Jane Kramer is nowadays a distinguished journalist and teacher, as well as an excellent writer, with the eight books she has published, among them the Last Cowboy. She was born in Providence, Rhode Island, graduating Phi Beta Kappa from Vassar College. A master's degree in English at Columbia University paved her way towards a career in journalism. She started practicing at The Village Voice, but her consecration came with The New Yorker, which she joined in 1964 and where she still serves as one of the best journalists there.
Her literary career counts, as I have mentioned, eight books, enough to bring her worldwide recognition and an important series of prices and distinctions. Among these, we can mention American Book Award, a National Magazine Award, a Front Page Award, and an Emmy Award
, but also Prix Europeen de l'Essai, considered the most important award for non-fiction in Europe (the first woman and the only American to win the award
Jane Kramer's works, both her books and the articles she has published, somewhat reflect the American reality as it is perceived by Europe and the Europeans she spends much of her time with. In many ways, the United States are a different matter for the Europeans, who will never be able to understand the logic of the Electoral College, with the mess it can lay out such as it has in 2000, or "understanding the fuss over Monica Lewinsky"
Many of her works reflect the moral dilemma many of the citizens of the United States found themselves facing during the new accelerated industrialization and information revolution and evolution. Some of the reactions to constant change were an obvious non-adaptation that was materialized in violent gestures and in the constituency of radical, extremist militias. These "these anti-government groups," as Kramer refers to, are a response to the "the collapse of the promise" of the American dream, a dream with which many still identify with, but fewer come to actually put in practice and live out.
As such, reactions against sources that have destabilized this dream are only natural. Kramer mentions these anti-governmental militias, but it is obvious that there are other adversary reactions, raging from religious extremism (the Davidians, for example, and their violent acts in the 90s) to simple, individual isolation from a society where one no longer recognizes his role and which he chooses to deny and reject rather than adopt.
As Jane Kramer herself put it, the book The Last Cowboy is about the collapse I have mentioned previously, but also about "where that sense of promise failed"
. The books documents and tells the story of what may be the last living cowboy, someone we may expect to discover only in movies with John Wayne. Written in 1978, the book reflects a character, Hank Blanton, who has a "diehard belief in the myth of the American West"
and who, in many ways, is still living it, very much as a character from the Hollywood westerns I have mentioned. The problem for him is that he is no longer actual and cannot adapt to conditions that are constantly changing.
Having lived and worked in Texan as a traditional cowboy, carrying on a trade that has been in his family for several generations, Blanton has truly believed in the American dream that allows you to turn everything true, as long as you work hard. Blanton has worked hard, but he is still working hard for someone else, as he has turned forty and can still not afford to buy and produce on his own ranch. Somewhat of a victim of capitalized society, he reflects the prototype character of someone who hasn't done necessarily something wrong, but who can be characterized as a failure, having missed out on his dream.
Indeed, he seems one of those persons that could have had everything going for them, had he had a small pinch of necessary luck on his side. He is skilled at what he is doing "with a vast knowledge of raising cattle"
, with a tradition and a dream. Isn't generally something that should be enough for someone to succeed in the United States? Passion, knowledge and a dream- aren't these the traditional ingredients?
Not in this case, as he works for a rich agrarian- business owner, someone who has none of the above, but can certainly make money by exploiting someone else's qualities. As Blanton himself puts it, the owner wouldn't "get out of his car if there was a cow within 100 feet"
. This is one of the problems presented in the book. The American society, which should have been the reflection and representation of the American dream, allows for someone who has no interest in a certain activity to prosper by exploiting people who actually know what the respective activity is all about.
It could be a far-fetched assertion, but it seems to me that the character would have been less revolted if the owner was someone of his own kind, the same true cowboy he represents. However, as such, in Blanton's eyes, he is not only his owner, but someone from the city, perhaps the product of a corrupt society that allows for hierarchical upheavals.
Blanton's answer to his failures is a repression, not only in violent acts and alcohol, but also in extremist beliefs such as racism and chauvinism. In many ways, these seem to stem not only from his character, but also from the society: we may expect this kind of reaction from people in his position, generally due to the common belief that Easterners have come to the United States to swindle away the American dream and that they are a direct cause of everything that is wrong in the true American's life.
Blanton goes further than this and has a problem and a hostile reaction to anything new that may upset his own world, characterized by its own variables and beliefs. All these are obviously expressions of his conservatism, a conservatism that reflects his nostalgic reminders of a world that has lost his initial expression and where values are no longer what one believed them to be.
So, we may assert that Blanton's anger has two different directions. One direction is towards the people that have understood the rules of the game and that have managed to make a fortune in the new American society, one with which Blanton obviously no longer identifies himself with (we are not sure, however, that he ever had and we may wonder, throughout the book, whether he has ever lived the cowboy period we would expect him to belong to). Towards these people, he feels rage and envy, because they have made it.
On the other hand, Blanton has a reaction towards the American society. This is no longer the traditional, conservative society Blanton has grown used to in the past. There are several reasons why he feels compelled to react to the changes that have occurred. First of all, he doesn't understand them. The presence of Hippies and Easterners in the Untied States seem to him an utter absurdity: who has allowed them here and what should be their scope and position?
Second of all, he does not want to understand them. We have the impression throughout the book that Blanton will not, in a thousand years, adapt to the changes that are occurring around him. He prefers a mute and silent revolt instead of an attempt to change.
Third of all, we are not sure that if he were to change, he would be able to make it. We are getting the impression that he is too much a character of an imaginary world to be able to introduce him successfully in a modern society and, further more, to make him succeed there.…