CAPTIVITY NARRATIVES

   Inevitably associated with Indian captivity of young girls rather than young boys, early frontier narratives—such as that by Mary Rowlandson, The Narrative of the Captivity and the Restoration of Mrs. Mary Rowlandson (1682) —began a trend in popular literature of portraying the frontier as exotic yet savage and chaotic. The problem with captivity narratives in U.S. culture is that they exhibit the basest forms of racism both in the narrative and in the readership of film audiences. The dilemma is fundamentally racist: a savage race kidnaps young white girls in order to contaminate their race and their virtue. John Ford’s The Searchers (1956) is perhaps the most famous classic Western based on captivity fears. When Ethan Edwards (John Wayne) finally finds Debbie (Natalie Wood), captured as a child and now a woman,he tries to kill her for her own good because she has become Indian and no longer deserves to live. The film shows the extent to which such racism can destroy character. The Missing (2003) is also based upon a captivity narrative plot, but it avoids the same racism by making the protagonist a mother (Cate Blanchett) seeking to recover her daughter (Evan Rachel Wood) from the Apaches.
   See also ORIGINS OF THE WESTERN.

Historical Dictionary of Westerns in Cinema. . 2012.

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