PRINT November 1993


the West-as-Metaphor

Richard Slotkin, The Myth of the Frontier of Twentieth-Century America (New York: Atheneum), 850 pages.

Jane Tompkins, West of Everything (New York: Oxford University Press), 245 pages.

Reading Richard Slotkin’s Gunfighter Nation and Jane Tompkins’ West of Everything reminded me of a line Lindsey Buckingham sang years ago, on his album Law and Order. Donning imaginary chaps and jingle-jangle spurs, the Hollywood cowboy slumped dreamily back in his saddle: “I’m just a shadow of the West.”

That mythic landscape—wide-open spaces and closed caskets, Monument Valley and Wounded Knee—casts a tall shadow indeed. As Gunfighter Nation shows, here is where America explains its his-tory to itself. But as West of Everything insists, it is something more than simply the place where white-male ideology goes to mystify (and redeem) itself. There are agencies of romance and contradiction at work behind the

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