Date of Award


Degree Name

Master of Arts



First Advisor

Brunner, Edward


This thesis explores the evolution of American Western narrative after the 1893 closing of the Western Frontier. Formerly representing a seemingly limitless fuel of symbolic growth, the frontier's closing threatened further national prosperity. Without new Western lands to conquer, narratives about the West began to be romanticized in a new way, selectively omitting non-Anglo narrative elements and presenting a more palatable West in the form of celebratory conquest. Ignoring its imperial roots, this new twentieth-century mythologization of the West became an increasingly ubiquitous narrative of America's honorable origins. Despite its ties to the perpetuation of empire, the pervasiveness of contemporary Western narratives remains largely benign in resonance, resulting in a past that is wholly severed from the present. Using a New Historicist approach, this study pairs literary works with cultural artifacts, tracking the role of Western narrative in the furtherance of empire. The first chapter examines Frederick J. Turner's "The Significance of the Frontier in American History" and Owen Wister's The Virginian (1902) as representatives of the new romanticization of the West. Chapter two looks at how Willa Cather's anti-spectacle novel, Death Comes for the Archbishop (1927), responds to the spectacle of Empire at early twentieth-century World's Fairs. The final chapter pairs Japanese-American Internment during World War II with Cormac McCarthy's All the Pretty Horses (1992), as a commentary on the oppressive rhetoric of western space.




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