THREE LEVELS OF SOCIETY
- In the traditional Western, a necessary tension between the wilderness and the townunderlies the basic narrative. The wilderness surrounding the town contains the savages, whether Native American or outlaw, in a state of unrestrained lawlessness; this is the first level of society. These characters move across the landscape at will on fast-riding horses. Inside the town, the second level of society, are residents restrained by law and custom. These are the shopkeepers, the church people, people with families, and all women. They are static and dependent on others for protection. Rarely do these characters wear guns or ride horses. When they leave the town, they leave in buggies or carriages and are vulnerable to whatever dangers lurk in the wilderness. Thus, there is a basic tension between townspeople and savages. The third level of society is represented in Westerns by the cowboy hero, who is the only character able to move easily between town and wilderness. He possesses civil manners and respectability in common with townspeople, yet he is also at home outside of town with his horse, his guns, and his skills for survival. Naturally, then, the basic plot revolves around him.
Historical Dictionary of Westerns in Cinema. Paul Varner. 2012.
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