The preparation for the attack on the Comanche village to rescue Debbie carries little of the drama that is seen as Travis arms himself for his attack that closes the film.
During the preparation sequence, Travis, stripped to the waist, holds a tightly clenched fist over a flame… Implying ritual purification, this also symbolically replaces retributive rain with apocalyptic fire (183).
The Ford film does, however, feature a wedding ceremony that is interrupted by the alert to the location of Scar’s camp. Weddings are ceremonies that are loaded with purity symbols, perhaps most blatantly in the case of the bride’s white dress. As the cowboys leave the scene, Laurie Jorgenson engages in her infamous racist diatribe.
Laurie: You’re not goin’, not this time.
Martin: Are you crazy?
Laurie: It’s too late. She’s a woman grown now.
Martin: But I gotta go, Laurie, I gotta fetch her home.
Laurie: Fetch what home? The leavings a Comanche buck sold time and again to the highest bidder, with savage brats of her own?
Martin: Laurie, shut your mouth.
Laurie: Do you know what Ethan will do if he has a chance? He’ll put a bullet in her brain. I tell you, Martha would want him to.
Martin: Only if I’m dead. (THE SEARCHERS)
Grist describes this preparation and resolution about the outcome as a “predetermined, self-sacrificial, but implicitly redeeming fate” (Grist 183). This again is useful for informing our understanding of the Euro-American community’s theology as inherently white supremacist and unforgiving of Ethan for his refusal to kill Debbie. Further, recall the earlier shoot-out between the ranchers and the Comanches immediately after the raid on the Edwards homestead and the theological underpinnings presented there by both sides.
As the attack begins, Grist states that the dynamic between Travis and Sport takes on homoerotic connotations, adding yet another dimension to our understanding of the relationship between Scar and Ethan.
Travis naively takes out his wallet to pay Sport for Iris in the street. Sport responds: ‘You wanna fuck me? You’re not gonna fuck me, you’re gonna fuck her, give her the money’. If this further links money and the phallus, when Travis moves to leave with Iris, Sport ‘shoots’ him from the hip with both forefingers (184).
What this effectively means is that one should read a level of homoeroticism into the scene when Scar displays his scalp totem pole to Ethan and Martin, reinforcing my previous point about scalping as symbolic of castration.
In the actual battle, “the massacre is suffused with Freudian castration imagery” (185). This phrasing from Grist is important for a proper critique of THE SEARCHERS for, although Ford was often covert in his pro-Indian message, many viewers can be and often are confused by its portrayals, interpreting them as racist. Again, part of that comes with the aforementioned generic orientation of the Western outlined by Pye. By calling the final action sequence a massacre, which it is, the ending takes on much more somber connotations.
“To the end, violence is related to phallic displacement and psycho-sexual assertion: during the massacre, the combatants are implicitly fighting to control Iris’s sexuality” (185). One need only replace the name of Iris with Debbie to bring this insight into Ford’s film. And because of the nature of the raid, featuring a whole posse of Euro-American heterosexual men as opposed to a solitary one whose sexuality should be called confused and anti-social from the outset, the meaning of this final action sequence is much more problematic than before.
In this logic, armed with phallic-linked weaponry and attacking a whole community of people, the final battle could be construed as a type of gang rape. This act is representative of the wider community of “Texicans”, as Mrs. Jorgensen calls them.
It is important here also to recall the statements of Debbie when she first confronts Martin and Ethan as an adult. She pleads “These are my people. Go. Go, Martin, please!” This identification with the Comanches and her request to be left to live with them is crucial. It changes the entire dynamic of the climactic action sequence from a typical romantic rescue operation, a staple of the genre, into an action where Debbie’s consent is yet again stripped of her as she is violently removed from her surroundings.