ABSTRACT

The captivity narrative has remained influential in American popular culture through a variety of post-war American films. Reading films in relation to this narrative tradition reveals the common anxieties they invoke and respond to: violence, sexuality, identity, and silence. It also reveals the astonishing continuity within American culture, as films contribute to a public, popular narrative discourse on race relations, gender, and national history and purpose begun in the seventeenth century. The Searchers, considered a masterwork of the American cinema, is a revisionist captivity narrative, primarily because the captive resists being rescued. Perplexing ambiguities and contradictions in the film that many critics have acknowledged but not accounted for become readable in the context of the captivity narrative tradition. The cultural significance of forgotten Westerns of the early 1960's, The Unforgiven, Two Rode Together, and Comanche Station, becomes apparent through an analysis of how they adapt captivity narrative conventions in order to explore the problem of racial intolerance. A Man Called Horse and Little Big Man, two Westerns associated with the counterculture of the late 1960's, look less progressive when understood in the context of popular captivity narratives of previous centuries which feature male captives who heroically adapt to the Indians' world, survive its dangers, and rescue themselves.