Western values, or the peoples Homer: Unforgiven as a reading of the Iliad
We explore Clint Eastwood's Unforgiven as a reading of the Iliad. Significant parallels link the two works in terms of genre, plot structure, and ideology, especially the ideology of manhood. The Western is, in fact, the modern American epic, and as such performs an equivalent cultural role to that of the Iliad in Classical Greece: It defines the qualities necessary for those heroes who will build civilization out of wilderness. In both works, the protagonists-Achilles and William Munny-are self-questioning warriors who temporarily reject the culture of violence only to return to it after the death of their closest male friend, in which they are implicated. Yet the film departs markedly from the Greek epic in its self-consciousness, not only about the nature of heroism but also about the nature and function of epic itself. Despite the film's metafictional interventions, however, Unforgiven ultimately reinscribes rather than repudiates Munny/Eastwood's heroic mythopoeisis. Eastwood, as well as Munny, is thus able to posit himself as an Achillean hero and thereby justifies his role in the myth of a civilizing Western violence.
Blundell, Mary Whitlock, and Kirk Ormand. 1997. "Western Values, or the Peoples Homer: Unforgiven as a Reading of the Iliad." Poetics Today 18: 533-569.
Duke University Press