While other critics present Ethan Edwards as a recalcitrant racist, almost in a monolithic fashion, critic Gary Morris argues that Ethan Edwards has “life-nurturing potential (Gary Morris 2).

The protective, life-nurturing potential of Ethan’s character is shown in the ominous moments before the Edwards family is massacred. Ethan’s nephew, Ben, sensing his parents’ nervousness and “something in the air,” expresses the wish that “Uncle Ethan” was there. After the massacre, surveying the smoldering ruins of the Edwards home (once merely a solitary sign of civilization in a barren desert, now a cinder), Ethan refuses to allow Martin Pawley (Jeffrey Hunter), the part-Indian “adopted son” of Aaron and Martha, to look inside. In fact, he knocks Martin down in order to spare him the sight of the murdered family, an indication of Ethan’s direct, instinctive approach to problems that is sometimes appropriate and sometimes almost psychotic. In protecting characters from the sight of Indian violence — later he shields Brad Jorgensen (Haarry Carey Jr.) from the sight of the ravaged Lucy Edwards, Brad’s fiancé — he calls to mind Ford’s elliptical treatment of the film’s vioolence. The film similarly shields the audience (suggesting the horrific content of the act) by consistently cutting to close-up reaction shots, or by stylizing the violence through a montage of events leading up to and away from it. The massacre itself, a key event in the film, is never shown. It is only indicated in an ironically almost peaceful way, with the shadow of the Indian leader Scar (Henry Brandon) falling across the gravestone by which the youngest Edwards girl, Debbie (Lana Wood), huddles clasping her doll.

Morris continues to develop the Freudian aspect of this movie. “Lucy and Debbie . . . represent the twin possibilities open to Ethan: his failure to find himself . . . and his potential self-realization and belonging” (Morris 4).

This theme is echoed by Brian Henderson in “The Searchers: An American Dilemma,” in what is arguably the most comprehensive analysis The Searchers: Essays and Reflections, edited by Arthur Eckstein and Peter Lehman. Henderson, though, believes that the film’s meaning is far bigger than Ethan’s character. In fact he sees the film as a “film myth” with its “unconscious dimension.” (Henderson 51)

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