Images of the Hunter in American Life and Literature

By Lynda Wolfe Coupe | Go to book overview

Chapter 5

Thomas McGuane and Ayla: The Cowboy and the Cave Girl

Olson came in. Thin, intelligent Jack Olson, native of this Northern country.... Olson was a serious sportsman, with rigid and admirable ideas of sporting demeanor.... For Olson, hunting and fishing were forms of husbandry because he guaranteed the life of the country himself. (McGuane, Sporting Club 55—62)

She looked at the dead animal at her feet and let the club fall from her hand.... I killed a hyena, she said to herself as the impact hit her. I killed a hyena with my sling. Not a small animal, a hyena, an animal that could kill me. Does that mean I'm a hunter now? ... It wasn't exultation she felt, not the excitement of a first kill or even the satisfaction of overcoming a powerful beast. It was something deeper, more humbling. It was the knowledge that she had overcome herself. (Auel, Clan of the Cave Bear 208)

Two late twentieth-century permutations of the hunter figure are writer Thomas McGuane and Jean Auel's Ayla, a character from The Clan of the Cave Bear. They illustrate the power to reinvent oneself and move freely within American society. Landscape and identity, as well as gender and race, remain intricately connected with this evolving figure. As in previous epochs, the hunter negotiates chasms between civilization and wilderness, achieves self-knowledge, and transcends bias through immersion in nature. McGuane uses hunting as a touchstone for developing a personal moral code. Auel expresses concerns with gender and racial empowerment through Ayla's development as a hunter. Ayla's life is a metaphor for female and minority empowerment over the last two decades.

Both McGuane and Ayla are outcasts who struggle to find a place where creativity and personal growth are possible. This territory is at once literal space and mental landscape. One figure inhabits the twentieth-century American West; the other, prehistoric Europe. Although it may seem strange that a woman from prehistoric Europe represents an

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