McAnulty College and Graduate School of Liberal Arts
Linda A. Kinnahan
Magali C. Michael
Michael C. Cahall
Myth, Turner, Wallace Stegner, Western writers, Wister, Wolf Willow
As writer, essayist, environmentalist, and westerner, Wallace Earle Stegner (1909-1993) confronted what he understood to be an imagined and literal American West constructed by myths of frontier conquest, pioneer settlement in and transformation of the western landscape, and cowboy exceptionalism that erased an historical legacy of hardship, failure, and destruction of land and people, and also a West constructed by Eastern publishers and literary critics who diminished western American literature to local color writing. In Wolf Willow: A History, a Story, and a Memory of the Last Plains Frontier (1962), Stegner uses fiction, history, and memoir to engage the mythic West's silencing of his family's failed homesteading experiences in a specific western place and the relationship of his childhood and adult selves to this place, to its history, to experiences there, and to the cultural myths that characterize his western past and present and position the West as a symbolic container of hope, opportunity, and reward for the individual and America. In an historicized western place and from childhood experiences, Stegner locates an Other western narrative and an authentic western voice that disrupts the monomythic voice and values that are out of touch not only with a modern, multicultural, urban West but also with a rural West.
Coming after Wolf Willow, a series of essays--"Born a Square" (1964), "On the Writing of History" (1965), and "History, Myth, and the Western Writer" (1967), reprinted in the popular The Sound of Mountain Water (1969)-- present Stegner's new theory of western American literature that re-visions the West's literary heritage and reclaims the western story, what he called "another kind of western story-telling" that engages both the present and the past Wests, acknowledges past crimes against racial others and against western lands, promotes a sense of hope for a native western art, and raises America's consciousness of the personal, environmental, and cultural costs of adhering to the metanarratives of the culturally dominant mythic West of formula fiction, Hollywood films, and television series of the 1940s through 1960s. While Stegner scholars have examined the essays independently and deem them important to Stegner's works and to the trajectory of western American literature in the 1970s forward, no study has undertaken an extended analysis of these three essays in relation to Wolf Willow to argue, as this dissertation does, that Wolf Willow contains in germinal form the foundation of Stegner's realist, place-based, and historicist theoretical construct for western American literature he advocated for in the 1960's essays.
Newberry, R. (2011). Wallace Stegner's Wolf Willow and 1960s Critical Essays: Renarrativizing Western American Literature for the West and for America (Doctoral dissertation, Duquesne University). Retrieved from https://dsc.duq.edu/etd/977