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Unforgiven 1


The ugly things & the harsh

…but I think Unforgiven is not at all a good Western, because it teaches injustice. Everyone is accordingly corrupt – & especially the law, for our claim to the good life rests on our laws.

The city of Big Whiskey is ruled by Little Bill. He is sheriff, but his death goes unlamented, whatever will come of the city whose laws he alone had upheld. Little Bill believed might makes right & that he would therefore survive. He ruled like Leviathan, over people who consented to their powerlessness by turning in their guns. He did not expect that men hating brutality & humiliation would fight. We see his deputies talking behind his back & sneaking up on him. In the end, they are killed with him.

Little Bill hates gunfighters & acts cruelly. Perhaps his reason found an ally in his manliness… He boasts of coolheadedness to a scared writer – but his deeds belie his speeches. He first mauls the defenseless English Bob & only afterward offers him a fight, which the wretch cowardly refuses. You can wonder who would have won a fair fight. We know English Bob was feared by reputation & deed alike. Proving the writer’s cowardice only requires a speech, moreover. English Bob, contrariwise, humiliated Americans with his snobbery, & then offered them a fight.

The art of war after Little Bill says a seasoned gunfighter will pick off his enemies in descending order of skill. One suspects that real gunfights are too unpredictable for that. Little Bill prizes art & despises chance, but he is proved wrong in his arrogance. He wants to abolish human nature, to take the manliness out of men, fearing their worst. If art were what he claims & it were his art, his claim to rule could not be disputed effectively. The crucial difference between speeches & deeds shows his lacking character. The laws also are speeches, but they acquire the nature of deeds in being enforced & believed. This ambitious bully fails both to persuade & to compel. He fails the laws he thought he embodied.

The argument between the whores & the cowboys shows that he wants peace. He cannot kill them for mutilation, it would be unjust. He also sympathizes with them, because they are better people than the whores. But they deserve justice & he does not find it wrong to have the cowboys pay the whores in horses. The cowboys make payment in honesty, but the whores want murder, so they hire assassins. The whore who was cut wants peace & the horses. The matron does not & stones the cowboys. The House that Little Bill built is leaking, a mockery of the peaceful, private life.

For fans of Clint Eastwood