ERIC Number: ED382969
Record Type: RIE
Publication Date: 1992-Oct-9
Reference Count: N/A
The Unexpected Burden of Manhood in Owen Wister's "The Virginian": "Can't Yu' See How It Must Be about a Man?"
Jones, Donald C.
Literary critics have frequently credited Owen Wister with the invention of the modern Western novel. Yet when compared to the modern cowboy stereotype, the supposedly prototypical text of "The Virginian" defies its author's apparent convictions of Western masculinity. This bestseller includes most of the now classic elements of a Western novel: comical tall tales, a tense card game, laconic chivalry, rugged individualism, an ambush, a lynching, and a climactic gunfight. However, at times "The Virginian" reveals the unexpected burden of the cowboy's manhood, bringing the masculine code itself into question. The web of relationships in the novel is far more complex than in the typical Western novel. And Wister's personal life reinforces the unexpected complexity of "The Virginian." Like his title character, Wister experienced the psychological burdens of an oppressive social code. Born to a refined Philadelphia family, Wister was a Harvard graduate, an amateur actor, and an accomplished classical pianist. Forced to pursue a legal rather than a musical career by his father, Wister's depression led to poor health for which he was sent west to recuperate. Some scholars see his novel as a "personal diary" which provided an outlet for the expression of deep feelings. For today's students, who may have seen "The Virginian" on television reruns, a chance to read the original novel and to analyze the reasons for its massive popularity may also shed some light on a mythical chapter of American culture. (Contains 14 references.) (NKA)
Publication Type: Opinion Papers; Speeches/Meeting Papers
Education Level: N/A
Authoring Institution: N/A
Identifiers: Author Text Relationship; Genre Studies; United States (West); Virginian (Wister); Wister (Owen)
Note: Paper presented at the Western American Literature Meeting (Reno, NV, October 9, 1992).