American Icons In Film: A Look at Lonesome Dove

Carson Ruud

ENG 308

April 25th, 2015

American Icons In Film: A Look at Lonesome Dove

It seems to me in American film that the hero, the icon, is appearing less and less every passing year. In the 1940’s through the late 1970’s we had John Wayne. The rough and tough cowboy who stood for black and white justice and had a moral compass truer than anybody else. But of course this wasn’t the man himself; these men were Rooster Cogburn, Hondo Lane, GW Mclintock, Sergeant Stryker, and Wil Anderson to name a few. And if you are any fan of the American west, these have become house hold names just as much as Betty Crocker and Palmolive Dish Soap.

But as the 70’s wore on and turned into the 80’s, the American cowboy slowly seemed to vanish little by little. Meanwhile in the literature world, an irreverent western novel by Larry McMurtry was being published in 1986. Originally written for a 1970’s screen play titled, Streets of Laredo, McMurtry’s novel re-titled Lonesome Dove was quickly making headway as a New York Times best seller and future Pulitzer Prize winner. As a fun fact, oddly enough, Streets of Laredo was cast with John Wayne, James Stewart, and Henry Fonda. John Wayne turned down his role and James Stewart followed behind forcing the abandonment of the film.

As the popularity of Lonesome Dove grew, so did Hollywood’s curiosity of the award-winning novel. In 1989 the novel hit television screens as a four part miniseries starring Robert Duvall as retired Texas Ranger Captain Augustus McCreae and Tommy Lee Jones as retired Texas Ranger Captain Woodrow F. Call. This film adaptation is what American viewers have come to know the story as and will forever live in minds as such.

Captivating, heartwarming, tense, dramatic, lighthearted, inspiring. I could go on but the list really is endless to how many viewers including myself could describe the incredible narrative that happens within the confines of this four part series. Unlike many westerns of the 70’s and 80’s, this one is presented in a series of episodes which makes this film unique in that aspect in and of itself. But the narrative of this western tale is not like the ones we are used to seeing in popular western film; surly not one that we have ever seen American icons such as John Wayne star in. Which may be why he chose to turn down the role of Woodrow F. Call in the first place.

This story is more of a tragedy really; a modified Shakespearean tragedy that features two ageing Texas Rangers in their quest to see the last glimpse of the Montana frontier before “bankers and lawyers buy it all up” as Woodrow puts it. But what really puts this film series in the tragedy category is the foil relationship the two star characters have with one another in addition to the goals and philosophy each one has in life.

Gus McCreae is the smooth talking one of the duo. Fun loving, Gus loves his whiskey and a “satisfying game of cards” to go with it, as Gus puts it. Gus is anything but the gruff Texas cattleman icon we are so used to seeing in the movies. He is regarded by Woodrow as lazy and too much of a thinker. Which is probably true. Gus seems to do anything to slip out of a full day’s work if it means he can have fun somewhere else whatever that may be. In all regards, Gus is an adventurer. He can’t stand to be tied down in one spot for very long which is why he agrees in the first place to go on the epic cattle drive with Woodrow to start a ranch in Montana. In spite of all of Gus’s Laziness, he is regarded by Woodrow and his crew as the better if not the best horseman of the ranch hands and Woodrow, although he seldom puts his skills to use. Gus also prides himself on his eyesight, being able to shoot at distances few can even see at.

But what really sets Gus McCreae aside from Woodrow or any western hero is his philosophy on life and the way he chooses to live it. By all accounts, Gus lives for the here and the now. No regards for futures, relationships or work of any substantial kind. Which is abundantly evident in the film. Gus had been a Ranger his whole adult life, spending his time chasing and shooting bandits and living out of a pair of saddle bags, literally. When he wasn’t busy chasing outlaws on the range he spent his time frequenting the saloons and chasing after his crush, Clara. Although, as with any adrenaline junky adventurer, not even love could keep Gus around in his younger days.

Woodrow Call on the other hand, is the polar opposite of Gus. Tough, guff, and stern, crossing Call could be one of the biggest mistakes of your life. Call is much more of a loner than Gus. He prefers to stick to himself and be much more methodical in the way he does things than the whimsical Gus McCreae. Call seems to have always lived in the shadow of Gus and his talents with ladies or just being free spirited in general. In one scene of the first episode Call says to Gus, “If you’re so smart why don’t you think the roof back up on that barn instead of sitting in the shade all day sipping on whiskey.” Call has always prided himself on his work ethic and of being the last man to quit a day’s work. While Gus on the other hand, had no shame in letting others work while he would find an excuse to go to town for some reason.

Yet in their own way, both men share a unique bond in there morals. Both men possess a clear compass of right and wrong. This dynamic is what I loved about the series most. I am very much black and white when it comes to morals and beliefs, and this series does an outstanding job of playing on the dynamic of ideals versus reality. Time and time again in the film  Gus and Call reference their pride and overall morals as the guiding principle they follow. Now, whether having pride as a leading moral is a good or bad thing, I’ll let you decide. But for me as a viewer, I could identify with  every bit of advice Gus and Call gave to someone during the film.

One of my favorite Lonesome Dove quotes of all time comes from a scene where Gus and a gal by the name of Lorena Wood are talking on a river bank. Lorie, as she is known by, found herself on the cattle drive to Montana after promises by a former ranger and friend of both Gus and Call: Jake Spoon, convince Lorie to come and they will go to San Francisco which has been Lorie’s dream. It turns out that an abusive Jake leaves her on the trail by herself while he goes into a town to play cards for couple of days. Gus comes by the camp one day to check up on her and Jake and finds Lorie depressed about the situation and the fact that she won’t be making it to San Francisco after all.

In turn, Gus says to Lorie, “Life in San Francisco is still just life. Now if you want only one thing out of life too much, it’s bound to be a disappointment. So, the only healthy way to live life, I see it, is to enjoy all the little everyday things, like a sip of whiskey in the evening, a soft bed, or a glass of buttermilk, or say a feisty gentleman like myself.” I love this quote and scene so much because it exemplifies almost every quality Gus has and I would hope to have some day. Gus is both comforting but truthful. He is able to reassure Lorie while showing her reality in a gentle way; very tactful so to speak.

To me, Gus and Call possess every piece of moral fiber and ethic I could ever hope to have. Gus is witty and light lighthearted, but has a resolve for justice like no one else. I think the charecter of Gus McCreae embodies every bit of the old saying, “when the going gets tough, the tough get going.”  And although he is known to stretch the truth a bit for amusement of others, Gus is as honest as the day is long.

In my own charecter I have always tried to stay to that black and white code of justice; there is good and there is bad and not much in between. I strive for integrity, a good work ethic, happy to have the opportunity to have a job, and the ability to stay humble no matter the circumstances. Now granted, I will admit I’m no saint and have strayed from my own ideals from time to time, but I suppose that’s why we call them ideals; it’s the ideal scenario that we may never quite achieve.

That is my only guess as to why I love Lonesome Dove so much. This film takes me back to the days where men were men and justice was dealt at the end of a rope. Where there was some kind of guiding morals and sense of duty to god, country and family. I love this film because I think Gus and Call embody every characteristic I could ever hope to achieve. Regardless if you are a fan of westerns, the actors, or anything else; if you are morally conservative – or even not – I think anybody can learn something about themselves, who they are, and who they want to be by watching Lonesome Dove.

Works Referenced

McMurtry, Larry. Lonesome Dove: A Novel. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1985. Print.

Lonesome Dove. Perf. Robert Duvall, Tommy Lee Jones. CBS, Motown Productions, 1989.         Film.

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Opening Paragraph

Forrest Gump is a name that very few people in the world haven’t heard of. While there are many people who haven’t read or ever knew there was a book , there are millions more who have seen the movie. The plot of the film follows the character, Forrest Gump as he highlights many of his life’s adventures, ranging from ping pong championships in Asia, to meeting the President of the United States (three of them actually.)

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Unity and a Global Sharing of the American Dream

After writing the title to this essay it finally dawned on me how many papers I have written on the subject of the American Dream. It also occurred to me that every time this topic comes up I re-ask myself every time: what is the American Dream anyway? Is it the small business start-up owner gone wall street; now  owning a mansion, a yacht, a garage full of sports cars, and a maid that cleans your house a couple times a week? Or is it the farmer who started with nothing but the family homestead and now operates one of the largest producing farms in America? I have come to conclude that it’s both.

What both of the scenarios I have just described to you have in common is a growth, mostly economic at face value, but there has to be something driving that economic growth right? some sort of character, moral, or personal ambition. I think that is exactly what Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie attempts to reflect in her novel, Americanah. This novel is the story of the American Dream from the perspective of the least likely of places: Nigeria.

The character, Ifemelu in Americanah presents the story with a very unique African narrative of aspiration. Instead of the typical tale of anti-assimilation to western culture and campaigning for reparations for the damages of colonialism, Ifemelu is concerned about the future of native country of Nigeria. Following her education in the United States and her return back to Nigeria, Ifemelu has seen and lived the climax of the first world. She has lived a lifestyle that so many of her countrymen aspire to live in their own country, and because of this she is torn between her identity. She is torn between her third-world roots and her first-world knowledge.

But deep down Ifemelu knows what her country has to aspire to, even if the first world side of her has already lived the climax of that aspiration. Ifemelu says, “But of course it makes sense because we are Third Worlders and Third Worlders are forward-looking, we like things to be new, because our best is still ahead, while in the West their best is already past and so they have to make a fetish of that past. Remember this is our newly middle-class world. We haven’t completed the first cycle of prosperity, before going back to the beginning again, to drink milk from the cow’s udder.”

I choose to use this quote specifically because I believe it speaks miles to what the overall message of the novel is. We see from this quote what Ifemelu truly identifies herself as: a Nigerian. With that, we see that Ifemelu views America’s best days as in the past. That America’s climax has come and gone, but Nigeria has yet to experience the problems that face the first world.

Now, it may be not be “politically correct” but when I read the last part of this excerpt regarding “have[ing] to make a fetish of the past.” and “to drink milk from the cow’s udder”  the word hipster kept popping into my head over and over again. And not just and image, but the cliché image of a guy in a coffee shop surrounded by people on laptops while he hacks away on a typewriter. To me, this is the epitome of what Adichie is attempting to say in this quote. The first world has lived its glory days, and now has to revert back to the buildup of the way things were to feel that sense of invention and ingenuity; perhaps to “rough-it” so-to-speak. This, all the while Nigeria has yet to feel what it is like to achieve an economic climax where wearing ripped jeans and faded flannel shirts can be considered fashionable and “pop”.

Now personally I have always sided with the late radio news and commenter Paul Harvey in the America’s greatest days are ahead of us. And truthfully I still believe that; perhaps right now America is just taking a bit of a relapse. But regardless of what America’s pop culture or status might be at any given time one thing about the United States stays steady: The idea of a better tomorrow, to live no two days the same, to ensure that the next generation’s future was better than yours. These, I believe are the ideals Ifemelu believes in, and untimely why Adichie herself came to America to start with.

Maybe Americanah isn’t a dualistic or hybrid story after all, but rather a story of unity between one dream and two countries; The American Dream.

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I Meant Nothing by the Lighthouse

Rubenstein, Roberta. “’I Meant Nothing by the Lighthouse’: Virginia Woolf’s Poetics of Negation.” Journal of Modern Literature. Issue (2008): 36-53. Document.

For me, this article seemed to create a relationship between Woolf’s mental illness and her writing. Rubenstein seems to do a great job of detailing Woolf’s illness and description of her condition through the article in addition to exploring the Lighthouse and the relationship between the two. It was a very interesting dynamic that was explored by examining both Woolf’s mental state and the Lighthouse together.

The concept I found most interesting is the idea of disassociation for Woolf. We usually see this idea of disassociation with people who have experienced deep philological trauma which is usually a trigger of some kind. It can also often times be partnered with conditions such as PTSD.

For me, the language was not particularly hard, it was the was the ideas and concepts were presented in the language that I found challenging. I did my best to identify the key concept of Woolf’s mental illness, the Lighthouse and the idea of exploring the two with disassociation, but it was the type of article I needed to read a couple times over to really even start to get a gist of the deeper meaning.

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Long Blog Post #2

Carson Ruud

March 6th, 2015

ENG 308

Close Reading of “Separation” in Wuthering Heights

Throughout the novel Wuthering Heights by Bronte, many seemingly simple words are used in contexts that give that particular word a whole new meaning and connotation. After searching through the Concordance software with a variety of words that I thought were particularly unique or interesting in the scope of the novel, I settled on the word “separation”. Given the unique relationship situations within the novel, specifically with Heathcliff, Cathy and Isabella. Although in a broader scope, the idea of “separation” can be extended outside of mere relationships and marriage, but also death.

When the Concordance software hit on the word, “separation”, there were seven instances where the word was used in the novel. In all seven cases, the word seems to be used quite deliberately. Although many synonyms such as “parted”, “division” or “severance” could have been used, Bronte specifically used “separation”. The first instance of this word come in line 2084. “As soon as you become Mrs. Linton, he loses friend, and love, and all! Have you considered how you’ll bear the separation, and how he’ll bear to be quite deserted in the world? Because, Miss Catherine —- ‘He quite deserted! we separated!’ she exclaimed, with an accent of indignation. ‘Who is to separate us, pray? They’ll meet the fate of Milo! Not as long as I live, Ellen: for no mortal creature. Every Linton on the face of the earth might melt into nothing before I could consent to forsake Heathcliff.”

In this quote, we can observe the use of “separation” being used to describe the relationship surrounding Catherine and Heathcliff. More specifically, how Catherine will cope with loosing Heathcliff as a friend and lover if she marries into the Linton’s.

The next major use of “separation” comes in line 3962 when Heathcliff is on somewhat of a rant, describing the tension between Catherine and himself within their relationship. “I have avoided, up to this period, giving her the slightest right to claim  a separation; and, what’s more, she’d thank nobody for dividing us. If she desired to go, she might: the nuisance of her presence outweighs the gratification to be  derived from tormenting her!’  ‘Mr. Heathcliff,’ said I, ‘this is the talk of a madman; your wife, most likely, is convinced you are mad; and, for that reason, she has borne with you hitherto: but now that you say she may go, she’ll doubtless avail herself of the permission. You are not so bewitched, ma’am, are you, as to remain with him of your own accord?'”

The next instance where “separation” is used in the novel isn’t seen for nearly 2,000 lines. The word finally appears again in line 6054; once again, describing the relationship between Heathcliff and Catherine. “Cathy! I’ll not disguise but you might kill him if you were wild and reckless, and cherished a foolish, fanciful affection for the son of a person who would be glad to have him in his grave; and allowed him to discover that you fretted over the separation he has judged it expedient to make.’ ‘I fret about nothing on earth except papa’s illness,’ answered my companion. ‘I care for nothing in comparison with papa. And I’ll never — never — oh, never, while I have my senses, do an act or say a word to vex him.” In this quote, we can see that Catherine’s father hates Heathcliff to the point of wishing him dead. The specific use of “separation” in this quote details how Catherine feels about her father’s prescription to stay separated from Heathcliff.

What is most curious about “separation”, is that in every instance it is used, it is explicitly describing some aspect of Heathcliff and Catherine’s relationship; whether it is how others view Heathcliff, or how Catherine and him interact. Although this is not a prolific reoccurring word in the novel, it does play a very heavy role in describing the entire dynamic of the relationship. Would a synonym have worked for “separation” instead of using it in all seven instances? I don’t believe so. Take, for example “division”. If we were to replace each instance of “separation” with “division” the connotation of each instance would be much different.

As a reader, I see “division” as a firm partition of what was originally one entity. Since the relationship between Catherine and Heathcliff is so dynamic and motile, using such a firm word really wouldn’t do their situation justice. “Separation”, however, has much more freedom to it. Entities can become separated over and over but still join back together, whether these entities are human or even inanimate. In this case though, it is the constant change in Heathcliff and Catherine’s relationship that makes “separation” the most appropriate word to use in all seven of these instances.

Overall, we can see that in each of the seven instances that “separation” appears as a word it plays an incredibly important role in the description of each specific situation. It denotes dynamics, fluidness, and motility; all of which are elements to Heathcliff and Catherine’s relationship. And although the word only appears seven times in the entire novel, I would argue that this is a motif for the entire story of Wuthering Heights.

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Genealogy of Wuthering Heights

The genealogy of Wuthering Heights is particularly interesting for a multitude of reasons. The symmetry, lineage, and only child offspring make this family tree a particularly interesting one to analyze. There is also and interesting dynamic to the tree, with Heathcliff’s only child being born by the maiden name of Linton for his first name, and Heathcliff as his surname. Given the trials Heathcliff himself goes through in the novel, a reader can infer that Linton Heathcliff was not to be. And it isn’t, as he dies at the young age of seventeen.

Another particular interesting thing to note is the age that all the family in the story pass away at. Edgar Linton is the eldest of the second generation to die, at 39 years old. This is Followed by Heathcliff at 38 years old.

But what really keen’s my interest is the idea of how symmetrical the family tree is. Both the Lintons and the Earnshaws had only one child apiece. this Generation married off and this each couple from there each had only one child. Another interesting fact to note is that of all the third generation, Linton Heathcliff is the only one to die before the close of the novel. Another fact to support the idea that perhaps Linton Heathcliff just wasn’t longed for the world. And to add insult to injury, at the end Hareton ends up marrying Cathy two years following Cathy and Heathcliff’s marriage and his death.

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