Academic journal article Papers on Language & Literature

The Family and the Problem of Gender in the Western

Academic journal article Papers on Language & Literature

The Family and the Problem of Gender in the Western

Article excerpt

The family is crucial for both the narrative strategies and ideological concerns of the Western genre. The plot variant tracing the relations between the Western hero and different family members is one among a plethora of ways in which the genre has addressed the subject. Despite being an important theme of the Western, however, and despite the attention that scholars have paid to the genre's preoccupation with identity politics and the issues of femininity and masculinity with which the motifs of family life are naturally connected, the family does not feature prominently in existing Western/frontier scholarship.

The Western plot often revolves around a broadly defined problem of heroic intervention into a family/community situation, and the ways in which intervention affects family life tests the social rules at large. For example, a change of a family situation can trigger the Western plot, as with the vengeance variation, which often begins with the death of a beloved kin. Alternatively, the hero can provide a foil for the family patriarch, which leads to a reconsideration of the latter's authority. The family as represented in the Western also embodies a variety of other ideological ambiguities. For one, it represents the norms of settler colonialism and stands for the values of American civilization, and thus constitutes the core of the social order to be protected by the Western hero. Consequently, the family sanctions the morally dubious but socially necessary actions to be undertaken by the hero, and yet the hero's nomadic nature is essentially at odds with the family's longing for permanence. …

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