While the Western novel is typically associated with cowboys and overarching masculine accomplishments of “settling,” the representation of women’s work beyond narratives of being “tamed” and the settling-down of motherhood has been overlooked by writers and ecocritics alike. Ecofeminist scholarship of the late 1980s and ‘90s, primed to take up such questions, focused primarily on the relationship between women and nature in abstract terms rather than on regionally-specific interpretations. This thesis, therefore, examines the representation of female-identifying protagonists in pioneer narratives of North America in three popular novels of the last century: Zane Grey’s posthumous Woman of the Frontier (1940/1998), Mrs. Mike (1947) by Benedict and Nancy Freedman, and the Oregon-specific Little Century (2011) by Anna Keesey. Using principles from feminist and ecocritical literary theory in combination, I consider the ways in which landscape is conscripted to convey a character’s interiority—an anthropocentric tactic that ultimately equates the objectification of women with the conquest of territory. As a twenty-first century pioneer woman born and raised on a rural Oregon ranch, identifying the significance of pioneer women and interrogating their representations beyond being extensions of the tamed landscape helps rewrite the conventional masculine lens of Manifest Destiny and the “West.”
Gauer, Gillian and Tavares, Elizabeth E.
"“Scandalously bifurcated garments”: Ecocriticism, American Pioneers, and Novelizing Women of the West,"
International Journal of Undergraduate Research and Creative Activities: Vol. 12:
2, Article 9.
Available at: https://digitalcommons.cwu.edu/ijurca/vol12/iss2/9