|sistermagpie (sistermagpie) wrote,|
@ 2007-04-30 12:59 pm UTC
|Entry tags:||hbp, hp, hp characters, meta, movies, snape|
I'm going to include spoilers for the movie and probably ultimately talk more about The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence than about HP, but it did eventually lead to Snape...
Like many John Ford movies and even more Westerns, this one seems very concerned with Being a Man, but the ending sort of left me thinking about what it was actually saying, if anything. The story is basically this:
Liberty Valence terrorizes a small Western town. The only man who can really stand up to him is Tom (John Wayne). Ransom (James Stewart) is an attorney and wants to bring the law to the town, so that Liberty goes to jail. Tom laughs at this--the only way to protect yourself against Liberty is with a gun. Tom is clearly sweet on Hallie (Vera Miles), who agrees with Ransom.
Ransom takes a job at the restaurant, which leads to some pointed lines about his masculinity, even from Hallie who clearly likes him. "Where's your reading and writing got you--in an apron!" When the owner asks Ransom to bring some food out Hallie gets angry--"Who ever heard of a man waiting tables?" Ransom has no problem with it--he's a new kind of man, not defining himself by superficial gender roles. Liberty mocks "the new waitress" and Tom steps in to protect him.
Ransom is angry at Tom for fighting his battles but does start learning how to shoot from him. He also starts a school teaching everyone (the class is multi-racial with both men and women) how to read and write and encouraging them to push for statehood so that they’re under government protection. Ransom nominates Tom to represent them at a convention. Tom turns it down and Ransom and another man are elected. Liberty attacks the other representative so that Ransom realizes he has to face him. Just as Liberty is going to kill him, Ransom shoots and kills Liberty. Tom arrives later and sees Hallie clearly in love with Ransom. He goes home and burns down the house he was building for her in a masculine rage.
So Ransom's won, but he doesn't feel comfortable that he's now known for being the man who shot Liberty. "It's bad enough to kill a man," he says, "but to build a life on it..." Tom reveals he didn't kill Liberty at all. Tom was across the street and saw him about to get killed, so he killed Liberty. Ransom says he saved his life, Tom says he now wishes he hadn't, since Hallie (who was never interested in him anyway) is his girl. This is all told by Ransom years later when he returns after a successful career for Tom's funeral. The press decides not to print the story, because Ransom's killing Liberty has become a legend by that point. Returning to Washington with Hallie, Ransom receives the first class treatment on the train because, he's told, "Nothing's too good for the Man who Shot Liberty Valence!"
Sorry for that long summary, but here's my point. Tom seems to be the man of the past and Ransom the man of the future. Even romantically, Ransom wins. In Tom's world the toughest men protect everyone. Ransom thinks society needs to protect everyone equally through the law. Even with Hallie Tom basically offers protection--she can rely on him as her husband. Ransom's lessons to Hallie may seem a bit condescending at times, but he actually is making her more equal by teaching her to read and write, a skill she'll have whether she's with him or not. (Also he's not teaching her in order to win her.)
But Tom is the tragic hero, really, because he sacrifices himself for Ransom's success. Here's where I'm eventually getting to Snape, I swear. First, Tom is almost like a father figure who's protecting Ransom so that he can do the things he's meant to do. It's Ransom who goes into the future both by having a career and getting married. Tom dies unknown and unmarried. Ransom insists he be buried with his boots and gun, and is told he hasn't carried a gun for years, further proof that his form of law and order has become obsolete.
But what's interesting is the problem of the title. Somebody *did* shoot Liberty Valence, because he needed killing. That person wasn't Ransom--though Ransom didn't intentionally take credit for it dishonestly. He thought he killed him. His learning that he didn't seems to make him happy, as if he felt tainted by killing, even in self-defense. Yet the fact remains that him being a killer, or at least people thinking he was, is a part of his success. It's like he needed this injection of old-fashioned manliness to make his real agenda of the law protecting everyone something people could get behind. When it came down to it, he proved could get rid of the bad guys. He had to essentially absorb Tom into himself and carry an essential part of him with him in order to succeed. It was Tom who gave him the boost to start his own career.
When Tom confesses that he killed Liberty he says it was "cold-blooded murder. I can live with that." That's where I'm getting to Snape. Because there's just something interesting the way that Ransom and Tom are almost like a hero divided, where Ransom is the "pure" hero. His purity is so important that he originally leaves the convention, not wanting the nomination because it’s based on his killing. When Tom tells him he didn't kill, he somehow feels able to re-enter the room and accept the nomination. Meanwhile Tom is not only a killer, but doesn't even qualify it as part of the previous code of the wild west. Liberty wasn't outgunned by Tom, as everyone thinks he was outgunned by Ransom, because Tom was hidden across the street. He just took him out--it was murder and he, unlike Ransom, can "live with that."
See where I'm getting at with Snape? HBP is a book that also puts importance on the damage of murder on a person's soul. Student characters have come close to murder, but Rowling has never had them cross the line even into manslaughter--even Ginny would have a hard time bouncing back from her role in CoS if anyone had actually died (even if she was possessed). In HBP you've got Draco almost killing Ron and Katie, and Harry almost killing Draco. Riddle murders several people and becomes less human-like. We learn that murder is central to his unnatural life and everything he's about. Draco's given the task of murder to be one of his followers and ultimately realizes he doesn't want to cross the line and "split his soul."
Which is all great, but it's not unusual when you have a story that puts out the idea that killing is wrong to wind up at the question: So how do we get rid of Liberty Valence? In movies they'll often have the hero offer the villain mercy, which is rejected, and then the villain dies trying to commit some other awful act. So he's dead, but the hero is still pure. That's the thing about keeping the soul pure--it's often a good thing, but sometimes it can get close to selfishness, if you feel like the hero is putting the state of his own soul before others. Ransom sort of gets to have it every way at once: he's brave for facing off with Liberty (once not doing that becomes connected to other people getting hurt), he doesn't kill, but he doesn't die either. He benefits from something he didn't do, but didn't intentionally lie about it.
We don't yet know how Voldemort's going to be destroyed in HP, and obviously Snape’s not going to be the one to do it, but I still feel like Snape's got some parallels with Tom here in that he's the older man who, if he's DDM, is taking on the dirty work of the good side. We don't know if Snape's ever killed anyone but Dumbledore, but either way Snape seems to be the one saying, "Cold-blooded murder. I can live with that." Even while he's helping Dumbledore steer the younger man away from that bad choice. (Harry may never have to actually kill.)
So I found myself making the connection in the way the "good side" is sort of split with this one figure taking the sins on himself and then going away with them. Tom doesn't literally die in TMWSLV (take hope, Snape fans!) until he's an old man, but he does die symbolically and willingly before that, acknowledging that it is Ransom and not him who will shape the future--a future he doesn't belong to. He seems to know this even as he rejects the nomination for the convention himself. He'll watch over Ransom's election and keep order, but he doesn't see himself in this new way of doing things. He can't really change or become this new man--he may be "good" while Liberty is "bad" but they are two of a kind where Ransom is not.
Similarly, Snape is not able to battle Voldemort the way Harry can (with his secret love power or whatever). He possibly doesn't personally understand Dumbledore's plans for him (and Draco) any more than Tom really understands where Ransom's coming from. But he is willing to be a sort of midwife to it all just the same, bringing about a new world he may not have a part in himself. Ironically, the very things that make him an ill fit are what possibly make him so needed by the good side. Ransom doesn't look down on Tom. He respects him both for what he did for him and for the sacrifices he made. Ransom can't ever be completely dismissive of the type of man Tom was given what he owes him. As I said, he has to carry part of Tom with him into the new world because of that, and that's the way Tom really doesn't just die forgotten.
I kind of hope Harry has to carry Snape with him the same way.:-) I hope Draco carries him with him that way too, but Draco's more of a given in that sense.
Btw, this wound up much longer than I anticipated, and in the middle of it I got my eyes checked. They’re still dilated so I apologize for any mistakes there might be. The whole thing might be written in wingdings for all I know right now.