The hunter is a liminal figure, traversing opposing worlds of wilderness and civilization, able to participate in both and yet not fully belonging to either. He is at once privileged and marginal. The hunter's practical skills, as well as his mythic connotations and the language used to describe him, all reflect a changing concept of American power.
Evolving across the span of American time, the hunter serves as a barometer of the social concerns of the nation. Initially, the hunter reflects American rebellion against the power of European aristocracy. Gradually, the hunter redefines the term aristocracy to accommodate American concerns with landscape, identity, and race and gender. But by the end of the nineteenth century, individualism, in the form of personal independence and initiative, replaces aristocracy—the hereditary claim to authority—as the basis of power in America. The hunter derives his power from his special place in the American culture.
Several studies have tried to capture the nature of the American experience with a single metaphor or system of symbols. 1 Many notable efforts have centered around the use of myth to explain conceptions of the American character. 2 This book does not try to define the American experience in terms of a single, unifying myth. Rather, it examines a cluster of images of the hunter. The hunter hero provides a focus for reading important cultural issues across the span of American time.
This study is organized chronologically, using pairs of representative figures from American literature, history, and popular culture. The pairs include Pocahontas and John Smith; Daniel Boone and Nathaniel Bumppo from James Fenimore Cooper's Leatherstocking Tales; Theodore Roosevelt and William “Buffalo Bill” Cody; William Faulkner's Ike McCaslin from “The Bear” and Ernest Hemingway; and author and screenwriter Thomas McGuane and Ayla from Jean Auel's Clan of the Cave Bear.