“My Father’s Son: Patriarchal Deconstruction in Justified”

Zinder, Paul ORCID: 0000-0002-9578-4009 (2015) “My Father’s Son: Patriarchal Deconstruction in Justified”. In: National Conference Popular Culture Association American Culture Association, 1 - 4 April 2015, New Orleans, Louisiana.

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Justified, a postmodern televised Western narrative that unfolds in the contemporary South, presents patriarchal figures whose actions critically undermine their own families and critique the archetypical strength of the father in the Western genre. The representation of biological and surrogate fathers in the series questions paradigmatic figures like the Western hero and villain by linking their masculinity to a familial structure weakened by the harsh economic realities of modern America, a society that breeds lawbreakers who pass their expertise on to their offspring. Even Raylan Givens, a U.S. Marshal and the series’ protagonist, occupies an ambivalent moral ground similar to that of the men he pursues. Raylan, the estranged biological son of Arlo Givens, a life-long criminal, is regularly drawn back to his hometown of Harlan, Kentucky, to respond to his father’s misconduct, even though some of Raylan’s own malfeasance implies that a criminal mindset may be in part genetic. Other biological fathers, like Bo Crowder, the head of Harlan County’s drug trade in the first season of the series, raise sons that mimic their fathers’ penchant for lawlessness. Bo’s eldest son Bowman is an abusive husband killed by his own wife in “Fire in the Hole” (1.1) and he openly wars with his younger son Boyd before the latter attempts to replace his father as crime-lord of Harlan after Bo’s death. Surrogate fathers on both sides of the law in Justified prove unable to control their chosen “sons.” Theo Tonin, the head of the Dixie Mafia and surrogate father to Robert Quarles in the third season of the series, chooses his incompetent biological son Sammy as his natural successor, leaving his surrogate son Quarles to rebel in response to his “father’s” slight. Quarles’ drug-addled response to Theo’s rejection leads to his own symbolic castration, when he bleeds out after having his arm chopped off by Ellstin Limehouse in “Slaughterhouse” (3.13). And even Art Mullen, Raylan’s boss and surrogate father, tells Raylan that “nothing I say has ever made a difference,” and notes that his “son” is a “problem that will solve itself” (“Debts and Accounts” 2.10). Throughout the series, the figure of patriarchal leader fails, suggesting that traditional masculinity is open to question in the series’ narrative construction, ultimately positioning Justified as a baroque comment on fatherhood in the Western.

Item Type: Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)
Additional Information: Paper presentation formed part of a panel session in the Westerns Area of the national conference of the Popular Culture Association.
Subjects: P Language and Literature > PN Literature (General) > PN1990 Broadcasting
P Language and Literature > PS American literature
Divisions: Schools and Research Institutes > School of Creative Arts
Research Priority Areas: Creative Practice and Theory
Culture, Continuity, and Transformation
Depositing User: Anne Pengelly
Date Deposited: 12 Jul 2016 08:54
Last Modified: 08 Aug 2023 20:16
URI: https://eprints.glos.ac.uk/id/eprint/3749

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