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Masculine and Feminine Archetypes in Fight Club, Hamlet, The Searchers & Seven Women

The female characters in John Ford’s The Searchers and Seven Women, Hamlet and Fight Club suggest that the early stages of culture are created organically by an internal ‘feminine’ process. This is not the same as an ‘organic society’ where each individual serves as part of the societal bodies functions. It is the cultivation of culture that these women represent. This will be examined by analysing the abstract ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’ archetypes1 of the characters Dr Cartwright (Seven Women), Ethan (The Searchers), Jack (Fight Club) and Hamlet.

The Transition to the Feminine

The transition to the ‘feminine’ will be explained using Dr Cartwright (Ann Bancroft) and her wounded ‘femininity’. The ‘masculine’ will be examined in the outward actions of the male characters Ethan (John Wayne) in ‘The Searchers’ and ‘Fight Club’s’ Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt). This will involve the impact that the female characters Debbie and Marla on these overtly ‘masculine’ characters. The ‘Fight Club’ Narrator known as Jack2 and Hamlet will be used as an example of the unfulfilled men in the middle, trapped between their internal ‘feminine’ and outward ‘masculine’ attributes. Hamlet and Jack will be contrasted and compared using the female characters of Marla and Ophelia and their ‘masculine’ responses to females in their cultures.

The internal process of culture is for the purposes of this essay the ‘feminine’ aspect of culture. In this concept of ‘femininity’ it is the internalised nature of the characters persona. This is something that is potentially being created and recreated at any given moment in both character and culture. Yet it is not self sustaining. It needs to grow and it needs to be fed. It needs to continually push outwards in the form of ‘masculinity’. The ‘masculine’ nature is the externalised outward behaviours of a person and culture. This is the core of the ‘masculine’ and the ‘feminine’ attributes. The ‘masculine’ response to trauma, tragedy and drama in medieval times was to mount a horse with a lance and charge off in a state of aggression to overcome the problem and/or enemies. This is the external nature of the ‘masculine’ archetype. John Wayne’s character Ethan was a prime example of this.

‘Seven Women’

This is not to say women were incapable of ‘masculine’ behaviour. Dr Cartwright in the first two acts of John Ford’s ‘Seven Women’ (Lofts, Greene, & McCormick, 1966) was a good example. Her arrival in the fort dressed like an early incarnation of an ‘Indiana Jones’ style adventurer leads the audience to perceive her as a strong, independent and ‘masculine’ woman. She dresses like a man, drinks from a bottle, uses cigarettes obsessively as a social barrier and intentionally defies the cultural stereotypes of women. Just as Cartwright uses cigarettes to create a barrier between her and the world, Agatha and the other women use religion and the fort in a similar manner.

The only character who manages to break through this barrier of Cartwright’s smoke is Emma. This is evident in the scene where Dr Cartwright is woken and told that Emma is sick. Her first instinct was to smoke a cigarette. She puts the cigarette in her mouth and moves to light it, but she does not light the cigarette. She throws it away. Dr Cartwright would not have done that for any other character at this point in the story. There was a seed planted by Emma’s ‘feminine’ presence. This was also evident in an earlier scene where Dr Cartwright touched Emma’s arm in a rare act of ‘feminine’ kindness. Dr Cartwright remains a strong woman throughout the film. In the final act she finds greater strength in her ‘femininity’. This ‘femininity’ is most evident after she makes the pact with the Mongol leader and metaphorical devil Tungha Khan. After she makes the agreement she goes into her room to seek solace in solitude not unlike ‘The Handless Maiden’ seeking solace in the forest3 after having her hands chopped off. This is a form of ‘feminine’ initiation equivalent to the heroic actions of the ‘masculine’.

Dr Cartwright’s action resulted in the demise of her own life, but succeeded in the continuation of another life. This was the newly born baby. One life ends and another continues. The pregnancy as a biological process also works as a clever metaphor for the internal creation of the ‘organic culture’. As one culture comes to an end another culture is created. The culture of the Christian mission was over. The culture of the nun no longer had the authority it once had. Forts were becoming a thing of the past and the horse and cart were being replaced with the automobile. Along with the death of Dr Cartwright is also the demise of the Cart in itself. One ends but another continues reinvented in a new form. One culture is born out of the last in a continual process of death and birth. This is what could symbolically be called the conception of an ‘organic culture’.

Dr Cartwright’s solution to saving the group was to embrace the ‘feminine’ aspects of her character that were previously denied. This was in not going in to conquer her enemy but by compromise. This was to neutralize herself along with the villain. The ‘feminine’ heroic action of Dr Cartwright was not of violence or destruction in the sense of Ethan through the majority of ‘The Searchers’. She did not want to triumph over evil or seek revenge. She wanted to diminish the opposition of two forces of their illusory battle (Johnson, 1993, p. 80).

‘The Searchers’

Ethan on the other hand did not hesitate to shoot out the eyes of a dead Indian and send the Indian soul into purgatory or scalp the villain Scar. Thus resorting to the same levels of the Indians he despised. He even wanted to kill the person that Debbie (his beloved Niece) had become. This was until he got to the moment where he had to choose. He could not kill her. This was most likely due to his unspoken oath to the restoration of the community and family. This was a community and family that he had no place in. He could not rejoin the community but he could help to restore and bring balance back to the culture.

Ethan had an oath to his cavalry that had no current purpose. This was a useless and unfulfilled oath that may have only been an illusion of an oath that concealed him from the real truth. This gradually gets stripped away along his journey. This started with giving away his medals and cutlass to his brother’s children and using his coat to cover the dead body of his elder niece. But he had a greater oath to Debbie. This was to protect her life. There was a paternalistic aspect to this character that had been suppressed by another potentially illusory oath. This was an oath of revenge. In the choice to allow Debbie to live Ethan had to give up an element of this ‘masculinity’ that he held onto for years during his search and
perhaps even before that. This was possibly dating to his time in the cavalry. He could either project outwards externally and shoot her, or pull her into the internal world of his ‘feminine’ archetype.

The ‘feminine’ was there to balance Ethan out. This was arguably the part of Ethan that helped to restore the community. The ‘feminine’ aspect may have only made up a small percentage of Ethan’s character. It may not have been there in force but it did provide him with something that was necessary to his internal faculties. Debbie was arguably the representation of this. She was small, undernourished and there was only a small trace of the Debbie that once was. It was this tiny remainder of the former Debbie that saved Ethan by reigniting an undeveloped element of his character. Ethan’s internal functions were then
carried over to restore the community.


Hamlet on the other hand was too focused on his internal reflections. He lacked the ability to externalise these aspects of his character in the way that Ethan could. He was continually trying to act in an outward and external manner but his ‘femininity’ kept pulling him under. The man was torn between two worlds and only began to externalise in the ‘masculine’ sense in act five of the play. This was in the challenge to a duel from Ophelia’s brother Laertes. Hamlet lacked the benefits of certainty throughout most of the play. He even refers to himself as ‘one part wisdom and … three parts coward’ (Shakespeare, 2005, pp. act iv, scene iv).

This is not to say that Hamlet was effeminate and this is in no way a reflection on his sexual orientation. This simply means that he had ‘feminine’ and ‘masculine’ attributes that were unbalanced. Hamlet could not balance the two and ended up in a state of self-destruction not unlike Jack/Tyler from Fight Club. The tragedy of Hamlet is that he couldn’t find his way out. Jack found his way out of this situation in a manner that could easily be missed by the casual viewer. This imbalance is especially noticeable when compared to John Wayne’s character Ethan. Ethan was also unbalanced but in a very different manner.

‘Fight Club’

“Only after disaster can we be resurrected” was one of Tyler Durden’s memorable lines. He was only half right. The logical step that was missing that the above mentioned characters of Ethan and Cartwright understood was that it was not disaster in and of itself. It was the higher calling of their oath that provided them with ‘post-destruction’ power. They had to pay a price and accept certain truths to move into the next stage of development. Tyler Durden was the one trying to set the price and thereby removing the freewill in others that he appeared to cherish in himself.

On the flip side of Tyler Durden was Marla Singer. These two characters were essentially the ‘masculine’ and the ‘feminine’ aspects of the character we only know as Jack. Tyler begins to emerge early in the film during one of the office scenes in a brief subliminal image next to a photocopier4. Tyler only officially manifests in a fully-fledged persona after Jack meets Marla. He appeared to have no idea how to deal with Marla and seemed to be threatened by her presence. Marla’s introduction to the audience was when Jack had his face nuzzled in Bob’s breasts. The only other female character of note was Chloe who was dying of cancer and posed no real threat. Out of a response to the ‘feminine’ that he was threatened by emerges Tyler. Jack not unlike Hamlet was trapped between Marla and Tyler.

After Jack returned from the airport to discover that his apartment has been destroyed his first impulse was to call Marla. This triggered an explosion in his
mind. Her ‘feminine’ sensuality triggered something that he did not entirely understand. He denied this instinct, hung up the phone, and then called Tyler.
Calling the girl would have been the correct and logical course of action. This explosion of ‘femininity’ propels him towards a violently ‘masculine’ sense of anarchy. This was Jack’s aversion to love. A better example of Jack’s aversion is in the group meeting where Marla gives him a very sensual embrace. Jack begins to slip into actually enjoying her close contact and her warmth before emotionally and physically withdrawing and telling her that he cannot cry in front of her.

Jack’s treatment of Marla was not unlike Hamlet’s treatment of Ophelia. “Get thee to a nunnery” was Hamlets response to Ophelia. Jack’s response was “If I had a tumor I would name it Marla”. This was one of the key lines in the film. This line may sound darkly comical on the surface. Look a little deeper into the statement. Compare Marla to a Tumor. There is something growing inside of Jack’s psyche that he wants eliminated, but he does not know what it is. Examined in conjunction with Chloe (the sexually starved cancer patient) and it could be argued that for Jack women are cancerous. If Marla was the tumor then Tyler was the illusory cure. Jack had this wrong. Marla was not his Tumor, Tyler was. Phonetically, Tyler sounds somewhat like tumor. Tyler was arguably the antithesis to Marla and his rejection of ‘femininity’. Similarly, the book and film were more than likely the author’s antithesis to the modern feminist movement.

Jack already had problems and Tyler was already beneath the surface. Jack had narcolepsy and similar disorders. These were all emotional problems as diagnosed by his Doctor. It was his response to Marla that propelled him into the creation of Fight Club. This is the ‘masculine’ response that was discussed earlier. The medieval Knights will mount a horse and go charging off, Ethan shoots out the eyes of dead Indians and scalps his enemy, but Jack has no horse, no lance and no gun. He didn’t even have a sword to meet the challenge set for him such as Hamlet had. Jack had an IKEA catalogue, a fridge full of condiments, and a repressed ‘masculine’ and ’feminine’ identity. The only tools he could utilize in his emotional release of ‘masculinity’ were in his fists. In a way this is more brutal than the actions of Medieval Knights, Danish Princes or Cavalrymen. There was a primal nature that he tapped into via Tyler in a response to a culture that drained his identity out of him. Jack was like Hamlet minus the prestige and class, with an ‘Oliver Twist complex’5 thrown in for good measure.

Jack’s salvation was in Marla. Marla may not have had Ophelia’s propensity to sing, but her surname was Singer. This may only be an odd coincidence, but there are strong similarities between these two characters. Similar to Ophelia singing, going insane and committing suicide after the rejection of the man she loved, Marla also attempted suicide and cried out for help. She did this on more than one occasion, such as in having Jack perform a breast exam and her story about the used bridal gown. Just as Hamlet did not
want to help Ophelia and rejected her. Jack was incapable of helping Marla. It was Tyler who helped Marla. Tyler prevented Marla from killing herself.

Ophelia on the other hand died. This led to Hamlet’s death by Laertes conspiring with Claudius to poison Hamlet with the tipped sword. Marla lived. She was also Jack’s reason for wanting to abandon Fight Club in the forth act. The more attached Jack became to Marla, such as in the above example of performing the breast exam, the more anarchistic Tyler became. This eventuated in the form of ‘Project Mayhem’. Without Marla’s living presence Jack’s chances of finding his way back from the mayhem were minimal. In fact, there is a strong probability that he would not have come back at all. It was only in Marla’s presence that he regained consciousness after shooting himself in the face. He was ‘resurrected’ after the ‘destruction’ by the ‘feminine’ representation of Marla Singer.

The importance of the breast exam scene relates to two subtle themes. The first is the cancerous woman theme as represented by Chloe and the “my tumor named Marla” line. The second and possibly the most important aspect of this scene and perhaps the entire story was that it was Jack and not Tyler performing the examination. Tyler was not needed to do this for him. Jack was present in this moment and he did not retreat as he did early in the film such as in Marla’s embrace. It was from this point that he began healing the rift and finding a balance between his ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’ archetypes. Touching her breast without disassociating was the beginning of Jack’s initiation to Adulthood. This culminated with Jack shooting himself in the face to eliminate Tyler.

Thus the ‘masculine’ and the ‘feminine’ are tied together synthetically. One cultivates the culture and the other propels that culture forward until it needs reinventing or re-conceptualizing. This is not unlike the creation of a baby as exemplified in ‘Seven Women’. There cannot be one without the other. They bring balance to each other and if one is eliminated then the other will not be far behind. Of the male characters discussed in this essay the one who failed to come to terms with his ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’ aspects was Hamlet. Ethan was saved by Debbie and Jack was resurrected by Marla. Hamlet lost Ophelia and consequently lost his life. Dr Cartwright also lost her life. The distinction between Dr Cartwright and Hamlet is that she made a choice after finding strength in her ‘feminine’ aspects and not rejecting them as Hamlet attempted to do in his treatment of Ophelia.

When this synthesis breaks down, such as in the case of Hamlet, there can be no reinvention of that persona. This same rule applies to culture in an analogical sense. The elimination of the female would spell the extinction of the male and vice versa. As stated earlier it is the cultivation of culture that the ‘feminine’ represents and the women discussed in this essay are a good example of this. In each of these stories of Hamlet, Fight Club, Seven Women and The Searchers there was a seed planted by female characters very early in the stories that did not come to fruition until the final act. It was the power of the females igniting the metaphorical spark that propelled these characters forward. This allowed them and their culture to develop and to reinvent.

1 This is an emerging concept that has some loose similarities with Jung’s Anima/Animus and
gender stereotypes.
2 For the purposes of this essay Tyler will be seen from Jack’s perspective and therefore needs to be addressed as his own character due to the fact that Jack was unaware of what Tyler really was.
3 The Handless Maiden is a Fairy Tale about a Miller who makes a pact with the devil that he will give up his
unborn daughter on her sixteenth birthday in exchange for better crops and prosperity. The devil chops off her hands and carries them away. Betrayed by her by newly prosperous family, the handless maiden is content for a time, until a growing sense of desperation sends her out to the forest alone.
4 Subliminal images of Tyler were inserted into five scenes early in the film leading into his official introduction.
5 ‘Oliver Twist Complex’ is not sociological or psychology terminology. It follows the theory that some people from broken homes will perceive themselves to be emotionally orphaned and unloved despite empirical evidence. Perhaps the nearest explanation in sociology would lie with John Bowlby’s work on maternal deprivation and the growth of love.

Johnson, R. A. (1993). The Fisher King and The Handless Maiden: Understanding
the Wounded Feeling Function in Masculine and Feminine Psychology. San
Francisco: Harper Collins.
Lofts, N., Greene, J., McCormick, J. (Writers), & Ford, J. (Director). (1966). 7
Women [Motion Picture]. USA: Metro Goldwyn Mayer.
Nugent, F. S. (Writer), & Ford, J. (Director). (1956). The Searchers [Motion
Picture]. USA: Warner Brothers Pictures.
Palahniuk, C. (Writer), & Fincher, D. (Director). (1999). Fight Club [Motion
Picture]. USA: Twentieth Century Fox.
Shakespeare, W. (2005). Hamlet. England: Penguin Books.

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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