Themes and Meanings
From one point of view, The Petrified Forest is a melodrama in the tradition of the Western. In this light, Mantee is a latter-day Billy the Kid or even an American equivalent of Robin Hood. Gramp Maple’s constant references to Billy the Kid, together with some of the characters’ fearless admiration of Duke Mantee, make an obvious connection between the gangster and that legendary hero-villain. Like the Western hero, Mantee lives beyond the imperatives of social conduct while maintaining an unwavering personal code in which the individual is treated with dignity. Mantee is not a brute. He treats no one meanly. His motives are uncomplicated and there is about him an element of personal honesty, something without hypocrisy. Squier guesses, for example, that there is a bit of the romantic in Mantee, urging him to wait as long as he can for his girl to arrive before fleeing for the border. It is this spirited individualism that Alan Squier sees in Duke which brings the two of them together as spiritual kin.
Squier, too, is independent, free from the shams and delusions of the intellectual world, unconvinced of the conventions of morality, distrustful of belief. As Mantee is the physical outlaw, Squier is the spiritual outcast, and so the drama is in a sense a modern morality play in which the characters are allegorical representatives of body and soul in search of truth or unity.
In this play, however, there is no real resolution....
(The entire section is 426 words.)