This assignment should represent your original thinking.  Any summary or analysis that you include in this assignment must be your own; please do not use any outside sources for summary or analysis even with citation as this paper is not a research assignment. 

Moreover, using outside sources word-for-word or paraphrased without citation constitutes plagiarism. Plagiarized assignments earn a zero grade.  

Robert B. Ray
The Thematic Paradigm
The dominant tradition of American cinema consistently found ways to overcome
dichotomies. Often, the movies’ reconciliatory pattern concentrated on a single character
magically embodying diametrically opposite traits. A sensitive violinist was also a tough boxer
(Golden Boy); a boxer was a gentle man who cared for pigeons (On the Waterfront). A gangster
became a coward because he was brave (Angels with Dirty Faces); a soldier became brave
because he was a coward (Lives of a Bengal Lancer). A war hero was a former pacifist (Sergeant
York); a pacifist was a former war hero (Billy Jack). The ideal was a kind of inclusiveness that
would permit all decisions to be undertaken with the knowledge that the alternative was equally
available. The attractiveness of Destry’s refusal to use guns (Destry Rides Again) depended on the
10 tacit understanding that he could shoot with the best of them, Katharine Hepburn’s and Claudette
Colbert’s revolts against conventionality (Holiday, It Happened One Night) on their status as
Such two-sided characters seemed particularly designed to appeal to a collective
American imagination steeped in myths of inclusiveness. Indeed, in creating such characters,
classic Hollywood had connected with what Erik Erikson has described as the fundamental
American psychological pattern:
The functioning American, as the heir of a history of extreme contrasts and
abrupt changes, bases his final ego identity on some tentative combination of
20 dynamic polarities such as migratory and sedentary, individualistic and
standardized, competitive and co-operative, pious and free-thinking, responsible
and cynical, etc….
To leave his choices open, the American, on the whole, lives with two sets of
The movies traded on one opposition in particular, American culture’s traditional
dichotomy of individual and community that had generated the most significant pair of
competing myths: the outlaw hero and the official hero. Embodied in the adventurer, explorer,
gunfighter, wanderer, and loner, the outlaw hero stood for that part of the American imagination
30 valuing self-determination and freedom from entanglements. By contrast, the official hero,
normally portrayed as a teacher, lawyer, politician, farmer, or family man, represented the
American belief in collective action, and the objective legal process that superseded private
notions of right and wrong. While the outlaw hero found incarnations in the mythic figures of
Davy Crockett, Jesse James, Huck Finn, and all of Leslie Fiedler’s “Good Bad Boys” and Daniel
Boorstin’s “ringtailed roarers,” the official hero developed around legends associated with
Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, Lee, and other “Good Good Boys.”
An extraordinary amount of the traditional American mythology adopted by Classic
Hollywood derived from the variations worked by American ideology around this opposition of
natural man versus civilized man. To the extent that these variations constituted the main
40 tendency of American literature and legends, Hollywood, in relying on this mythology,
committed itself to becoming what Robert Bresson has called “the Cinema.” A brief description
of the competing values associated with this outlaw hero-official hero opposition will begin to
suggest its pervasiveness in traditional American culture.

  1. Aging: The attractiveness of the outlaw hero’s childishness and propensity to whims,
    tantrums, and emotional decisions derived from America’s cult of childhood. Fiedler observed
    Robert B. Ray
    that American literature celebrated “the notion that a mere falling short of adulthood is a guarantee of insight and even innocence.” From Huck to Holden Caulfield, children in American
    literature were privileged, existing beyond society’s confining rules. Often, they set the plot in
    motion (e.g., Intruder in the Dust, To Kill a Mockingbird), acting for the adults encumbered by
    50 daily affairs. As Fiedler also pointed out, this image of childhood “has impinged upon adult life
    itself, has become a ‘career’ like everything else in America,” generating stories like On the Road
    or Easy Rider in which adults try desperately to postpone responsibilities by clinging to
    adolescent lifestyles.
    While the outlaw heroes represented a flight from maturity, the official heroes embodied
    the best attributes of adulthood: sound reasoning and judgment, wisdom and sympathy based on
    experience. Franklin’s Autobiography and Poor Richard’s Almanack constituted this opposing
    tradition’s basic texts, persuasive enough to appeal even to outsiders (The Great Gatsby). Despite
    the legends surrounding Franklin and the other Founding Fathers, however, the scarcity of mature
    heroes in American literature and mythology indicated American ideology’s fundamental
    60 preference for youth, a quality that came to be associated with the country itself. Indeed,
    American stories often distorted the stock figure of the Wise Old Man, portraying him as mad
    (Ahab), useless (Rip Van Winkle), or evil (the Godfather).
  2. Society and Women: The outlaw hero’s distrust of civilization, typically represented by
    women and marriage, constituted a stock motif in American mythology. In his Studies in Classic
    American Literature, D. H. Lawrence detected the recurring pattern of flight, observing that the
    Founding Fathers had come to America “largely to get away…. Away from what? In the long run,
    away from themselves. Away from everything.” Sometimes, these heroes undertook this flight
    alone (Thoreau, Catcher in the Rye); more often, they joined ranks with other men: Huck with
    Jim, Ishmael with Queequeg, Jake Barnes with Bill Gorton. Women were avoided as
    70 representing the very entanglements this tradition sought to escape: society, the “settled life,”
    confining responsibilities. The outlaw hero sought only uncompromising relationships, involving
    either a “bad” woman (whose morals deprived her of all rights to entangling domesticity) or other
    males (who themselves remained independent). Even the “bad” woman posed a threat, since
    marriage often uncovered the clinging “good” girl underneath. Typically, therefore, American
    stories avoided this problem by killing off the “bad” woman before the marriage could transpire
    (Destry Rides Again, The Big Heat, The Far Country). Subsequently, within the all-male group,
    women became taboo, except as the objects of lust.
    The exceptional extent of American outlaw legends suggests an ideological anxiety about
    civilized life. Often, that anxiety took shape as a romanticizing of the dispossessed, as in the Beat
    80 Generation’s cult of the bum, or the characters of Huck and “Thoreau,” who worked to remain
    idle, unemployed, and unattached. A passage from Jerzy Kosinski’s Steps demonstrated the
    extreme modern version of this romanticizing:
    I envied those [the poor and the criminals] who lived here and seemed so free,
    having nothing to regret and nothing to look forward to. In the world of birth
    certificates, medical examinations, punch cards, and computers, in the world of
    telephone books, passports, bank accounts, insurance plans, wills, credit cards,
    pensions, mortgages and loans, they lived unattached.
    The Thematic Paradigm
    90 In contrast to the outlaw heroes, the official heroes were preeminently worldly,
    comfortable in society, and willing to undertake even those public duties demanding personal
    sacrifice. Political figures, particularly Washington and Lincoln, provided the principal examples
    of this tradition, but images of family also persisted in popular literature from Little Women to
    Life with Father and Cheaper by the Dozen. The most crucial figure in this tradition, however,
    was Horatio Alger, whose heroes’ ambition provided the complement to Huck’s disinterest.
    Alger’s characters subscribed fully to the codes of civilization, devoting themselves to proper
    dress, manners, and behavior, and the attainment of the very things despised by the opposing
    tradition: the settled life and respectability.
  3. Politics and the Law: Writing about “The Philosophical Approach of the Americans,”
    100 Tocqueville noted “a general distaste for accepting any man’s word as proof of anything.” That
    distaste took shape as a traditional distrust of politics as collective activity, and of ideology as
    that activity’s rationale. Such a disavowal of ideology was, of course, itself ideological, a tactic
    for discouraging systematic political intervention in a nineteenth-century America whose
    political and economic power remained in the hands of a privileged few. Tocqueville himself
    noted the results of this mythology of individualism which “disposes each citizen to isolate
    himself from the mass of his fellows and withdraw into the circle of family and friends; with this
    little society formed to his taste, he gladly leaves the greater society to look after itself.”
    This hostility toward political solutions manifested itself further in an ambivalence about
    the law. The outlaw mythology portrayed the law, the sum of society’s standards, as a collective,
    110 impersonal ideology imposed on the individual from without. Thus, the law represented the very
    thing this mythology sought to avoid. In its place, this tradition offered a natural law discovered
    intuitively by each man. As Tocqueville observed, Americans wanted “To escape from imposed
    systems . . . to seek by themselves and in themselves for the only reason for things . . . in most
    mental operations each American relies on individual effort and judgment.” This sense of the
    law’s inadequacy to needs detectable only by the heart generated a rich tradition of legends
    celebrating legal defiance in the name of some “natural” standard: Thoreau went to jail rather
    than pay taxes, Huck helped Jim (legally a slave) to escape, Billy the Kid murdered the sheriff’s
    posse that had ambushed his boss, Hester Prynne resisted the community’s sexual mores. This
    mythology transformed all outlaws into Robin Hoods, who “correct” socially unjust laws (Jesse
    120 James, Bonnie and Clyde, John Wesley Harding). Furthermore, by customarily portraying the
    law as the tool of villains (who used it to revoke mining claims, foreclose on mortgages, and
    disallow election results—all on legal technicalities), this mythology betrayed a profound
    pessimism about the individual’s access to the legal system.
    If the outlaw hero’s motto was “I don’t know what the law says, but I do know what’s right
    and wrong,” the official hero’s was “We are a nation of laws, not of men,” or “No man can place
    himself above the law.” To the outlaw hero’s insistence on private standards of right and wrong,
    the official hero offered the admonition, “You cannot take the law into your own hands.” Often,
    these official heroes were lawyers or politicians, at times (as with Washington and Lincoln), even
    the executors of the legal system itself. The values accompanying such heroes modified the
    130 assurance of Crockett’s advice, “Be sure you’re right, then go ahead.”
    In sum, the values associated with these two different sets of heroes contrasted markedly.
    Clearly, too, each tradition had its good and bad points. If the extreme individualism of the
    outlaw hero always verged on selfishness, the respectability of the official hero always threatened
    to involve either blandness or repression. If the outlaw tradition promised adventure and
    Robert B. Ray
    freedom, it also offered danger and loneliness. If the official tradition promised safety and
    comfort, it also offered entanglements and boredom.
    The evident contradiction between these heroes provoked Daniel Boorstin’s observation
    that “Never did a more incongruous pair than Davy Crockett and George Washington live
    together in a national Valhalla.” And yet, as Boorstin admits, “both Crockett and Washington
    140 were popular heroes, and both emerged into legendary fame during the first half of the 19th
    The parallel existence of these two contradictory traditions evinced the general pattern of
    American mythology: the denial of the necessity for choice. In fact, this mythology often
    portrayed situations requiring decision as temporary aberrations from American life’s normal
    course. By discouraging commitment to any single set of values, this mythology fostered an
    ideology of improvisation, individualism, and ad hoc solutions for problems depicted as crises.
    American writers have repeatedly attempted to justify this mythology in terms of material
    sources. Hence, Irving Howe’s “explanation”:
    150 It is when men no longer feel that they have adequate choices in their styles of
    life, when they conclude that there are no longer possibilities of honorable
    maneuver and compromise, when they decide that the time has come for
    “ultimate” social loyalties and political decisions— it is then that ideology begins
    to flourish. Ideology reflects a hardening of commitment, the freezing of opinion
    into system…. The uniqueness of our history, the freshness of our land, the
    plenitude of our resources—all these have made possible, and rendered plausible,
    a style of political improvisation and intellectual free-wheeling.
    Despite such an account’s pretext of objectivity, its language betrays an acceptance of the
    160 mythology it purports to describe: “honorable maneuver and compromise,” “hardening,”
    “freezing,” “uniqueness,” “freshness,” and “plenitude” are all assumptive words from an ideology
    that denies its own status. Furthermore, even granting the legitimacy of the historians’
    authenticating causes, we are left with a persisting mythology increasingly discredited by
    historical developments. (In fact, such invalidation began in the early nineteenth century, and
    perhaps even before.) The American mythology’s refusal to choose between its two heroes went
    beyond the normal reconciliatory function attributed to myth by Lvi-Strauss. For the American
    tradition not only overcame binary oppositions; it systematically mythologized the certainty of
    being able to do so. Part of this process involved blurring the lines between the two sets of
    heroes. First, legends often brought the solemn official heroes back down to earth, providing the
    170 sober Washington with the cherry tree, the prudent Franklin with illegitimate children, and even
    the upright Jefferson with a slave mistress. On the other side, stories modified the outlaw hero’s
    most potentially damaging quality, his tendency to selfish isolationism, by demonstrating that,
    however reluctantly, he would act for causes beyond himself. Thus, Huck grudgingly helped Jim
    escape, and Davy Crockett left the woods for three terms in Congress before dying in the Alamo
    for Texas independence. In this blurring process, Lincoln, a composite of opposing traits,
    emerged as the great American figure. His status as president made him an ex officio official
    hero. But his Western origins, melancholy solitude, and unaided decision-making all qualified
    him as a member of the other side. Finally, his ambivalent attitude toward the law played the
    most crucial role in his complex legend. As the chief executive, he inevitably stood for the
    The Thematic Paradigm
    180 principle that “we are a nation of laws and not men”; as the Great Emancipator, on the other
    hand, he provided the prime example of taking the law into one’s own hands in the name of some
    higher standard. Classic Hollywood’s gallery of composite heroes (boxing musicians, rebellious
    aristocrats, pacifist soldiers) clearly derived from this mythology’s rejection of final choices, a
    tendency whose traces Erikson detected in American psychology:
    The process of American identity formation seems to support an individual’s ego
    identity as long as he can preserve a certain element of deliberate tentativeness of
    autonomous choice. The individual must be able to convince himself that the next
    step is up to him and that no matter where he is staying or going he always had the
    190 choice of leaving or turning in the opposite direction if he chooses to do so. In this
    country the migrant does not want to be told to move on, nor the sedentary man to
    stay where he is; for the life style (and the family history) of each contains the
    opposite element as a potential alternative which he wishes to consider his most
    private and individual decision.
    The reconciliatory pattern found its most typical incarnation, however, in one particular
    narrative: the story of the private man attempting to keep from being drawn into action on any
    but his own terms. In this story, the reluctant hero’s ultimate willingness to help the community
    satisfied the official values. But by portraying this aid as demanding only a temporary
    200 involvement, the story preserved the values of individualism as well.
    Like the contrasting heroes’ epitomization of basic American dichotomies, the reluctant
    hero story provided a locus for displacement. Its most famous version, for example, The
    Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, offered a typically individualistic solution to the nation’s
    unresolved racial and sectional anxieties, thereby helping to forestall more systematic governmental measures. In adopting this story, Classic Hollywood retained its censoring power,
    using it, for example, in Casablanca to conceal the realistic threats to American selfdetermination posed by World War II.
    Because the reluctant hero story was clearly the basis of the Western, American
    literature’s repeated use of it prompted Leslie Fiedler to call the classic American novels
    210 “disguised westerns.” In the movies, too, this story appeared in every genre: in Westerns, of
    course (with Shane its most schematic articulation), but also in gangster movies (Angels with
    Dirty Faces, Key Largo), musicals (Swing Time), detective stories (The Thin Man), war films
    (Air Force), screwball comedy (The Philadelphia Story), “problem pictures” (On the Waterfront),
    and even science fiction (the Han Solo character in Star Wars). Gone with the Wind, in fact, had
    two selfish heroes who came around at the last moment, Scarlett (taking care of Melanie) and
    Rhett (running the Union blockade), incompatible only because they were so much alike. The
    natural culmination of this pattern, perfected by Hollywood in the 1930s and early 1940s, was
    Casablanca. Its version of the outlaw hero—official hero struggle (Rick versus Laszlo) proved
    stunningly effective, its resolution (their collaboration on the war effort) the prototypical
    220 Hollywood ending.
    The reluctant hero story’s tendency to minimize the official hero’s role (by making him
    dependent on the outsider’s intervention) suggested an imbalance basic to the American
    mythology: Despite the existence of both heroes, the national ideology clearly preferred the
    outlaw. This ideology strove to make that figure’s origins seem spontaneous, concealing the
    Robert B. Ray
    calculated, commercial efforts behind the mythologizing of typical examples like Billy the Kid
    and Davy Crockett. Its willingness, on the other hand, to allow the official hero’s traces to show
    enables Daniel Boorstin to observe of one such myth, “There were elements of spontaneity, of
    course, in the Washington legend, too, but it was, for the most part, a self-conscious product.”
    The apparent spontaneity of the outlaw heroes assured their popularity. By contrast, the
    230 official values had to rely on a rational allegiance that often wavered. These heroes’ different
    statuses accounted for a structure fundamental to American literature, and assumed by Classic
    Hollywood: a split between the moral center and the interest center of a story. Thus, while the
    typical Western contained warnings against violence as a solution, taking the law into one’s own
    hands, and moral isolationism, it simultaneously glamorized the outlaw hero’s intense selfpossession and willingness to use force to settle what the law could not. In other circumstances,
    Ishmael’s evenhanded philosophy paled beside Ahab’s moral vehemence, consciously
    recognizable as destructive.
    D. H. Lawrence called this split the profound “duplicity” at the heart of nineteenthcentury American fiction, charging that the classic novels evinced “a tight mental allegiance to a
    240 morality which all [the author’s] passion goes to destroy.” Certainly, too, this “duplicity” involved
    the mythology’s pattern of obscuring the necessity for choosing between contrasting values.
    Richard Chase has put the matter less pejoratively in an account that applies equally to the
    American cinema:
    The American novel tends to rest in contradictions and among extreme ranges of
    experience. When it attempts to resolve contradictions, it does so in oblique,
    morally equivocal ways. As a general rule it does so either in melodramatic
    actions or in pastoral idylls, although intermixed with both one may find the
    stirring instabilities of “American humor.”
    Or, in other words, when faced with a difficult choice, American stories resolved it either
    simplistically (by refusing to acknowledge that a choice is necessary), sentimentally (by blurring
    the differences between the two sides), or by laughing the whole thing off.

Do you have a similar assignment and would want someone to complete it for you? Click on the ORDER NOW option to get instant services at We assure you of a well written and plagiarism free papers delivered within your specified deadline.