Date of Award


Document Type

Open Access Dissertation


English Language and Literatures

First Advisor

David Cowart


T The author begins by reviewing Frederick Jackson Turner’s 1893 “Frontier Thesis” and by surveying the twentieth-century consensus of the “New Western Historians.” The author then poses a question: even though the physical frontier “closed” in the late-nineteenth century, did American writers turn away from the imaginative frontier? To a great extent, the writers of literary fiction did turn to other material during the modernist period. Simultaneously, however, Westerns began to dominate popular fiction and film. More notably, writers such as Raymond Chandler began to transform the traditional Western. In Philip Marlowe, Chandler created an urban cowboy; this cowboy locates his roots in dime novels and popular cowboy tales. In novels such as The Big Sleep, Chandler rigidly abides by a personal code that looks very similar to the one practiced by the mythic cowboys. Nonetheless, the reader discerns that the rapidlydisappearing frontier has already made this urban cowboy an anachronism. Cormac McCarthy, in All the Pretty Horses, also features a protagonist who abides by the code. In this “traditional” Western, John Grady Cole embraces the cowboy way of life, but his experiences in Mexico prompt the reader to examine traditional nationalistic myths. For a more postmodernist Western, the author turns to Robert Coover’s Ghost Town. This parodic novel contains none of the nostalgia and romance of All the Pretty Horses. Coover’s hero, “the kid,” travels across a surrealist landscape that includes all of the familiar Western tropes: gunfights, train robberies, cattle rustling, poker games, et al. In a sense, the kid becomes the avatar of all cowboys; his experiences “pile up” to vi demonstrate that the Western genre has become exhausted. As the twentieth century gave way to the twenty first, the prolific writer Percival Everett attempted to create a new Western paradigm. In works such as Wounded and Half an Inch of Water, Everett looks at the mythic West with suspicion while also creating something fresh. Everett’s aim thus turns the Western away from Coover’s deconstructionist project and toward something modernist. In this “new Western,” Everett’s heroes begin to form collectivist partnerships that embrace relationship, respect for the environment, and diversity.