In The Outlaw Josie Wales, a film by Clint Eastwood, Josie Wales is a simple Missouri farmer who gets pulled into the Civil War for revenge. His wife and son are killed by “redlegs” who are Kansas Union fighters known for looting Missouri “Bushwacker” territory who sided with the Confederacy. This feud between neighbors causes hatred from both sides throughout the movie from soldiers and citizens alike created by wartime brutality.
Josie Wales’ whole life was ruined by a war he was, at the time, taking no part in. When he comrades decided to turn themselves in at the end of the war after they were promised amnesty for allegiance, they were betrayed and shot dead. After this, Josie flees southwest toward Indian Territory and gathers a band of followers he saves along the way. This group includes a Union soldier’s mother and daughter. The Grandma expresses the regional hatred created by the war calling Missourians cold-blooded murders of innocents and thinks of those who are “true blue” as the most honorable of men.
Although this mentality seems to continue, the grandma’s views weaken as the film goes on. She at one point thanks God for the land her son honorably dying for the cause against those evil Missourians while simultaneously thanking Josie for changing from evil to good. She also calls the “redleg” Union soldiers, who eventually catch up to them, a disgrace to Kansas. The Union soldier’s daughter falls in love with Josie. Although these views weaken, the pain and suffering felt from the war in unforgettable. Josie said to one of his followers “you know there ain’t no forgetting” about the war and the pain caused to him by it.
This film represents two major themes that we have talked about in class. The first is reconciliation and the second is the inability to forget. Reconciliation is portrayed in this movie by the relationship between Josie and the grandma. Although the first times they meet the grandma is repulsed by Josie and is very vocal about her hatred for Missourians, by the end of the movie they are more family than either of them could say about Union Missourians or people from Kansas. Reconciliation is also portrayed in the last scene where Josie and His betrayer general are face to face. The general wants to tell Josie that “the war is over”. Josie just replies, “I guess we all died a little in that damn war.” This last line tells his general that he once respected that he forgave him and just wants to be left alone.
The second theme is memory. The memory for both sides is very different and even between soldier and citizen. The Union soldiers seemed to feel that the Missourians deserved what they got and did not regret anything. After the betrayal when all the men are shot, the main general said that “to the victors belong the spoils.” This explains that they did not regret their actions. The Confederate soldiers seemed to just want go home and be left alone. They talk about many in Texas who are also being hunted down. The Kansas grandma and her changing views represent the Union citizen’s perspective, however the daughter never seems to hold the same hate and this is not explained.
These two themes are reoccurring in our conversations in class and represent the perceived attitude on how to handle the post-war period (reconciliation) and how the people dealt with the war in their own individual ways (memory). The main idea that seemed to be everywhere except those commission to hunt Josie is that they just wanted to be left alone to fix, restart, and continue their lives.