1. See Discussion Questions for Use With any Film that is a Work of Fiction.
See questions 3 and 4 above, relating to the use of this movie in U.S. History and Government classes.
2. In the symbolic system of this story, what does the town stand for?
[The following question is appropriate for students who have studied Animal Farm or some other allegorical story with a political theme. If students have studied a politically themed allegorical story other than Animal Farm, substitute the name of that work.]
3. Is “High Noon” an allegory or simply a work with powerful symbols?
An allegory is an artistic device in which the characters and events of the story closely represent something else. The literal content of an allegorical work is less important than its symbolic meaning. Many commentators describe this film as an allegory with the marshal representing the courageous people who stood up to the Red Baiters while the townspeople are symbols for the political and business leaders, as well as ordinary Americans, particularly the business leaders and workers in Hollywood, who kept silent, allowing the professional anti-communists to persecute people because of their political beliefs. The Miller gang represents the Red-Baiters who persecuted people for their political beliefs. However, other commentators point out that the characters don’t stand for specific people as in the case of many allegories and that there are important differences between the people and forces being symbolized and the characters in the story. They contrast the movie to George Orwell’s Animal Farm in which one character represents Lenin, another Stalin and another Trotsky; the pigs are the communists, other animals are the peasants, etc. However, to make the movie an allegory, there would have to be a figure who was attacking people for their beliefs rather than simply seeking revenge. The character of the wife would have to relate to an important historical figure or force, but it does not appear to do so. The question seeks an opinion and there is no one correct answer. Strong responses will note that any work of fiction that contains powerful symbols can be said to contain elements of allegory, but the key to the concept of allegory is that the symbols are closely related to specific people or to specific groups. If “High Noon” is allegory, it is of the most general, least specific, kind. In the end, the important point is that the symbols in “High Noon” are very strong and help communicate the theme of the work.
4. Give some examples of the use of the literary device of the foil in this film. How do the foils highlight traits of Kane or of Amy and how do they help the audience discover the theme of the film?
See Helpful Background section on Foils for a full description of the use of opposition in this film.
The questions set out above for U.S. History and Government classes also relate to theme.
5. Are Mrs. Kane’s actions in abandoning her pacifist beliefs and joining her husband in the fight against the Miller gang, an argument against pacifism as a moral and political philosophy?
There is no one right answer to this question. The purpose of asking it is to start a debate.
6. Will Kane said, “This is my town. I’ve got friends here.” What does this tell you about the meaning of community? What did Kane find out about his community?
A sense of community is based on relationships of trust, cooperation and loyalty among people who live in the community. Kane learned that the people in Hadleyville didn’t understand the true meaning of community.
7. Is there a feminist sub-text to this movie? Justify your response.
A strong argument can be made that there is. See the discussion about Amy Kane in the Helpful Background section and note the economic power, independence, intelligence, and wisdom of Helen Ramirez
More questions relating to theme can be found in the Social-Emotional Learning section and in the Ethical Emphasis sections below.
MYTHS OF THE WESTERN GENRE
8. How does Will Kane regain the attributes of the Western hero when he turns the buckboard around and goes back into town?
At the beginning of the film, Kane has resigned as town marshal and married Amy, a beautiful Quaker woman. She has convinced him to build a new life as a shopkeeper in another town. What made Kane a successful Western hero, being experienced and willing to fight with his gun, willing to do it alone, and being physically fit will not be needed in Kane’s new environment. In addition, he is no longer single. In many ways, Kane is on his way to a life in which he will become the antitheses of the Western hero. However, by returning to Hadleyville to fight the Miller gang, Kane regains his status as a hero of the Western genre. His wife has said that she will leave him if he stays in town for a violent face-off with the outlaws. He is therefore single again, ungoverned by a domesticating woman. He is acting on his principles and being courageous. He is willing to fight the outlaws with a gun and willing to do it alone if no one will help him. He is intelligent and his experience in gun fighting will be important in this conflict. He is physically fit, strong enough to best his young deputy in a fist fight, though just barely. Kane is an outsider by virtue of the fact that he intends to leave the town as soon as the fight with the Miller gang is finished. His outsider status is confirmed when no one in town will help him.
9. How is Will Kane, even after he returns to town, different than most Western heroes?
In many ways the character of Will Kane embodies the exemplary exception to the hero usually found in the Western genre. In most Westerns, the hero takes on the bad guys without experiencing fear and without doubting himself. Will Kane admits to being afraid and his actions are constantly being called into question by his wife, the townspeople, and his friends. Years before, Kane had been in a relationship with a Mexican woman. We know that he still has some regard for her because he takes precious minutes to warn her that Miller, who bears her a grudge, is coming to town. In the 1950s, times of strong racial and ethnic prejudice, the Western hero wouldn’t usually be shown consorting with a Mexican woman. It is inconsistent with his membership in the mainstream culture. In addition, Kane is older than most Western heros. His attempts to rally the town behind him are an exercise in frustration. The Western hero seldom has to try over and over again, meeting failure after failure. Finally, when Kane wins the big gun fight, he does so only because a woman intervenes at the crucial moment. Western heroes do not usually need to be saved by a mere woman.
10. Will Kane is the marshal. Doesn’t that mean that he is the authority figure in the town and isn’t that inconsistent with the outsider status usually required of the Western hero?
As the story progresses Kane is abandoned by the other authority figures in the town: the selectman, the judge, the minister and even his own deputy. In addition, Kane’s authority as marshal is suspect because he has already resigned. This marshal is an outsider, upholding the right and protecting the town on his own even when the town won’t act to protect itself.
11. How is Amy Kane different from the usual leading female character of the Western genre?
Westerns usually don’t concern themselves with the struggles of their leading ladies, who usually have only a marginal role in the story. In the Western genre the single requirement for the leading female character is beauty. Certainly, Amy Kane, played by Grace Kelly, is a pretty woman. However, she is also a powerful force in the story. When the movie opens she has prevailed upon her husband to abandon the role of the Western hero and become a shopkeeper. The female principle of domestication has triumphed over the hero of the Western genre. Her power is shown in the titanic struggle that Will Kane has with himself before he turns the buckboard around and goes back to town. Later in the story, Amy’s power is confirmed again as she intervenes in the gun fight, not once, but twice, to save her man. Her power is reasserted at the end of the film as Will Kane resumes his role as the modern man, the shopkeeper antithesis of the hero of the Western genre. It is no coincidence that when Will and Amy leave town the second time, it is Amy who is driving the buckboard. This leading lady is more than just a pretty face.
The character of Amy Kane goes beyond the usual leading lady in the Western genre in another way. More than anyone else in the film, Amy develops and changes as the noon train approaches. At first, she is willing to give up her man for her Quaker belief in nonviolence. By the end of the film, she has killed a man, choosing her husband over her beliefs. Amy’s change is not only a matter of the development of her character, it’s also an important part of the plot and a major contribution to the theme of the story. Amy is the only person in the town to come to her husband’s assistance and her intervention turns the tide in the gunfight. Her character presents a powerful argument that principle cannot stand against love. As described above, this concept has its limits, but in the context of this story Amy did the right thing.
12. What is the role of the young boy who tries to help Kane?
Although not integral to the storyline, the concept of adults learning from an uncorrupted child, sometimes called the Child Savior Myth, is evident in the appearance of a young boy who tries to help Kane. At first, he serves as a messenger for Kane. Later, when everyone else has abandoned Kane, the boy begs to be allowed to take up a gun and stand with Kane in the gunfight. Kane lightly scolds the boy for his temerity with a few gentle words. After the gunfight, the boy drives the buckboard up to the crowd in the thoroughfare so that Kane and his wife can leave town and effectively ride off into the sunset. The boy has been the single source of help from the citizenry. If the town is ever to develop people of character and integrity, like Will Kane and unlike the current adult population, it will be through this boy. He is the only hope for the future of Hadleyville.
13. Name the two most important motifs in this movie.
Shots of clocks and the shot of the railroad tracks showing infinite regress.
14. Take three important characters and describe them in a few words.
There is no one correct set of words that describe each character. Here are a few examples: Will Kane: resolute; protector; ethical; upright, a policeman through and through, brave; courageous, strong; incorruptible; loyal, smart; Harvey Pell, the Deputy: envious, ambitious, amoral, cocky, disloyal, unsuited to be a law enforcement officer; immature; pompous, foolish; Helen Ramirez: passionate, intelligent; wise; bitter; dignified; capable businesswoman; Amy Kane (before she decided to help her husband): beloved of her husband, brittle, unbending, uncompromising; determined, uncaring, disloyal; Frank Miller: cruel, unpredictable. These are just samples.
15. This film is an example of writing in “real time.” The action of the film takes place in the short period of time before Frank Miller arrives on the noon train. How does writing in “real time” affect the film?
It builds tension and suspense. Writing in “real time” also requires that most of the background for the story is introduced through dialog. As a result the audience often has to wait to get the information necessary to understand the motivations behind the actions of various characters. See also TWM’s Discussion Questions for Use With any Film that is a Work of Fiction and Lesson Plans Using Film Adaptations of Novels, Short Stories or Plays.