Story Development: The Western Novel
very first Western stories record captivity.
Their Indian captivity tales, at first, are real.
However, they increasingly become fiction.
In addition, their stories dramatize whites' deep-rooted racial
and sexual fears as they face the unknown inhabitants in a strange land.
example, in 1542, Spanish explorer Cabeza de Vaca details his
capture by Indians in Texas. In the 1600s and 1700s, Puritan New England develops the
captivity storyline into an art form.
These stories continue in the 19th century as both
semi-fiction. In 1911, this story line shows up with Col. William H.
Selig's The Indian Vestal and is at the heart of the classic
Western, The Searchers (1950).
the 1800s, the American novel becomes the central story form.
These early novels start to deal with the West:
Fenimore Cooper is not
the first Western novelist; however, he is unquestionably the most influential
novelist of the West in the first half of the 19th century.
In fact, these tales are about the early frontier that was up state
New York and ends in the prairie. His
Leatherstocking Tales begins in 1823 with "The Pioneers."
The other four novels are "The Last of the Mohicans" (1826),
"The Prairie" (1827), "The Pathfinder" (1840), and "The Deerslayer" (1841)
balances the figure of Natty Bumppo (also known as Hawkeye,
Deerslayer and Pathfinder) between the carefree life of the woods and the
refined people of the settlements. It also establishes the scout as a popular Western character.
"The Deerslayer" begins the story of Natty.
The next book chronologically is "The Last of the Mohicans,"
followed by "The Pathfinder," next "The Pioneers," and finally
Cooper also dramatizes the noble red man in his Native American character Chingachgook.
early novelists explore the potential of Western settings:
King bases his stories
on frontier army life. Before
becoming a novelist, King serves in the United States 5th
Cavalry. Between 1883 and 1909, he writes many romantic novels.
They include "The Deserter" (1887), "An Army Portia" (1893),
and "An Apache Princess" (1903). Most
of his novels, like his actual experience, are army post during the Indian
Wars. He mixes military
campaigns and a love story. Some
critics believe his novels are the forerunner to the famous John Wayne and
John Ford trilogy cavalry movies, Fort Apache, She Wore a Yellow
Ribbon, and Rio Bravo.
1884, Helen Hunt Jackson is an early advocate for Native American
rights. He history "A
Century of Dishonor" (1881) attacks the U.S. government's dealings
with the native peoples. With
public support, she writes the novel "Ramona."
This is a tale of a half-Indian girl.
She falls in love with a California Indian. Her parents disown the girl and which forces her to elope
with her lover. Whites killer
her lover; happily, she is accepted back into her family.
Harte's is a native
New Yorker, who in 1854 heads to California.
In 1868 her comes editor of the Overland Monthly.
In the periodical, he writes his classic short stories of
California mining camps. They
include "The Luck of the Roaring Camp", "Tennessee's Partner",
and "The Outcasts of Poker Flat."
The list of stories goes on. He
characterizations become common in Western films.
Wister writes "The Virginian" (1902).
This novel establishes the cowboy as the central figure in
Westerns. He is terse, yet
gallant and masculine. He is
slow to anger yet intimidating when forced.
In 1896, he writes "Red Man and White" after spending a summer
in Wyoming to improve his health. He
was to attend Harvard Law School. Over
the next ten years, he continues to travel over the West.
In addition to "The Virginian," he writes "Lin McLean"
(1898), "The Jimmyjohn Boss" (1900), "Members of the Family" (1911),
and "When West Was West" (1928).
His friendship with Teddy Roosevelt and Frederic Remington helps
his craft the Western cowboy.
the early 1900s, novelists begin writing about the ordinary people of the
West. Novelist like Hamlin
Garland and Willa Cather tell the story of the Nebraska and
South Dakota farmers. For the
most part, the Western film ignores this subject.
Action is the center of the Western and popular fiction: the fierce
conflict between men and nature. Or,
between the savage or outlaw and the so-called good guy.