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Written by Timothy Sexton
Frontier Justice was Not Black and White
Justice has long been a central theme in the Western genre, but for the most part that sense of justice has been sharply etched as along the borderline of universal acceptance of the existence of absolute codes of right and wrong. Frontier justice may well have been more simplistic than the legal system might have operated in Boston or Philadelphia, but it could probably not have operated at all if applied in the manner appropriated by dime western novels and Hollywood films. The background of the two main character as former representative of the Texas Rangers infuses the more worldly, sophisticated and ambiguous presentation of the application of justice in Old West. As a result, Lonesome Dove manages to move the seriousness with which the Western genre can be taken farther along the route to factual accuracy than the majority of novels which preceded it.
Gus and Call both used to lead the exciting life of a Texas Ranger. More than excitement, however, was the sense of being necessary and a part of history transforming. Those days are over and not just because they are no longer Rangers. The West they knew and helped in their own small way to tame has become more settled and different. They and others were successful in what they set out to do. But success has brought obsolescence and obsolescence has planted the seeds of dissatisfaction.
Not gender equality in the sense of portraying women as equal, but equality in the sense of lending a historical dimension to the pervasive inequality existing between women and men at the time. The black and white mentality of the Western genre extends to the portrayal of women who for the most part in the history of the genre are just background characters showing little distinction between authors. Lonesome Dove is notable for intensifying the psychological motivations and revealing the social conventions and gender expectations that define the differences between men and women.
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