They tell me everything isn't black and white. . . . Well I say, why the hell not?
John Wayne (“John Wayne as the Last Hero”: 55)
I like simple things, yet I'm obviously more complex than I appear on the surface.
Clint Eastwood (Thompson: 121)
As portrayed in the Western and alluded to in the road movie, frontier symbolism is propelled by masculinity and a particular conception of American national identity that revolves around individualism and aggression. During the height of the studio system, this symbolic core codified into the Western film as an iconography evoking already nostalgic ideas about the frontier. As the Western condensed further into what we now refer to as the genre of the road film, these characteristics become concentrated and codified, in part through the insistence on the extremely linear narrative structure of the road film. What ultimately links the road movie to the Western is this ideal of masculinity inherent in certain underlying conceptualizations of American national identity that have persisted, if only through continual ideological struggle.
Eastwood provides the touchstone for my analysis of the road film, its relationship to the Western, and the gendered assumptions that inform both genres. 1 This essay contextualizes Eastwood within the genres, and then uses his star text as an example through which to explore them. 2 A consideration of recent “feminine” road films, that is, road films featuring female protagonists and feminine issues, further highlights the inherent masculinity of the road movie.