Civil Violence in the Old West

'Red Dead Redemption'

by Nick Dinicola

20 January 2011


Civil Violence in Nuevo Paraiso

The communities of New Austin aren’t major civilizations for one important reason: they don’t seek to grow. Instead, they’re content to remain little bastions of society in an otherwise lawless land. By contrast, Blackwater in West Elizabeth is constantly expanding its presence in the world of Red Dead Redemption. It’s fighting off the “savage” Native Americans, and it’s already sending out small tentacles of culture into New Austin in the form of telephones and movie theaters. Technology defines the civilization of Blackwater (as evidenced by Edgar Ross’s love of the automobile and Harold MacDougal’s supposed dedication to science) so it’s only natural that Blackwater would use that technology to advance itself. But what if Marshal Leigh Johnson, perplexed by the telephone, decides to fight back against this growing civilization? What happens when one civilization seeks to impose its will upon those who don’t want it? In Mexico, we see the quintessential clash of a civilization with itself: a civil war.

Idealism is epitomized in the peasant Luisa Fortuna, a true believer in the revolution. She believes that the violence of the civil war will have a greater historical meaning.

When Marston first visits Chuparosa during one of his first missions in Mexico, he’s accosted by three thugs. They obviously don’t like him, and their distrust stems from his status as an outsider. When Marston aks if they speak English, one answers, “Si, hablo ‘filthy fucking bean eater.’ Hablo, ‘slippery little Mexican’”. The racial tension is obvious, and their distrust of this outsider is warranted since they don’t see Marston as an individual. He’s a representative of all Americans. Their distrust is one civilization protecting itself from another. They threaten him and tell him to take off his boots as “taxation” for coming into their country, and he kills them. An old gunslinger who observes the exchange, Landon Ricketts, sarcastically chides Marston, “What a great way to improve border relations. An illiterate farmer crossing the river, coming into this civilization, and butchering the local peasants. Thank you very much, sir”.

Ricketts eventually explains his cynical take on the civil war: “The local government… a foul bunch. Colonel Allende runs this place like a feudal king. He’s an awful individual”. Yet Ricketts doesn’t see the revolutionaries as any better: “Now there’s another local guy running around promising the peasants their freedom, just like the last two or three.” Despite his cynicism, he sides with the people and acts as if it’s the obvious choice to do so. After rescuing a wagon from robbers, he tells Marston, “They’ve been beaten down for too long. I give them some hope”. Landon Ricketts is another man of violence, embracing his violent nature to end more violence, or in his own words: “I’m a fighter sir, and I’ll fight to the end”. He’s just as violent as the characters in New Austin, only his violence is dressed in idealism rather than practicality.

That idealism is epitomized in the peasant Luisa, a true believer in the revolution. She believes that the violence of the civil war will have a greater historical meaning. She even says early on, “I’m living in history, I’m not afraid to die”. The inherent burden of this belief is that it must be all encompassing, the greater historical meaning of the revolution must excuse all acts of violence. When her father is killed, when his heart is cut out and fed to dogs, Marston explains, “It means that war is brutal and unnecessary and good people die, and that’s all it will mean”. But for Luisa, “That is not enough”. She needs her idealism to survive.

Marston has been down this road before. When he rode with Bill, Javier, and Dutch, he was not unlike the revolutionaries of Mexico, stealing from the rich and giving to the poor, violently standing up for people who have been beaten down by society. He became disillusioned with his violent rebellion when he was shot and left for dead. He realized that society wasn’t changing, despite all they’ve done, so he decided to change, to put the violence behind him and try to have a peaceful life. He tries to explain this to Luisa but she dismisses him, “I’d rather be dead than a cynic like you”.

Her unshakable belief in the cause is rooted in her love for the rebel leader Reyes, but Reyes is no different than her or Ricketts. The leader doesn’t consider what he’ll do after he wins the war. Marston asks him, “If it does work, and you take down Allende, what then?” Reyes answers, “I will give the greatest speech of my life…I will march on the capital and take on [President] Sanchez himself!” There’s no end in sight for his war. It’s just violence for the sake of violence, dressed up as a noble revolution. In that regard, he’s the same as Ricketts, using the revolution as an outlet for his violent nature except that, whereas Ricketts has a genuine sympathy for the peasants, Reyes is simply using them to further his personal goals. He only cares about the people as one cares for a puppy. He still looks down on them and sees himself as better by birth, “I owe it to the future of Mexico to breed… If I can get noble blood flowing through the veins of peasants, can you imagine how great this country can be?” He then laughs at the idea of marrying the peasant Luisa, “I’m going to be the next president of Mexico. My wife will meet ambassadors, kings, other great men. The very thought that I would marry some peasant girl with a tight cunt and the hands of a farmer, well, I really don’t think so”.

For the people of Nuevo Paraiso, the revolution allows them to embrace their violent nature while acting like it’s something noble and good. When Marston describes Dutch to Reyes, Reyes makes a quip that best describes everyone in Mexico: “I like this man Dutch, another violent idealist.”

The war in Nuevo Paraiso proves that a new civilization requires violence to establish itself. A proper civilization takes the violent nature of all its citizens and directs it towards a single target. In Mexico, this works both ways as Colonel Allende also claims to commits violence for peace. He says, “My people have lived and worked here for a hundred years. We brought civilization, and these people, these fucking monkeys, despise us. We brought them God, and they turned their back on him. Now I fight to help them from themselves, to save them from themselves”. His second-in-command continues to defend the violence: “[Allende] is trying to preserve the order in our province to keep our civilization alive. It is tough… Sometimes in the service of what is right, you got to do terrible things”. Each side is fighting for their civilization, yet there’s very little that is civil about either one. Both sides idealize their own acts of violence, glorify them and excuse them, while condemning the other side for doing the same thing. In Mexico, both sides can do this because there’s a war going on, but what happens when there’s no war to fight? How does a civilization deal with people’s violent nature when there is no common enemy?

Luisa Fortuna of Nuevo Paraiso

Luisa Fortuna of Nuevo Paraiso

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