CODE OF THE WEST
- “A man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do.” Cowboy heroes of silent- and classic-era Westerns base their actions and beliefs squarely on a code of masculine behavior that stretches back to the days of chivalry. In High Noon (1952), Will Kane (Gary Cooper) knows he must return to town and face Frank Miller even though his new bride begs him to drive away for her sake. The code clearly states that a man can never turn away from a challenge. He must defend his honor and manhood. When he fights, a man must fight fair, with guns, face to face. There are simply some things that men must do, and there is never a need for explanation. The code was strictly a male ethic, and its ideals of behavior related strictly to men’s relationships with each other. The closer a man’s ties to other men, the stronger his sense of honor and duty to the code. The weaker his ties to other men, the more feminine he was and, thus, less concerned about honor. In Westerns, shopkeepers do not need to adhere to the code of the West. Essentially, the determining consideration in any given action was the esteem with which other men would view it. Honor could only be conferred by males upon other males. Womenhad no role in the code except as adjuncts to masculine ties. One respected a woman, yes, but a woman’s approval of an action of honor was irrelevant.
Historical Dictionary of Westerns in Cinema. Paul Varner. 2012.
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