First Advisor

Susan Danielson

Date of Publication


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (M.A.) in English




American literature -- West (U.S.) -- History and criticism, American fiction -- Women authors -- History and criticism, Women and literature -- United States -- History -- 20th century, Feminism and literature -- United States -- History -- 20th century



Physical Description

1 online resource (2, 82 p.)


The myth of the West is still very much alive in contemporary America. Lately, there has been a resurgence of new Western movies, TV series, and fiction. Until recently the West has been the exclusive domain of the quintessential masculine man. Women characters have featured only in the margins of the Western hero's tale. Contemporary Western fiction by women, however, offers new perspectives. Women's writing about the Old and New West introduces strong female protagonists and gives voice to characters that are muted or ignored by traditional Western literature and history. Western scholarship has largely been polarized by two approaches. First, the myth and symbol school of Turner, Smith, and followers celebrated American exceptionalism and rugged male individualism on the Western frontier. Second, the reaction against these theories draws attention to the West's legacy of racism, sexism and violence. The purpose of the present study is to collapse these theoretical fences and open a dialogue between conflicting theoretical positions and contemporay Western fiction. Molly Gloss's 1989 The Jump-Off Creek and Karen Joy Fowler's 1991 Sarah Canary selfcritically re-write the Old West. This study has attempted to explore the following questions: How can one re-write history in the context of a postmodern culture? How can "woman," the quintessential "Other" escape a modernist history (and thus avoid charges of essentialism) when she has not been in this history to begin with? In this study I analyze how these two contemporary feminist authors, Molly Gloss, and Karen Joy Fowler, face the dual challenge of writing themselves into a history that has traditionally excluded them, while at the same time deconstructing this very historical concept of the West. Fowler's and Gloss's use of diverse narrative strategies to upset a monolithic concept of history-- emphasizing the importance of multiple stories of the Old West-- is discussed in detail.


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