Rewriting the American myth: Post-1960s American historical frontier romances

Date of Completion

January 2007


Literature, Modern|American Studies|Literature, American




This dissertation examines the development of the American Historical Romance in light of the social and political movements of the 1960s, in particular the protests to the war in Vietnam, the Civil Rights Movement, and the American Indian Movement. Responding to these movements to different degrees, the writers studied herein all work in the tradition of the American Historical Romance in order to challenge the traditional mythology of the American frontier. In particular, E. L. Doctorow, John Barth, Thomas Pynchon, Ishmael Reed, Percival Everett, Gerald Vizenor, James Welch, and Cormac McCarthy engage with the heroic stereotypes of the Daniel Boone mythology, which holds that the frontier space is hostile and must be conquered along with its inhabitants.^ This study begins with a critique of the narrative dissemination of this mythology, challenging the textual transmission and its inherently selective nature. Further, maps are then demonstrated to be just as unreliable as narrative histories. Both types of documents fail in their attempts to exert objective mastery over the facts of history and landscape. This failure of transmitted history leads to a failure of the values being transmitted therein. Finally, I develop a critique of the inherent racism of this mythology, and suggest that future studies of the American frontier focus on America's rich multicultural history and the positive possibilities of the frontier space for bringing together diverse cultures.^