Popular Culture Review Vol. 24, No. 2, Summer 2013 - Page 117

Who is the Man with No Name? Names and Namelessness in Western Fiction Introduction The “Man with No Name” m otif has become almost mythical within the W estern genre o f literature and film. The figure has different literary/cinematic uses, most notably in Owen W ister’s, The Virginian and the films o f Italian director Sergio Leone. This m otif seems exclusive to westems for many reasons that connect to both the real and fictional W est and to the importance o f the west as a meeting place between civilization and the wild, how names signify differently in each, and the desire for self-determination in the characters o f W ister and Leone. The m otif is more dramatic than meaningful, however, since literary and filmic names are largely labeling devices, with no true connection to a character’s observable identity. This paper discusses the setting, motivations, and results o f the “Man with No Name” m o tif s use in literature and film. In the opening scene o f A Fistful o f Dollars (Leone, 1964), as in many earlier westem tales, a man rides into town. The townspeople look him over; he’s an unknown. He looks unlike the strangers who have come before. H e’s wearing a filthy poncho instead o f a neatly laundered outfit. His old, flat brimmed hat is no Stetson. He sports a scraggly beard. He has no glittering star, no gleaming pistol, no shining smile. He rides a mule instead o f a trusty steed and wraps a scowl around a cheap, short cigar. H e’ll soon kill four men, ostensibly for scaring the mule. H e’d be the perfect image o f the westem heavy, except for one point: he’s the “hero.” The biggest difference from the norm— he gives no name, and doesn’t seem to have a use for one. The “man with no name” m otif is one associated with relatively few films and books: most notably, Sergio Leone’s first four westems, Clint Eastwood’s High Plains Drifter (1973), and at least one very famous novel, Owen W ister’s The Virginian. Despite that, the m otif is instantly recognizable— even by people who don’t like westem s— decades later. Its mention evokes the image o f a dangerous man cloaked in an extra layer o f mystery. Once examined, however, it is apparent that rather than intensifying the mystery, this m otif exposes how names and men without them— or, like the Virginian, men whose names are kept