Killing Mister Watson

by Peter Matthiessen
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Considering American values, especially those of the frontier (independence, starting over, free enterprise, pride, aggression, and so on), how can Mr. Watson be seen as an American hero in Killing Mister Watson?

Mr. Watson can be seen as an American hero in the way he put his allegedly violent past behind him and started over in Killing Mister Watson. He is said to have killed people in the past but then became a farmer with a family. The mystery surrounding his life reflects the American idolization of desperados. In addition, many Americans might view his transformation as heroic because he put his past of crime behind him and became a productive worker.

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Mr. Watson comes across as an American hero in the way he carries himself and how he appears to others. For example, consider the value of “starting over” mentioned in this question. Mr. Watson allegedly killed people in his past, but then started over and became a hard-working man who was devoted to his family. The ability to start a new life is a key tenant of the American dream. Thus Mr. Watson embodies the fulfillment of an American ideal. It is important to note, of course, that the reader never really knows for sure if Mr. Watson did these horrible things in the past or not. Mr. Watson’s ability to invent this story is also reflective of the idea that you can be whoever you want in America.

Mr. Watson’s alleged past also makes others intrigued about who he is, even if they fear him. The mythology surrounding Mr. Watson and the public intrigue in his violent past and death paints a portrait of American values. Americans have been fascinated with desperados for generations, in a way idolizing rebellious outlaws, despite their crimes. Mr. Watson is particularly intriguing to the public because he had both a history of crime and a commitment to farming and family values. To many people, he could thus be seen as an independent, strong man who put his dark past behind him and channeled his strength into productivity.

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