects of labor. The means of work that humanity comes to create are essential, self-defining characteristics. Not only the products of labor, but also the labor activities, are extensions of Man’s own nature.

The key difference between Durkheim and Marx would appear that the Durkheim-Individual goes through a process of internalization where he absorbs the environment and eventually comes to the realization that he has no way out and no hope. Whereas it is the external forces that sculpt the Marx-Individual. The Marxist alienated individual is a man who has been overpowered by the force of another. He has been oppressed to the point of being powerless in the world. Anomie is to be cut off from the social sphere.  Anomie is the breakdown of norms in social interactions. It is the breakdown of a community in that the individuals have no place in the world.  They are detached from the collective that they were born into. Therefore, Durkheim’s anomie follows the theme of hopelessness and Marx’s Alienation follows the theme of powerlessness.

In simpler terms, Anomic individuals are ‘sponges’ and alienated individuals are ‘marble’. To be Anomic over Alienated by this argument would mean that the Anomic individual has a greater degree of insight into his own nature and his own situation. This would perhaps make the Anomic individual the more tragic figure. Charlie Chaplin’s Factory worker for example begins his journey as an alienated man but along the way he matures and after meeting ‘A Gamin’ begins to absorb the world.

This transference takes him from Marxist Alienation to Durkheim’s anomie. By the end of the film he is smarter and has developed his instincts for getting by from the influence of A Gamin but his Anomie has propelled him further from society than where he began. He is no longer a part of the herd of the working class. There is a sense of hopelessness and dread beneath the surface of the man who has nowhere to go and no way of defining his identity.


In a world where an identity is defined by vocation the individual without a respectful vocation will not only become powerless in his alienation from production but he will also be without hope, as he cannot fit into the world without a vocation. Charlie Chaplin is credited as “A Factory Worker”. There is no name to this character. Similarly, his employer has a glass door that reads “PRESIDENT… ELECTRO STEEL CORP.” there is no name attributed to this character outside of his title. Yet there is enough space between his job title and company to make it obvious that something is missing. What is missing is the identity that one should have outside of their job. In the modern world our professions define us. This hopelessness is Anomic despair because there is only one way to fit. This is to be part of the social machinery that can be seen in Modern Times.

A Gamin’s Anomie

What separates Gamin from Chaplin’s factory worker is that Gamin is not cut off from her work; she is cut from her family. She was robbed of the ones she loved by the bureaucratic system and ‘Without the duration of families no society can be stable’ (Durkheim, 1897, p. 160). This took her from a place of social alienation to a state of anomie where she became aware of the world and the way it worked. She had the insight to know that the cards were stacked against her while Chaplin’s Factory Worker was still going through the motions and not necessarily understanding the world he lived in or why it was not working for him. Thus you have the alienated worker and the anomic Gamin.

Amongst the herd of the working class and of the socialised animal that man supposedly is, is the lone individual. Thus to be an individual is not an easy task. The difficulty involved in individuality is what makes it an enterprise. It would appear that it is easier to be a part of the system. A part of industry, so why would a person want to be individualised if this makes them powerless and hopeless? What hope is there for the man without power? It is argued that anomie results from blocked opportunities. The individual is prevented from achieving his objectives and the powerlessness of alienation is replaced by a sense of hopelessness (Wilkins, 1965).  This hopelessness is an unquenchable thirst.

Part 3: ‘Humanity Crusading in the Pursuit of Happiness’

The Thirst

As Durkheim stated “Inextinguishable thirst is constantly renewed torture” (Durkheim, 1897). This thirst arises for novelties, nameless sensations and pleasures and yet they lose their savour once known. Therefore, “Humanity crusading in the pursuit of happiness” is in the Durkheimian sense the crusade for the pursuit of happiness is an inextinguishable thirst. Therefore man is constantly in search of new ways to quench his thirst and ‘Reality seems valueless compared to the dreams of fevered imaginations; reality is abandoned and possibility is abandoned when it becomes reality’ (Durkheim, 1897).

A good example of this can be seen in the dream sequences of Chaplin’s Factory Worker where he fantasises about the house with all the latest modern luxuries and the department store sequence where they utilize the comfortable beds and modern utilities to excess. Luxuries and commodities were of the highest value in the world of Modern Times.

The Continuum of Despair

There would appear to be two fundamental disparities in the means-ends continuum: first, between people’s existing life circumstances and their generic human capacities.  Second is inability to believe in objects and the inability to function without them (Knight, 1959). The life of The Factory Worker is dejected and heavy laden, oscillating between fatalism and frenzy, tossed between the despotism of the factory and the anarchy of the outside world (Sinai, 1965, p. 30). This denies or thwarts his natural human capacity for free, spontaneous, self-realizing activity that is an assumed part of his essential nature. The notion of self-alienation emerges here as a strategic concept which underlies all forms and manifestations of alienation in society (Scheitzer, 1991).

The themes of despair were cleverly constructed not only in the character of ‘A Factory Worker’ and ‘A Gamin’ but also from the usage of black and white. Good examples include the clock in the opening credits; the white hand is counting the seconds while the Black Hand is barely moving, the white cattle with one black member plodding through, and the subway with variations of black, white and grey hats but no faces. Then there is the work place where the employees are clocking on. Here we see white hats, one black hat and no faces. The individual is rare in this world and they stand out like a black sheep.

What reason would a man have to want to live a life that is regulated, where his freedoms are lacking and where he can only act in accordance with what is expected of him? The answer that Chaplin proposes is that the need for normality in your life and wanting to fit in is based on the desire for love and affection from a partner or family.  Therefore, if as Durkheim argues ‘People are only happy when their wants are proportionate to their means’ then how can an alienated worker not be anomic?

Does this despair not go hand in hand between alienation and anomie? The criteria for the community would be that there is a collective force behind the community and sense of fellowship to live united but there is no fellowship in the anomic community. So, would one man create an anomic community or become a threat to the way of life established such as The Factory Worker ceasing to function and needing to be reformed and rehabilitated as a member of society.

‘We’ll get along, as long as we stick together’

Can two anomic individuals ever be happy together? There is an absence of norms here and nothing to contain them but the neglect of the outside world. The anomie is not going away and by the close of the film with their backs to the camera they may appear to be walking of into the sunset with the myth that two people can complete each other but this not a reality. The most likely outcome is that they are walking to their doom. The police want them and there is nothing on the horizon. The anomie is actually growing. It is almost as if the despair of Gamin’s anomie has infected The Factory Worker. The romanticised cheeriness of “we’ll get along” will soon fade once the reality that even together the anomic person is still isolated. Therefore, the story ends and alienation may pass but Anomie goes on.

The End.


Abercrombie, N., Hill, S., & Turner, B. S. (1984). The Penguin Dictionary of Sociology. London: Penguin.

Durkheim, E. (1897). Suicide. paris: Routledge Classics.

Giddens, A. (1971). Capitalism and Modern Social Theory. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Universirt Press.

Herzog, W. (Writer), & Herzog, W. (Director). (1974). The Enigma of Kasper Hauser [Motion Picture]. Germany.

Herzog, W. (2009). Werner Herzog Interviews.

Knight, E. (1959). The Objective Society. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.

Macfarlane, A. (1978). The Origins of English Indivualism. Great Britain: The Camelot press.

Plasek, W. (1974). Maexist anjd American Sociological Conceptions of Alienation: Implications for Social Problems. Social Problems , 21 (3), 316-328.

Scheitzer, D. (1991). Marxist Theories of Alienation and Reification: The Response to Capitalism, State Socialism and the Advent of Postmodernity. International Journal of Sociology and Social Policy , 11 (6/7/8), 27-52.

Sinai, J. R. (1965). The Challenge of Modernisation. London: Ghato and Windus.

Wilkins, L. T. (1965). Social Deviance. New Jersey: Tavistock Publications.

The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance

Hallie’s Choice

John Ford’s The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962) is arguably one of the great westerns of its era. In some ways it represents the end of the John Wayne era of Westerns before the arrival of Clint Eastwood. What interests me in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance is not John Wayne and Jimmy Stewart or the animalistic intensity of Lee Marvin, it is Hallie’s (Vera Miles) choice that I always felt was at the core of the film. They appeared to be asking what is it that makes a woman choose one man over another? What are the qualities that make a certain type of man more attractive? Is it his money, social status or job, or is it something primal that is beyond words? Why Hallie chose Ransom Stoddard over Tom Doniphan and whether she could have chosen better will be investigated through the works of Durkheim, Weber, Sartre, Freud and Nietzsche. If Ransom Stoddard (Jimmy Stewart) offers idealism, comfort and justice, Liberty Valance (Lee Marvin) violent freedom and Tom Doniphan (John Wayne) just does what he has to do. Could Hallie (Vera Miles) have chosen better?

Desire and Discontent

At the opening of the film Ransom and Hallie had obviously been together for some years. The desire and passion appeared to have faded some time ago. Via flashback it can be seen that Hallie wanted a better life. She got this. She wanted to read. She was taught to read. She wanted real flowers. She got these as well. This was not quite enough. By the time we see her later in life she is longing for a simpler life.

Hallie was discontented after receiving what she claimed she wanted or at least what Ransom thought she wanted. Perhaps she did not want these materials. On the other hand maybe she lost her values as a trade off.  Such values include friendships and familial relationships to her employers and her connection to the townsfolk who depended on her as a waitress and cook. Ransom gave her these opportunities.

Ransom did not ask for anything in return. He was not looking for a wife and had no intent in possessing her as Tom Doniphan did. He could have easily lived his life in much the same manner with or without her.  Tom Doniphan on the other hand fell apart once he gave up the girl. He had a drunken tantrum and set fire to his house. This is why Ransom was the more desirable of the two. He was not dependent upon her. He did not profess his intent to marry a girl who was not even his girlfriend and did not give her flowers and trinkets like a schoolboy with a crush. Tom on the other hand gave her a cactus flower for no apparent reason other than obviously trying to win her over. This explains why she preferred Ransom but whether she could have chosen better is another matter. The reasons why people make choices or desire one person over another are not always for reasons in their best interest.

Sartre claims that ‘desire’ is the attempted incarnation of the consciousness of the other (Detmer, 2008, p. 108). Once this desire is met in the first kiss, in coitus or in the absolute certainty that you can have this person then desire is dead. Therefore by Sartre’s interpretation ‘pleasure kills desire’ (Detmer, 2008, pp. 96-98). Hallie could not be possessed and Tom could not take her freedom by steering her away from an education, without failure.

Tom’s desire for Hallie was insatiable and “insatiability is a sign of morbidity… Inextinguishable thirst is constantly renewed torture” (Durkheim, 1897, p. 208). Tom’s intentions were obvious and his attitude was too eager. This negated Hallie’s desire for Tom. Ransom on the other hand was a harder fish to catch. Not that Ransom was playing hard to get by normal standards but juxtaposed with Tom, Ransom was the greater challenge for Hallie. Her awareness of Tom’s feelings made Ransom more interesting by contrast. Even if one was to assume that Hallie was interested in Tom as the audience is supposed to accept, Tom did not make his move. He let the moment pass him by and opportunity has a tendency to step out of the way to let a man pass it by.

Take Ransom out of Shinbone and away from the excitement of Liberty Valance and there is a good chance that he was a very dull man. Once she married Ransom there is a high probability that she would eventually lose interest. This was evident in their later life scenes that bookended the film.

The Death of Liberty

When Tom shot Liberty Valance he not only killed Liberty Valance but he killed his own liberty in the process.  Tom was the counterpoint to Liberty in almost every respect. Eventually the knight has no more enemies. At the point where all enemies are defeated the knight has no purpose. This lack of purpose resulted in his self-destructive behavior just as the superego is out of balance without the id. Then the question needs to be asked; “if Tom were so heroic and magnanimous, why would Hallie choose Ransom?” This is because Ransom was noble but he could potentially move in another direction[1]. He wants to fight his own battles and he does. But not in the way that Tom fights. Ransom uses a pen and a book. Ransom was the symbol of modernity. He was the modern man and the old ways of law at the end of a gun were coming to an end. He was the grey area between Tom and Liberty. Therefore Tom’s time was coming to an end regardless.

The Abdication

It could be argued that Tom was a tragic Abraham-figure in that he gave Hallie up. Or so it seemed. This may have been an act of love or perhaps Tom finally saw the reality of the situation. Despite what Tom may have thought, giving up Hallie was not his decision. He never had her to begin with and he was certainly no relation. This assumption was Tom’s greatest flaw. Although it was alluded to that Tom and Hallie would marry, Hallie did not show a romantic interest in Tom. There were no signifiers of romantic interest and no physical contact on her part such as touching his arm or laughing at his jokes. She was certainly not impressed when he told her she’s pretty. The only times when she did communicate with Tom was when she wanted a favor. Such as needing him to save Ransom.

There was no visible connection between Hallie and the living Tom. This did not seem to matter to Tom. It also did not occur to Tom that he could not lose something he never had. Tom’s old-fashioned ideals towards women and his insecurity towards himself held him back.  By that logic Tom did not give Hallie up, he gave up his pursuit of Hallie.

To give something away as Tom claimed to be doing with Hallie and giving up on something are two very different processes. If Tom had been the master, his loss would have been his own choosing in giving up Hallie. People don’t usually kill themselves or self-destruct over things they consciously choose. If Tom actually lost hope and therefore gave up pursuit, then he had the most common motivation for self-destruction/suicide – ‘reaction by spitting the dummy against not getting one’s own way’.

If Tom was truly magnanimous and had given Hallie away as he claimed then he would not have self-destructed. The real tragedy of Tom is that he lost the girl to a tenderfoot, a pilgrim, the only man without a gun. This was a blow to his masculine and his egoist sensibilities.

The Grey

Shinbone was black and white, and Ransom remained in the grey in his acceptance of the falsity of his life and in the doubt he had in Hallie’s love for him. It is the legend that sells papers and truth becomes an irrelevancy in the modern world. By accepting this Ransom becomes disenchanted himself and liberty in Ransom dies when the choice between good and evil is removed. Tom and Liberty were like the devil and angel on his shoulder in a battle for his soul. This is perhaps why he was called Ransom. His dignity and self worth were being held to ransom.

The town of Shinbone was not accustomed to the ways of the modern world. Ransom had the best intent for the community by not carrying a gun and paving the way for the modern world. Ransom was in a sense the mediator. In Freudian terms Ransom could be considered the ego[2]. He fits right in between Liberty’s id[3] and Tom’s superego[4]. Ransom as the ego works in that he is the connection to the world outside of Shinbone. Tom on the other hand just did what he thought was right. He was a man who enjoyed his reputation as the white knight. He had to make the moral choices. Up until the death of Liberty Tom behaved in a socially acceptable manner.

Tom was the one who stood between Liberty and Ransom during Liberty’s moments of aggression. Liberty on the other hand was driven by instinct and self-gratification. Therefore they could not exist independently of each other. Tom faded away into obscurity before dying with no children to carry on his bloodline. Ransom gets the girl and the good job with the prestige but there was no family.  Ransom and Hallie did not have children and thus never moved into a totality in their love. Perhaps the sterility of the story implies the sterility of their relationship. Ransom is also dead in this regard in that his genes will not be carried forward.

The Bells

Liberty Valance of course gets shot. This death was the symbolic death of the community. Liberty had the freedom that Tom and the townsfolk only desired. After removing Liberty from their lives they lost a part of themselves. The bells stopped ringing and the townsfolk were not dancing any longer. The party was over in shinbone. They were no longer in fear and without this fear there was less to value. There was lawlessness in Liberty Valances time. There was anomie[5]. This anomie appeared to be a bad thing but once civil laws were in place freedom was subjugated. Thus there was the fear of Liberty Valance that was then replaced by Social Justice. Simplified in that the gun was traded for a law book. In the new world the pen is mightier than the sword. This was also symbolized by Tom apparently not using his gun in his remaining years and Ransom insisting that Tom be buried with his gun belt and boots.

The Family

The absence of family does not just go for Ransom and Hallie but for the town in general this was the decomposition of community. In fact, family as we know it and family values to a lesser extent were absent from Shinbone. The family structure and the respect developed from parental guidance that is transcended to authority were absent. In these cases social values remain undeveloped (Durkheim, 1897, p. 159). In the later years It was almost as if Shinbone was sterile or impotent. ‘Without the duration of families no society can be stable’ (Durkheim, 1897, p. 160). Therefore without family the community dies. Social norms and interactions break down leading into Durkheim’s concept of anomie.

Kurt Vonnegut once wrote in response to what women want. “They want more people to talk to. They want a large extended family to gossip to at family barbecues while their men tell silly jokes to one another”(Vonnegut, 2007). When there is no one else in the life of a married couple they eventually get bored with one another. Imagine knowing every little detail about the person you will spend the rest of your life with. Boredom creeps in and ‘familiarity breeds contempt’. This is where Hallie and Ransom were by the later stages of their life. Hallie was longing to go back to the community. For perhaps the first time in years, Hallie appeared joyful  when Ransom suggested moving back to Shinbone. The Shinbone that once was, is no more.

The Lie

Hallie would have had a fair idea that Ransom was not the man who shot Liberty Valance. Not unlike the journalists, she probably preferred the fantasy that is easier to live with. One form of self-deception is to embrace opinions of others in avoiding your own opinions (Audi, 2006, p. 70).  The community had a high opinion of Ransom and he went along with it, until he blew out the match.

The character that did not betray his ideals, and was authentic in and of himself, was Liberty Valance. Liberty was the only free man. Therefore, why would Hallie not choose Liberty if he could offer freedom? Perhaps Ransom was somewhat unavailable, yet Liberty was completely unavailable. Hallie would have been smart enough to see Liberty was psychotic.

Liberty was truthful to himself and there was no internalised deception. Liberty will act in his own vested interest. There is truth in this. Lenny Bruce once stated, “the truth is, what is; and what should be is a fantasy. A terrible lie that someone gave the people long ago”. The lie was everywhere but in Liberty. Even Tom betrayed his beliefs by killing a man, Ransom betrayed himself by accepting the lie and the journalists refused to let truth get in the way of a good story. Liberty would only kill Ransom in self-defense, by this reasoning it was unlikely that Liberty would have killed Ransom in cold blood. By Liberty dying Ransom still loses to Liberty in that the Ransom that once was is no more. The old Ransom disappeared when he accepted the lie.

The Coffin

This brings us back to Hallie. If Hallie had no interest in Tom, why did she put the cactus flowers on his coffin? Perhaps this was out of guilt or a platonic love. In the closing scene when Ransom asked who put the cactus flower on the coffin Hallie replied, “I did”. In this statement Hallie was protesting against the life Ransom gave her and finally become her own person in her own right in a modern world.

Hallie may have asked herself, “what if I chose the wrong man?” or “did I make a mistake?” The reality was, for better or worse Hallie was with Ransom. If Hallie and Tom attended Ransom’s funeral there is a chance she would have behaved in a similar way. This does not lead to the conclusion that she had romantic interest or that Tom was a viable option.

It could be argued that Hallie’s interests were irrelevant in the old west. Women did not have equal rights in the old world symbolized by Tom and Liberty. If this is a valid argument then “choice” in and of itself becomes a moot point. Perhaps Hallie did not get a choice. After all it was Tom that allegedly gave her away to Ransom after revealing he killed Liberty. If women had no rights, Tom giving her away like a piece of property left her with no choice regardless of the man she wanted. Taking this into account she could not have chosen better because there was no choice for her to make other than not choosing Ransom.

By Tom telling Ransom he could have her was telling Ransom that he could never get her on his own. This relates to the earlier scene where Ransom picked up the steak and demanded, no one fights his battles for him.

Tom was fighting the battle for Ransom in giving Hallie away. Therefore Ransom did not earn her. Tom ends up giving up all livelihoods. Even in death Liberty Valance triumphs.

The modern world as represented by Ransom, women do have choice. Therefore assuming that she did have choices twenty years later and reflect upon the life choices she may have made if given the choice to make choices.

Hallie was given a new choice at the end of the film in the prospect of moving back to Shinbone. Hallie chose her old life in Shinbone and put the cactus flower on the coffin. Perhaps she would have chosen Tom if given the choice. On the other hand, perhaps it was safer for Hallie that Tom made the choice for her. This is not to say that Hallie would not have made the choice to go with Ransom, but once Tom gave up there was no need for her to worry or feel guilty. When Tom is gone Hallie has no protector and now has freedom to choose, but is condemned to be free with Ransom.

The Weight

Shinbone needed Liberty. Ransom and Tom both needed an enemy. This ties in with Nietzsche’s master morality. The Nietzsche master is separate from the herd by the ability to decide for themselves a course of direction in their lives. This is what Ransom and Tom were able to do with Liberty Valance in their lives.  ‘The master will be able to move on from the misdeeds of his enemies’ (Nietzsche, 173, p. 451), Ransom was able to do this by picking up the steak. To be nonchalant in this manner is a sign of strength and richness.

Without the enemy (in this case Liberty Valance) the master has nothing to challenge or be challenged by. A good example was Tom’s outburst and his descent into obscurity and eventual death after losing his enemy.  Ransom without Liberty on the other hand lives his life as a falsehood. He had his job handed to him based on something he had not done and he had a woman that he believed he did not earn.

The Absence of Fear

Everyone has a calling. They have a job. Even the town sheriff had the job of sheriff but he also had the purpose to make Ransom look smarter, to make Liberty Valance look cool and to make Tom look brave. Labor has come to be seen as an end in itself. This does not change, even for the wealthy. It was this asceticism that neutered the spontaneous nature of life in Shinbone. This was and still is ‘The fate of the times’ to live in a society characterized by ‘mechanized petrification’ (Giddens, 1971, p. 216). Therefore with Liberty gone there was no known or comprehendible fear, or an emotional threat. Predictability began seeping through the cracks. As stated above, familiarity breeds contempt. The bells no longer ring and the honeymoon was over.

Hallie’s Choice

Hallie may have been happier if she spent her life in Shinbone never knowing what was outside the walls. If she had never learnt to read or write and had never met Ransom then she most likely would have either married Tom or gotten old waiting for him to make his move.  In this respect there was not really a choice there.  It was Ransom or wait for Tom to grow up.  Based on Tom’s behaviour in the final act it was unlikely that he would be able to maintain an adult relationship. However the idealistic lawyer that Hallie first met was a different Ransom to the political Ransom that she married.

The Ransom of Shinbone existed within the trinity of Tom and Liberty. Remove Liberty and remove Tom and there is not a lot there to hold Hallie’s interest. Therefore she could have chosen better if given the choice. She may have had children with Tom but it is still unlikely that she would have chosen Tom.  This was due to the fact that Tom was too eager to please. Tom may have made a more loving husband and provider.  On the other hand Tom’s world was coming to an end. Men like Tom and Liberty were becoming extinct. Ransom was the future therefore Ransom was the best choice that she could have made.

Regardless of whom Hallie chose she would have ended up marrying one and forever wondering “What if?” about the other.


Audi, R. (2006). The Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy. New York, USA: Cambridge University Press.

Detmer, D. (2008). Sartre Explained: From Bad Faith to Authenticity. USA: Carus Publishing Company.

Durkheim, E. (1897). Suicide. London: Routledge.

Giddens, A. (1971). Capitalism and Modern Social Theory; An analysis of the writing of Durkheim, Marx $ Weber. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Haase, U. (2008). Starting with Nietzsche. Bungay, Suffolk, Great Britain: Continuum.

Nietzsche, F. (173). Genealogy of Morals and Beyond Good and Evil. (R. Hollingdale, Trans.) Harmmondswaorth: Penguin.

Vonnegut, K. (2007). A Man Without A Country. Random House Publishing.

[1] He was a lawyer after all.

[2] The ego is based on the reality principle.  The ego understands that other people have needs and desires. Sometimes being impulsive or selfish can cause harm in the long run.  The ego’s job is to meet the needs of the id, while taking into consideration the reality of the situation.

[3] Freud believed that the id is based on our pleasure principle.  In other words, the id wants whatever feels good at the time, with no consideration for the reality of the situation.

[4] Superego is the moral part that develops due to the moral and ethical restraints placed on us by our caregivers.  Similar to the conscience as it dictates our belief of right and wrong.

[5] Anomie is a social condition characterized by the breakdown of norms governing social interactions.

[6] Bad Faith is Sartre’s concept that self-deception or denial is a way to avoid comprehending or taking responsibility for ones own life and or choices.

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