Course Schedule

Week 1: Introductions

 January 15-17

Introduction: The Dime Novel and the Formula Western

Reading: Wheeler, Deadwood Dick

Corrigan, A Short Guide to Writing About Film, 1-40 (See Additional Readings)

Smith, Virgin Land, Prologue, Books One and Two + any additional introductory materials your copy might include

Quiz (Thursday):  Deadwood Dick + Virgin Land + Corrigan

Film:  The Great Train Robbery 

To Consider:

The elements of the dime western

The audience for this book

How Wheeler infuses his story with authenticity

How Wheeler expresses his ideas about western masculinity

How westerns defined Americanism

Why it was so important to define Americanism

The relationship between the West as an Idea and India as an idea

The relationship between the West and American identity

How early western films reflected of the ideas of the pulp novels

What were the stereotypes and how were they expressed

How do films and books reflect the economies of their day

Is the western hero the American hero?

Paragraph (Thursday): Either: The role of the secret valley in Deadwood Dick or The importance of false identity in Deadwood Dick‘s main characters

Week 2: American Masculinity and the End of the Frontier

January 22-24

Origins: The Virginian

Reading:  Wister, The Virginian Chapters, intro + chapters 1-20 (Tuesday), finish book, Thursday

Turner, “The Significance of the Frontier in American History” (See Additional Readings)

Tompkins, West of Everything: 3-67, 131-155

The Age of Innocence 

Quiz (Thursday): The Virginian + Turner + Tompkins

Film: Stagecoach

To Consider:

The Virginian as utopian novel

The Virginian as a love story

The Virginian as a stranger in a strange land story

The Virginian as an expression of American masculinity

The Virginian as an expression of an upper-class view of the romance of the West

The Virginian as a justification of violence

The male relationships in the novel: pay particular attention to The Virginian/The Tenderfoot, The Virginian/The Judge, The Virginian/Trampas, The Virginian/Steve, Trampas/Shorty

In what ways do Turner’s thesis, Roosevelt’s presidency, and Wister’s fiction lament the death of the West?

In what ways do the creators of the frontier myth make the West a Boys Only playground? Feel free to throw in the art of Frederick Remington and Charles Russell. Google them.

Paragraph (Tuesday): Masculinity in the western hero


Week 3: Gunfighter nation

January 29-31

The Formulation of the Western: Zane Gray

Reading: Gray, Riders of the Purple Sage

Tompkins, West of Everything, 157-177, 111-123

Quiz (Tuesday): Gray + Tompkins

Film: Red River

To Consider:

What are some similarities between Lassiter and the Virginian? What are the differences?

Why are Mormon men the primary enemies in Riders?

Many of the Mormons that are encountered in the novel are indifferent, naïve, or act the way they do because they are forced. Only a few characters, such as Tull and Bishop Dyer, are truly evil. By having a small part of the Mormon community be sinister, Grey is making a commentary on his view of Mormons as a whole. What is this view?

How does Jane’s devotion to her religion cause her to be blind to what is happening around her?

How is the West represented?

How does this book represent the ideas put forth by Smith in his analysis of the modern West?

After seeing Red River, John Ford, who had worked with John Wayne many times by this point, was said to have declared, “I never knew the big son of a bitch could act.”  How does Wayne’s performance change what’s possible for the western hero? Think through the relationship between Matt and Cherry.

How does this film represent our idea of a “new” West?

Paragraph (Tuesday): The emergence of gunfighter as an anti-hero


Jane Withersteen as a frontier character


Thursday: Paragraph Construction Exercise

Paragraph Deconstruction Exercise

Week 4: landscape of heartbreak

 February 5-7

The Challenge to the Myth: Stegner, the Great Depression, and the Regional Novel

Reading: Stegner, Big Rock Candy Mountain

Tompkins, West of Everything, 157-177, 111-123

Quiz (Tuesday): Stegner + Tompkins

Film: High Noon

To Consider:

A student in this class once commented that Stegner’s book really picks up where The Virginian left off. What do you think?

How do Bo and Elsa remind you of The Virginian and Molly?

How does Stegner use history to tell his story of a very different and deromanticized West?

How do Stegner,  Ford, and Wayne use the western for very different purposes than many of our earlier writers, directors, and actors?

The relationship between western myth, western history, and western literature in BRCM

How do the main characters in BRCM represent versions of classic western stereotypes?

Is BRCM a western novel or an American novel?

How do film makers use the western landscape?

How do film makers depend on an audience fully informed of the genre?

Do you see Wister or Grey in the films?

Why do you think that Hawks bailed on what should have been the ending?

Why do you think John Wayne emerged as a star of westerns fifteen years after the beginning of his career?

How does High Noon represent a “New West”?

What to make of John Wayne’s (an avowed conservative) hatred of High Noon?

Paragraph (Tuesday): Bo as a twisted western archetype.


The search for home in the mobile West.

Response Paper (Tuesday): An analysis of family or ambition in Big Rock Candy Mountain

Week 5: gender and the creation of frontier mythology

February 12-14

The Western, Frontier Mythology, and American Gender Roles

Reading: Review Tompkins, Stegner, Grey, Wister, Wheeler, Film Notes

Smith, Book Three

Midterm (Tuesday): Cumulative: Readings, Films, Music

Film: The Searchers

To Consider:

Student generated questions.

Paragraph (Thursday): Ethan Edwards as “The Man Who Knows Indians”


The cowboy in western songs


Response Paper Framing Graf

How to Write a Response Paper


Response Paper (Thursday): The reflection of contemporary American ideas of gender in The Virginian and Big Rock Candy Mountain


Week 6: Greed

 February 19-21

The Challenge to the Myth: Sandoz, the Great Depression, and the Regional Novel

Reading: Sandoz, Slogum House

Quiz (Tuesday): Sandoz

Film: The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance

To Consider:

Student generated questions.

According to Sandoz, what are the worst characteristics of Americans and their culture?

How and why is Slogum House, like BRCM, a novel of the Great Depression?

How does Sandoz subvert and yet continue to propagate the classic western story of homesteaders versus ranchers (besides the obvious choice of having a woman as the antagonist)?

How does Sandoz choose to represent good and evil within the Slogum family?

What role does the government play in Slogum House and how does that play into when the novel was written?

Paragraph (Tuesday): Gulla as re-imagined evil rancher trope.

Response Paper (Tuesday): Tom Doniphan and Ransom Stoddard as examples of different western myths.

Short Research Paper (Tuesday): In consultation with Professor Roche.

Week 7: Redemption

February 26-28

The West as Blank Space

Reading: Cather, Death Comes for the Archbishop

Quiz (Tuesday): Cather

Film: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

To Consider:

Student-generated questions.

Why did Cather construct her book around vignettes rather than a straight-ahead narrative?

How does Cather use LaTour and Vallaint as archetypes for their New World?

How does this novel’s treatment of Native Americans differ from that of the Hispanics in the novel?

In what ways is this a “western”?

How does LaTour’s approach to Catholicism differ from those who have come before him?

What happens when our protagonist becomes a French priest rather than a man with a gun?

How Sergio Leone reinvent the western?

How does Clint Eastwood reinvent the western hero?

Has the western gone global?

Paragraph (Tuesday): How do LaTour’s and Vallaint’s names reflect their character?

Response Paper (Tuesday): How does Cather use landscape to help her tell her story?


How do Ford and Leone each twist the frontier myth?

Short Research Paper (Tuesday): In consultation with Professor Roche.

Week 8: Destroying the myth

March 5-7

The Myth and the Postwar West

Reading: McMurtry, Horseman, Pass By

Quiz (Tuesday): McMurtry

Film: Little Big Mann

To Consider:

How does Lonnie feel about his home?

How does Hud?

McMurtry uses the theme of the modern West and the older West a lot in his novels. How is that expressed in this novel?

Is this a regional novel or an updated version of a frontier novel?

How does Hud represent a twisted version of the classic western figure?

What themes in this novel have we explored in the past?

Paragraph (Tuesday): How do Hud and Homer represent conflicting Wests?

Response Paper due Tuesday at class time: What changes in the western novel when the west now represents the past rather than the future?


Compare Hud to either Gulla or Bo in their quest for wealth and power.

Short Research Paper (Tuesday): In consultation with Professor Roche.


Week 9: Living the myth

March 26-28

The Myth and the Culture It Creates

Reading: Kelton, The Time It Never Rained

Quiz (Tuesday): Kelton

Film: High Plains Drifter

To Consider:

Student generated questions

Written by a West Texan about an event he experienced, what role does the environment play in the novel?

How does the novel reflect Kelton’s understanding of race and the ongoing civil rights movement?

In what ways does Kelton present Flagg as a classic tragic figure?

How does Kelton use Flagg to describe West Texas political ideology?

In what ways does Kelton describe how the frontier myth has created the culture of West Texas?

In what ways does history and environment create society, culture, and economy?

Paragraph (Tuesday): Charlie Flagg as new type of western hero (tragic).

Response Paper (Tuesday): The Time It Never Rained as a political novel.

Short Research Paper (Tuesday): In consultation with Professor Roche.

Week 10: The New West

 April 2-4

The Western in the New West

Reading: Review: Cather, Sandoz, McMurtry, and Kelton

Midterm (Tuesday): Cumulative Readings, films, music weeks 6-9

Film: Silverado

To Consider:

Student Generated Questions

No Paragraph

No Response Paper

Short Research Paper (Tuesday): In consultation with Professor Roche.

Week 11: the modern west

April 9-11

Violence and Trauma

Reading: Silko, Ceremony

Quiz (Tuesday): Silko, Ceremony

Film: Dances with Wolves

To Consider:

Student-generated questions.

In what ways is Silko commenting on the Native experience in the modern world?

Through Tayo’s PTSD

Through alcoholism?

How do the ancient stories and Tayo’s experiences reflect our theme of a New West?

How is Tayo the result of centuries of occupation?

How does the war create the inciting incident for the novel?

How does Silko comment on science and magic?

Paragraph (Tuesday): How does Tayo represent a man between worlds?

Response Paper (Tuesday): Compare the New Mexico’s of Death Comes for the Archbishop and Ceremony.

Short Research Paper (Tuesday): In consultation with Professor Roche.

Week 12: the Death of the Western

April 16-18

Old Worlds and New

Reading: McCarthy, The Crossing

Quiz (Tuesday): McCarthy, The Crossing

Film: Unforgiven

To Consider:

Student-generated questions.

Why does Billy take the wolf to Mexico?

How do we come to understand Billy and Boyd?

In what ways does McCarthy present an older and even ancient West?

What does the wolf mean to Billy? To others?

For McCarthy what is the nature of man?

Paragraph (Tuesday): In consultation with Professor Roche

Response Paper (Tuesday): Mexico as place of raw human nature

Short Research Paper (Tuesday): In consultation with Professor Roche.

Week 13: Research Paper workshops

April 23-25

Research Paper workshop

Reading: Student papers

No Quiz

Film: No Country for Old Men

To Consider:

Notes to themes to outline to draft

Paragraph (Tuesday): In consultation with Professor Roche.

Response Paper (Tuesday): In consultation with Professor Roche.

Short Research Paper (Tuesday): In consultation with Professor Roche.


Week 14: info for week 14

April 30 and May 2

Research Workshop:

Reading: Student Papers

No Quiz (Tuesday):

Film: The Ballad of Buster Scruggs

May 7 – Final Exam/Research Paper due 2:00 p.m.

Students who did not reach the research paper stage of the course will be required to take a cumulative take home final examination.