The Western Formula


The Western Formula Essay, Research Paper

A seemingly traditional approach towards the Western frontier is the reason for John Cawelti s assessment from The Six-Gun Mystique. His description of the Western formula being far easier to define than that of the detective story may clearly be a paradigm for many authors, but not particularly for Stephen Crane. The standards Cawelti has set forth for a successful Western is quite minimal by thought, but at the same time relevant. Crane signifies a different perspective to these standards. Crane s thoughts for the use of the Western formula are just approaches towards the west, from the introductory setting to the coarse grin one cowboy would make towards another. These do not in fact relate to Cawelti s Western formula. Crane s deviation from the formula western signifies his deeper approach towards issues such as human existence and morality the ethical code that we follow for success. Crane perhaps does this because he personally finds more significance in the inner meaning of an issue rather than its surfacing argument.

Cawelti s Western formula holds a strong assumption that men are assertive and women are insignificant. He is standardizing the black and white of the West. There is an unequivocal struggle between good and evil and guns and violence can only solve that. Jane Tompkins standpoint on a Western seems to be a middle ground between Cawelti and Crane. She recognizes that violence is a central theme to a Western, but as well explains how we think of violence. In this day of age, we as a society have prohibited violence as a means of solving problems Crane does not directly follow this in his stories, but definitely questions it. Cawelti on the other hand marks violence as the only answer another black and white circumstance.

This radical discrepancy between the sense of eroding masculinity and the view of America as a great history of men against the wilderness has created the need for a means of symbolic expression of masculine potency in an unmistakable way. This means is the gun, particularly the six-gun (Crane 299).

Tompkins makes us aware that a stereotypical Western will hold two men as the key factors and a struggle between them. Where Crane tries describing macho cowboys in The Bride Comes to Yellow Sky, he directs more of the theme towards the role of a woman and how it plays against male violence. This is ambiguous towards Cawelti s feeling for women to be insignificant to a Western life as if they are just there for minimal diversity and show.

Stephen Crane shapes The Bride Comes to Yellow Sky, entirely around the bride and how she will enter a new life in the small town of Yellow Sky. The only instance of a possible Western formula is as a cowboy by the name of Scratchy Wilson points a gun at Jack Potter, the husband and town marshal. However, when Scratchy realizes that Potter had gotten married, he put down his gun and walked away. He moved a pace backward, and his arm, with the revolver, dropped to his side (Crane 311). This contradicts the black and white situation Cawelti would expect. The fight between good and evil had risen and it must be taken care of through violence, perhaps a draw. This did not happen though, and that is why Crane s perspective towards a Western is quite far from the formula. Apparently, the moral and ethical code that Crane acknowledges in his stories is his main concern. The story can climax, and desire be sated, only if the moral applause meter reads way of the scale in the hero s favor (Tompkins 236). Crane describes Scratchy Wilson as a man when sober cannot hurt a fly, but while intoxicated will hurt anything. The black and white issue turns gray by giving the villain a heart.

Throughout the entire story, the ideas of violence arise, but the actions upon them do not. This is a very bad path Crane chose if he was looking to depict a formula western. If this story was to follow the standards Cawelti has set forth, Potter would most likely be dead and Scratchy Wilson would be marking another notch on his gun belt. The macho male attitude has been covered by the marks moral principles. Cawelti feels there is no room for that in a formula western. Tompkins feels, This is a moment of moral ecstasy.

Married! He was not a student of chivalry; it was merely that in the presence of this foreign condition he was a simple child of the earlier plains. He picked up his starboard revolver, and, placing both weapons in their holsters, he went away (Crane 312).

Crane s divergence from Cawelti s standards pattern entirely away from this formula western, however, do not seem to hurt the overall story instead helps in providing a variation of how a Western may be written.

In another story by Crane, The Blue Hotel, the Western formula can hardly be considered. The first half of this entire story is based in a hotel, bed and breakfast type of inn where there are several men sitting around a table playing a card game. However, none except for one is a cowboy, and the setting does not relate too much to the West, besides their slang vocabulary. In ways, it seems that some random person, who not only did not live in the West, but also did not live in the country, could have written this story. It was so far off basis of a Western that all one could think is that there are random people sitting and playing cards. The interesting part is the basis of a foreigner. A crazy Swede thinks that he is in a rough place, and if he does anything wrong, he will be killed. Cawelti would never consider this for a Western. This first part held no Western significance.

The second half of this story had a more Western feel to it, as the nutty Swede introduced in the beginning of the story enters the town bar. As the Swede talks too confidently he ends up getting killed, by a gambler, not even a cowboy.

What! You won t drink with me, you little dude? I ll make you then! I ll make you! The Swede had grasped the gambler frenziedly at the throat, and was dragging him fro his chair. There was a great tumult, and then was seen a long blade in the hand of the gambler. It shot forward, and a human body, this citadel virtue, wisdom, power, was pierced as easily as if it had been a melon. The Swede fell with a cry of supreme astonishment (Crane 334).

The fact that there was no brawl, but just a simple murder, no struggle between evil and good contradicts the formula western. This was not a black and white, hero and villain situation, rather an annoyance. The entire story had complete irrelevance to a stereotypical Western except for the fact that there were three daughters of the hotel owner, Scully, and they made food. That could be the only potential relation to Cawelti s feel on womens insignificance.

It seems that Tompkins is the interpreter between Crane and Cawelti. Cawelti defines the standards and Crane seems to contradict them. Tompkins jumps in and explains what Crane has done and why it is not done like Cawelti. Now she does not directly acknowledge either writer, but clearly works for both.

So instead of offering you a moral, I call your attention to a moment of righteous ecstasy, the moment when you know you have the moral advantage of your adversary, the moment of murderousness. It s a moment when there s still time top stop. There s still time to reflect, there s still time to recall what happened in High Noon, there s still time to say: I don t care who s right or who s wrong. There has to be some better way to live (Tompkins 239).

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