Johnny Depp might want us to believe otherwise, to trust that his Tonto stands squarely alongside the Lone Ranger, kemosabe, but the divide between representations of Cowboys and Indians is an enduring and unequal one. From dime store westerns and pulp novels to the modern literature of the west and the so-called Native American Renaissance, it’s commonly a divide of those-who-arrive and those-already-there. It’s a divide that helps define the popular image of the Wild West, of American expansion, of insiders and outsiders, of “us” and “them,” of point-of-view and perspective. If we believe the saying that fiction has only two basic plots, “A stranger comes into town” and “A man goes on a journey,” we might also wonder if these are the same story depending on where you stand — the Cowboy goes on a journey; the Indian sees a stranger come to town.
This class will explore the fiction of Cowboys and Indians, using those terms to question them, to ask about authenticity — what makes a “Cowboy,” and what makes an “Indian?” — and challenge these identities. Can a Cowboy be gay? A woman? Live in a city? Be afraid of horses? Does capital-I Indian stand for all tribes, all communities? Must an Indian live only in the “Old West,” or on a reservation? Can Johnny Depp, who guesses he has “…some Native American somewhere down the line…” play Tonto with no questions asked? We’ll consider what worth, if any, these archetypes hold for us now, and how our authors encourage, reimagine or invalidate these roles.
We’ll pair this evolution with an ongoing discovery of style and craft. We’ll read short stories, novellas and novels to consider the differences in each form; short stories will provide the parameters of the world, and a novella and linked collection will help transition to longer, “deeper” novels. As this class is an introduction to discussing and analyzing prose fiction, we will learn to read closely and write critically on elements such as narrative construction, plotting, voice, characterization, setting, theme, and, crucially, point of view. The mythic West may be the grand canvas of choice and consequence, and we’ll look at the numerous choices facing the prose author. We will write several short analyses identifying craft tools in context, one longer literary analysis of single chosen text, and a final paper comparing and contrasting the evolution of the Cowboy and Indian in both content and craft. This is not a creative writing class, but a measure of practice here is invaluable, so we’ll also try our hands at writing one short fiction scene from at least two points of view.
Novels and novellas may include Love Medicine by Louise Erdrich, Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry, Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy, Eye Killers by A.A. Carr, and Westward Ho by Jim Harrison. Stories, selections and essays may include The Brave Cowboy by Edward Abbey, The Collected Works of Billy the Kid by Michael Ondaatje, Cowboys Are My Weakness by Pam Houston, and work from Anna Lee Walters, Annie Proulx, Ernest Hemingway, Sherman Alexie, Dawn Karima Pettigrew, Owen Wister, Zane Grey, James Welch, N. Scott Momaday, Paula Gunn Allen, and Tony Hillerman.
Some seats in this section are reserved for sophomores.