Women and Western American Literature

By Helen Winter Stauffer; Susan J. Rosowski | Go to book overview

Pioneer Women in the Works of Two Montana Authors:
Interviews wih
Dorothy M. Johnson and A. B. Guthrie, Jr. 1

Sue Mathews

Pulitzer Prize winner A. B. Guthrie, Jr., has a favorite question he poses when the topic of the western movement comes up in conversation. "I wonder," he asks, "how many men would have gone West had they been women?" His main female character in The Way West, Rebecca Evans, ponders the same question: "It was like men to be excited and not to feel with their excitement such a sadness as a woman did at saying goodbye to her home. . . ." 2But even in her sadness, Becky goes West, pulled by her husband's dream, if not her own. "A woman ain't cut like a man," she thinks. "Not so adventuresome or rangin' and likin' more to stay put-but still we foller 'em round, and glad to do it, too" (p. 171).

It is for sentiments such as these that Guthrie says he has been accused of not being sympathetic toward his women characters. "I think I am [sympathetic] " he says. "When I wrote The Way West, for example, I began to think about Rebecca Evans, a rather hefty woman, jouncing over the plains, and I thought 'that must have been hell on her breasts' -- and I put that in the book to express in a physical way the hardships those pioneer women endured."

"Of course" he goes on, "the [pioneer] women, largely unacknowledged, were real heroines. They made the westward trek, often with babies, always with more concern for their children or menfolk than for themselves. By and large," Guthrie suggests, "maybe the westering experience was easier for men. I'm not sure, though, that the men had more fun," he adds. "They weren't burdened with such drudgery, but still, if they were good men and concerned about their wives and their families,

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