Tag: The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance

December 16, 2017 / / Main Slate

I was first introduced to John Ford’s The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance in my junior year of high school, when it was required viewing for my American Studies class. Despite my initial aversion to watching it, an old-timey hokey western to my 16-year-old mind, I grew to appreciate this film’s stature as an analogy and representation of American history, for this film grapples with two American archetypes that have immensely influenced how Americans are culturally perceived: the rugged cowboy and the idealistic reformer. These two figures, portrayed by John Wayne and James Stewart, respectively, clash repeatedly in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, and the film convincingly challenges the viewer through the complexity of their dynamic. While the film clearly endorses the reformer’s stress on education and law as positive agents of change in the West, ultimately it is through an act of violence and deceit that progress comes to the western town of Shinbone, suggesting that the path forward is not always straight and narrow.