The genre of Western fiction includes the stories of the American West. Some may characterize westerns according to their geography – the works have to be set in the Southern and Western states of the country (Hulse). Others narrow the classification to the ideas created by the genre’s prolific writers, highlighting particular characteristics of the main heroes and a number of historical (or fictional) events (Bakker).
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Nonetheless, it is apparent that Western fiction was prevalent in the United States in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, losing traction as late as the 1980s (Miller). The reasons for such admiration for the genre lie in the history of the US and the ideas on which the country was built.
To understand the popularity of Western fiction in the US, one has to examine the distinctive features of the genre. From the beginning, Western American literature told studies about people who came to America to occupy and tame the territory. As the country’s borders were expanding to the South, the main characters of the books were settlers, explorers, and outlaws who ventured into the wildlands.
In the twentieth century, the authors Owen Wister and Zane Gray shaped the character of a western hero. In Gray’s novel, Riders of the Purple Sage, the main character is a man whose gunmanship and stoic personality made him feared by criminals and respected by the public (Bakker). Such qualities as individualism, chivalry, and honor were romanticized, and cowboys became the knights of American literature.
Western fiction’s portrayal of the American heroes, as well as its appreciation for the vastness of the local landscape, made the genre famous because it created and supported a positive national identity. When reading Western American literature, Americans saw stories that were entertaining and exciting. Furthermore, the idealization of American values, the positive interpretation of history, and the familiar setting made westerns even more popular.
Bakker, Dee. “Western Fiction: The Rise and Fall of Popular Western Fiction.” Frank H. Spearman. Web.
Hulse, S.M. “Is the Western Genre Still Relevant Today?” HuffPost. 2015. Web.
Miller, Stuart. “‘The American Epic’: Hollywood’s Enduring Love for the Western.” The Guardian. 2016. Web.