Wallace Stegner, the American West Essay
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It is the obsession for independence, in Stegner's view, rather than a real need for being mobile that is driving the Americans in general, and the Americans from the West to keep moving at all costs. To illustrate the idea of their inability to escape their own fate, Stegner uses the example of Wister's novel, the Virginian, whose hero, named after the region he comes from, although acting only according to his own laws, regardless of the laws of the country, if they do not serve his interest is yet, a hero. The novel has "residual qualities of the heroic, as the country in which it takes place has residual qualities of the wilderness frontier." (Stegner, 1987, pp. 83). Stegner shows his conviction that the American West leaves an inescapable mark o everyone and thus, the writer who depicts a western character is bound to give him at least a few feature characteristic to a general western type that appears in fiction or in everyday life. He takes the example of his father and explains the process he went through until he became conscious of the western pattern developed in every individual, regardless of his name or place in the western landscape.
The western land that left the distinctive mark on those who ventured into was improved by the human mind and technology made it friendlier to human living conditions, but it also suffered damages because of the human foolishness and disregard for the laws of the wilderness.
Ironically, the westerners tried to change it dramatically, unaware of the original aspects that made it ready to receive new inhabitants in spite of its aridity. The wilderness plays a major role in the American life, and the American West is especially vulnerable to all the changes people living there put it through. Stegner is concerned with environmental issues and he brings Rousseau's unaltered savage into discussion as opposite to the alienated human of the present who se foolish acts disregard nature's laws and the residues left by the history of the western land and that of its people.
Philip Fradkin introduces the words of Wendell Berry, a former student of Stegner, in an article in New York Times, on Stegner and presents them as the most illustrative of the writer's personality: "He was perhaps his region's greatest teacher: its greatest storyteller, historian, critic, conservator and loyal citizen" (Fradkin, 2008).
Stegner, the son of the American West, wrote about his homeland not only because its inspirational character, but also because of his awareness of the importance the land plaid in his inhabitant's lives. He wanted to help preserve it for their future generations not only in fiction, but in physical reality.
Fradkin, Philip. Wallace Stegner and the American West. The New York Times. May 18, 2008. Retrieved at: Sep. 4, 2008. Available at http://www.nytimes.com/2008/05/18/books/chapters/first-chapter-wallace-stegner.html?ref=review
Stegner, Wallace. The American West as Living Space. University of Michigan Press. 1987
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