I think Ethan had five years of hate in him. I think that when he confronted Debbie and picked her up and touched her that his hatred evaporated just like that. That his touching her dissipated all the venom from him. That she was his kin, she was his Debbie. And he had to take her home."
The man definitely has some interesting thoughts on The Searchers
but (especially given the ending he would have preferred-YIKES- can we say shallow?) he certainly had a shallow understanding of the film and its characters.
As we discover Ethan's back story in the beginning of the film, he already despises Indians likely due to the massacre of his mother years later. (Little Debbie hides at her grave when the family is attacked). He fought in the Civil War and as we learn from his talks with the Reverend Clayton, he has no love for Yankees. He killed during the war and based on what he says about his past after the war, he was a gun for hire likely down in Mexico.
Ethan's racism and his dislike of Indians (and possibly other minorities) is already part of his make-up when we meet him at the beginning of the film and he is already a dark character. The killing of his family, especially Martha, feeds into that darkness and drives him deeper into that darkness.
That hatred doesn't evaporate when he picks up Debbie. It's the sound of her voice that likely saves her as he realizes that whatever she has been through, she is still his niece and more importantly, she is Martha's daughter, part of the family he could have had if his life had been different and he hadn't gone off to fight in the War.
In that moment, he snaps out of the darkness that has been driving him and his humanity resurfaces and he takes her home.
"Oh he couldn't go in there. He was damaged goods."
Ethan is many things (I was going to say a lot but didn't want to risk the wrath of Suex2) but damaged goods???? That implies that Ethan isn't responsible for his behavior over the past five years, that the tragedy that befell him was what caused his racism and his desire to kill Scar.
Ethan already hated Indians and his attitude about Debbie the longer she was in captivity was fueled more by that embedded hatred than anything else.
He can't go in the house at the end of the film because he is already an anachronism, the myth of the west that is dying, the man who takes the law into his hands (whether right or wrong, he did kill Futterman instead of letting the law handle it), the man who can't adjust to the civilization that the Jorgensen's, Laurie and Marty and the Rangers represent.
Ethan is responsible for his dark side, he fed that dark side over many years dating back to when his mother was killed to the moment he scalped Scar. He can't just turn on a dime and now act like none of that happened, that he never had those feelings, that he never turned into a cold-blooded killer fueled by his own demons and beliefs.
In the end, even as he realizes how much those demons have cost him, that realization cannot change the man he is.
Ethan is like the Indian he killed and buried, shooting his eyes out- he is doomed to travel between two worlds, never able to be a part of either, always wandering.
PS- I understand your dilemma- Bond, James Bond as personified by Sean Connery in his prime- glad I didn't have to make that choice as I likely would have made the same decision as you!