Violence IS the Answer

Chase Weddington

Violence IS the Answer

            You are sitting in the cafeteria, quietly working on an assignment that you have due later in the afternoon. As you are working, your attention is captured by the person whom you stumbled across at a party the previous night. You and the person engaged in an altercation in which they purposely tripped you in front of the large crowd. Thoughts begin to race in your mind, igniting a fierce anger and thirst for revenge. In modern day society, people preach to each other that it is better to just “turn the other cheek”. In other words, it is best not to physically retaliate against the person who offended you. It would do nothing but cause an infinite cycle of retaliation between the two parties. It is taught in today’s society that if a person wants to settle a difference, it should be done verbally with the absence of any offensive language or actions. This is not the same method that was portrayed in the movie Unforgiven. The movie, which takes place in old western era, teaches that conversation is not the most effective approach to take when attempting to settle a difference. This movie illustrates that violence is the first method to take to get even with someone or to solve a problem.

We first notice the use of violence at the beginning of the movie. A man is viciously assaulting a woman by stabbing at her face with a knife. The reason for this violence was because the man had become infuriated after the woman laughed at his physical condition. Modern day society teaches us that the man’s overly violent attack was the most inappropriate method to take. To settle his anger with the woman, the man should have approached it in two different ways. His first option was to be passive about the situation and ignore her actions. It would have been more appropriate if he had coped with his embarrassment in order to prevent any further conflicts. Another method that today’s society would have suggested was for the man to share his anger in a verbal conversation with the woman. This way, he could express his disapproval of the woman’s action without igniting retaliation. The violent attack that the man engaged in would have received a far more intense consequence than the one he was given in the movie. He and his companion would have been arrested and convicted versus being forced to donate horses. This shows that violent actions were tolerated more in the society of the old west than they are today. Violence was seen as a mechanism to express anger when the women threw mud at the companion of the man that violently attacked the lady. These examples show that violence was a prompt method to take since society does not show disapproval against its practices.

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There were several more instances in which violence was chose as a first resort. A person would draw their gun as quickly as they could in order to express their anger. English Bob illustrated this action in a scene in which he stumbled into a town with his apprentice W. W. Beauchamp. As they walked into the local barbershop, a deputy approached them and notified them that they were not allowed to carry their firearms. English Bob resisted this demand by lying and saying that he was unarmed. The deputy quickly responded by gathering his fellow deputies and taking up arms. English Bob walked into a group of men arranged in a crescent with their guns drawn at his head. Instead of engaging in an aggressive verbal demand, the man found it more efficient to threaten English Bob with lethal weapons. The commotion caused a crowd to develop. This scene illustrates how accepting society was to violence during this time period. They remained calm and collective, not expressing any anxiety concerning the deadly situation that had erupted. Had the same situation occurred in today’s society, the crowd would have been absent or frenzied out of fear of the possible results. This shows how society has become more accepting to violence over the course of history.

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The youth were sometimes more gun-prone than the older generation during the period of the old west. This was illustrated when Ned Logan and Schofield first encountered. After Schofield Kid opened fire upon Ned and Willy, Ned questioned Schofield Kid’s shooting ability. This caused Schofield Kid to become offended and as a response, he quickly pointed his gun to Ned’s face threatening to open fire. Even the most subtle acts would initiate an intense confrontation. In today’s society, guns are not drawn this quickly over such minor conflicts. This also shows the easier access to weapons individuals had during this period. Many of the youth resorted to gun violence first because there was always a gun within reach. Because it is more difficult to acquire weapons in today’s society, gun violence is not seen as much.

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In summation, the tolerance of gun violence and weapons was higher in the period of the old west versus today’s society. It is mainly due to the accessibility that people had to them in the past. The process of obtaining a handgun is simpler than it is today. As a result, it was common to find a person with their finger on the trigger in the old west.

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4 Comments

by | April 14, 2012 · 9:01 pm

4 responses to “Violence IS the Answer

  1. alexfulton

    I think your ideas about violence in Unforgiven show how important violence is as a genre convention in Westerns. In this film, using violence to gain revenge is almost glamourized. No one really attempts to talk out feelings, and doing so would feel out of place. The main person who avoids violent conflict, W. W. Beauchamp, is seen as weak and sniveling. He wets himself when faced with conflict, while men like Munny are more idealized by taking the violent route. Showing the “lawless West” requires the genre convention of violence to be used. We associate the West and Western films so closely with this convention that a film that does not incorporate violent revenge would feel unusual and not truly Western.

  2. lbhayes

    I completely agree that violence in this movie is overly prevalent and sought out as the greatest way to seek revenge. The thing that I found most interesting is that although guns were not allowed in that town, the people still always had them and used them. The men within the town constantly had some form of arms on them because it seemed like a common fear that someone would threaten them. I think you bring such an important idea up in your post because it really is such an unbelievable difference between our society and The Old West. I really find it interesting how violence has been such an important theme in all of the old west films that we have watched thus far, really shows a lot about this time and what they valued.

  3. tylerlindley

    Your post brings up a lot of good points about the violence of the old west depicted in Unforgiven. An interesting facet of the discussion is that we as a whole tend to apply our modern sensibilities to the question of violence in these period pieces. Violence is, for the people living in these times and places, often the only feasible way of resolving conflicts or procuring justice, and when one stops to temporarily discard our cultural condemnation of violence it becomes easier to sympathize with Munny and the other “ultra-violent” individuals. Their society is not “ultra-violent”; instead, our society is, for the most part, “ultra-pacifistic”. Had the events of the film occurred during our time, a blanket condemnation of violence would have precluded Munny from administering justice, as his only recourse would be long legal procedures to determine guilt and punishment. In the film, no such pacifistic sensibilities exist, and Munny is free to dispense justice in what is arguably the most effective manner.

    • Considering the towns depicted in “old west” films are on the edge of known civilization and well outside the jurisdiction of established legal systems, it would be natural for people during this time period to revert back to corporal punishment as the most effective means to curb criminal activity in their town. Even in the more urbanized areas of the country, like the northeast, courts were so limited that judges would travel around their jurisdictions and hold court in each town about once every few months. So considering the west is a far larger area to cover and was constantly expanding and adding new territory, it would be difficult for infrastructure to keep up with expansion and courts would be stretched to the limit attempting to govern massive swaths of territory. So many people in these fringe towns felt they were free of the federal government and could devise any set of laws they deemed fit. Thus we get the idea of the lawless and violent western town.

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