Literary Landscapes: A Future for Post-Frontier Regionalism in Literature of the American West
Landscape portrayals—literary, visual, or otherwise—serve as recognizable features at the core of American Western iconography and aesthetics. Renderings of landscape point to an implicit gaze appraising the land—a gaze which often communicates its idealization, condemnation, or contemplation of the American West through physical and metaphorical description. Traditional western landscape portrayals may evoke images of breathtaking wildness, boundless freedom, and infinite potential—a sublime landscape that appeals to settler colonial gazes and fantasies. Through comparative analysis of three texts—The Way West by A. B. Guthrie, Jr. (1949), All the Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy (1992), and Ceremony by Leslie Marmon Silko (1977)—this essay examines textual treatment of the land to explore the legacy and future of the American West. Additional literary, historical, and theoretical concepts such as Frontier Theory, the Kantian Sublime, and feminist regionalist scholarship are introduced to explicate the shifting symbolic significance of the American West throughout history, the anthropocentrism underlying both American exceptionalism and settler coloniality, and the avenues of healing that may exist for Indigenous populations on a landscape marked by violence and destruction.
This paper was originally prepared for Course SWGS 329 Fall 2019: The American West and Its Others, given by Professor Dr. Krista Comer, Department of English; the Study of Women, Gender, and Sexuality (SWGS).