This 32-page book is printed in-house and contains a detailed semiological commentary prepared with the general reader, students and teachers in mind. 

For those who would like to use it as a teaching and learning aid in a classroom situation the film has been segmented into twelve sequences of 10 to 15 minutes duration.


“It’s Your Uncle Ethan!” 
(DVD Chapters 1/2/3/4: 8 mins) 
Let the film roll until Ethan sits alone on the verandah 
What makes a man to wander? 
What makes a man to roam? 
What makes a man leave bed and board, 
And turn his back on home? 
Ride away. Ride away. Ride away. 
As the credits roll, the voice of Roy Rogers, the singing cowboy, comes onto the soundtrack. The song, 
commissioned for the film, is The Searchers by Stan Jones. It will be reprised at various points in the course 
of the narrative. The caption “Texas 1865” appears on the screen. So the action of this narrative is set for the 
audience in time and place. A female figure, Martha, appears in silhouette on the left of the frame and opens 
a door inwards as she moves outside. Facing her is a bleak desert landscape. The camera tracks after her and 
a musical theme is introduced on the soundtrack. (The start of this tune sounds like the opening bars of the 
Rose of Tralee. It is, in fact, a mid-nineteenth century song of lost love called Lorena that was a favourite 
with Confederate soldiers in the American Civil War.) Martha raises her hand to her eyes to shield them from 
the harsh desert light as she tries to make out the figure emerging slowly from the landscape. An Indian 
blanket is draped over a hitching post. Martha’s husband, Aaron, emerges from the house and another theme 
comes on the soundtrack, a mournfully slow rendition of The Bonnie Blue Flag, an anthem of the Southern 
States. With a quizzical look on his face, Aaron steps from the shade of the verandah out into the harsh sun, 
exclaiming “Ethan?” As the song plays on, the family join Martha in the shade and Ethan draws nearer. A 
song of lost love and another of patriotic commitment to the Confederate States played at a mournful tempo, 
have accompanied his arrival. 
From the start of this film a tension is set up between inside and outside. This dichotomy will be highlighted 
in the composition of several shots for which the camera is set up on the inside facing out on an exterior. The 
characters are divided into those who fit in with domestic life and those who are more ‘at home’ in the desert, 
the wilderness. The home offers shelter, comfort, warmth, civilised living, love and peace. All that is 
disturbing is kept outside. The desert is the site of violence and the dusty, arid landscape is populated by 
people who would live outside the law. To exist in that environment one must eschew the values of home 
life. We will see two households in the course of the film - that of the Edwards and that of the Jorgensens. 
The dominant personality in both is the mother. When the Edwards’ homestead is destroyed all its functions 
are subsumed by that of the Jorgensens. A man like Ethan would leave this environment behind to go 
roaming in the desert. The opening song asks why a man would do this and the film tries to answer that 
The Edwards family are all amazed to see Ethan return. The American Civil War lasted from 1862-65. It is 
now three years after that, so Ethan has been away a very long time. He is dressed in a wide-brimmed hat and 
a long, grey overcoat. It is the coat of the army of the Confederate States. After he dismounts, Ethan moves 
slowly, calm and unhurried, carrying his saddlebags and a sabre. The war may be over for three years, but 
Ethan has retained these memorabilia of the Civil War. The war and the stand taken by the southern states 
still mean a lot to him. The air of the opening song is resumed. 
Martha has stepped into the sunlight to greet Ethan who responds with a chaste kiss on her forehead. After a 
brief silence on the soundtrack, the musical theme changes to Lorena. Martha leads him into the house in a 
balletic fashion, backing ahead of him, as if she cannot take her eyes off of him.  
Inside Ethan lifts Deborah into the air, mistaking her for Lucy, such is the length of time he has been away. 
When Ben expresses interest in his sabre, Ethan generously makes him a present of  it. When Aaron asks 
how was California, Ethan denies ever being there. As Martha puts his coat away, Ethan is again welcomed 
home by his brother with a hearty handshake. He is back in the bosom of his family. The importance of home 
and homelife will be a major theme in this film. “Welcome home, Ethan,” comes very early in the dialogue, 
and “Let’s go home, Debbie!” is the final spoken phrase. The setting is warm, the wood tones of the 
composition combining with the shining crockery to indicate a world at total variance with the harsh life of 
the desert. Warm feminine values of love and nurturing are in the ascendancy here. Martha embodies these 
principles and we will later see her make several moves to smooth things out when awkward questions are 
asked, or strife threatens the household. 
Martin’s introduction is filmed in the same way as Ethan’s earlier, insofar as the camera is inside, and he 
appears from the desert. The music is lively and Martin is full of life and movement. When he leaps off his 
horse, throwing his leg over the horse’s head, we can see that he has been riding bareback. His costume, as 
well as his actions, resembles that of an Indian brave: he wears no hat and his shirt is belted at the waist, 
hanging over his pants. 
There is a look of hatred on Ethan’s face as he glares at Martin. The life goes out of the music and the tension 
in the air is emphasised by the sound, as it were, of a clock ticking. Martin has been saved by Ethan and 
adopted by the Edwards family. Ethan now seems to be appalled that the child he rescued all those years ago 
was, in fact, an Indian. “A fella could mistake you for a half-breed!” he growls. After the meal, we see Martin 
sitting alone on the verandah, outside the house. The music is sad and contrasts with his opening theme. This 
is how Ethan has made him feel. He has reminded him that he is an outsider and not part of the family. 
Considering Ethan has not been around for over six years, his treatment of Martin seems cruel. He is 
obviously a man of strong likes and dislikes, bigoted and lacking in humanity. His strong-willed opposition 
to the forces of the northern states is matched by his pathological hatred of the Indians. Notwithstanding 
Ethan’s cruel treatment of him, Martin comes in and re-asserts his right to a place in the family by bidding all 
“Good night”, even ‘Uncle’ Ethan. There is a strength to his character that he will need as the narrative 
progresses. Ben is keen to hear about the war. When Aaron points out that the war is long over the situation 
gets awkward and Martha moves to smooth things over. 
Ethan has given Ben the sabre. Even though it means a lot to him, he has kept it since the end of the war, after 
all, he lets it go. He hands over his war decoration, when asked for a gold locket by Debbie. A line from 
Lorena plays as Lucy places the locket around Debbie’s neck. When Martha tells him Debbie is too young 
for such a gift Ethan  declares “It doesn’t amount to much!” He is a hard man of strong principles but family 
means a lot to him. He will part with the things of war for family.  
When Ethan makes inquiries about a homestead he passed on the way home, Aaron tells him about families 
that have moved back from the frontier. He follows up by asking why Ethan stayed around so long before the 
war when it was obvious that he was not happy on the ranch. Martha comes between them, literally, in the 
composition. Ethan reaches the lamp down to her in a gesture of consideration that belies his angry humour. 
He takes “fresh-minted” gold from his saddlebags, “Yankee dollars”, to pay his way, now that he is returned. 
The music reflects the curiosity of Aaron as to how he came by the gold and Ethan’s denial of his visit to 
California might come into the minds of the audience. There is an air of mystery about what Ethan has been 
up to for the previous three years. The audience might wonder whether he was one of those Confederate 
soldiers who refused to accept the victory of the Union forces and continued on their own private wars as 
The Lorena theme whose lyrics deal with a man lamenting his lost love plays again as the family dog joins 
Ethan on the verandah.  He is looking over his shoulder back into the house as Aaron follows Martha into 
the bedroom and closes the door. The camera frames Ethan on the verandah, just as it did with Martin 
earlier. In their introduction, and now on the verandah, the camerawork invites the audience to links these 
two characters in their minds. They are both outsiders. Martin has no kinship ties with the Edwards family, 
but he has been accepted by them as one of their own, and he blends into the family. Ethan has ties of kin 
but has absented himself from the family for his own private reasons for six years or more and has missed 
seeing the children grow up.