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Title: Across a great divide : views of landscape and nature in the American West, before and after the cultural watershed of the 1960s and 1970s : Wallace Stegner and Cormac McCarthy
Author: McGilchrist, Mary Megan Riley
ISNI:       0000 0001 3624 2229
Awarding Body: University of Derby
Current Institution: University of Derby
Date of Award: 2008
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In this thesis my aim has been to establish a link between the western American writers, Wallace Stegner and Cormac McCarthy. My point of connection has been the treatment of landscape and nature in the works of both authors, and I have argued that their works exemplify perspectives which are related to their authors' historical positions before and after the cultural watershed of the Vietnam era. Although their works are dissimilar in many ways, both writers have similar concerns with regard to the western American landscape, and the social, political, and human ramifications of , the myth of the frontier, and crucially, its effect on the natural world. I argue that Stegner and McCarthy provide a link between the thinking of their respective eras· which reveals changes related to the loss of faith in the culturally accepted archetypes upon which much American thought was based prior to the upheavals ofthe era ofthe Vietnam War, the 1960s and early 1970s. I believe that despite what might appear to be contradictory narratives about the'West and the western landscape, the subtext in both authors is a deep questioning of widely accepted western mythic imagery and its continuing effect on American life and ideology. While western mythology has been examined before, it has IJpt been discussed in relation to these two authors seen as a pairing exemplifying a movement from the more traditional realist narratives written prior to the Vietnam era, and the darker, more pessimistic narratives of the post-Vietnam era, in which a loss of faith in many previously accepted cultural givens became common. It might therefore seem appropriate to describe Stegner and McCarthy as modernist and postmodern, but I believe those terms simplify, obscure, and in a very real sense misname the complex sets of issues and· traditions with which both authors deal from their vantage points on either side ofthe divide which had as its defining moment the Vietnam War. I also discuss the issue of the feminine in western landscape in the works of both authors. Again, Stegner and McCarthy reveal a change in American thinking, not necessarily entirely positive, which has as its fulcrum the 1960s and '70s, and included such culturally momentous events as the civil rights movement, the women's movement, a new, politicized environmentalism, and various other progressive movements. The western American landscape has always had great significance in American thinking, requiring an unlikely uniori between frontier mythology and the reality of a fragile western environment. Both Stegner and McCarthy focus on this landscape and environment; its spiritual, narrative, symbolic, imaginative, and ideological force is central to their work. My goal has been to show how their various treatments ofthese issues relate to the social climates in which they were written, and how despite historical discontinuities, both Stegner and McCarthy reveal a similar unease about the effects of the myth ofthe frontier on American thought and life.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available