Democratic Shoot-Outs: Notes on the Duel in American Western Narratives
This essay is part of a broader study on how the Western became a worldwide recognizable genre during the 20th century. Here the focus is on the Western duel approached from a historical perspective, starting with the birth of the genre with James Fenimore Cooper, moving on to the spread of the Western myths in the 19th century and to the establishment of a literary canon with Owen Wister and Zane Grey in the early 20th, and of classic Hollywood movies from the 1930s to 1950s. The essay underlines the role of some unconventional works and the revisionary aspects of the duel in the fiction of Elmore Leonard and Charles Portis, which foreshadow the radical crisis of the Western in the 1970s. The last part of the essay is devoted to the ‘Post-Western’ and particularly to the contribution of Larry McMurtry (Lonesome Dove, 1985) and Cormac McCarthy (Blood Meridian, 1985), who reject the ‘regeneration through violence’ pattern which dominated American culture from its inception, by radically re-reading the duel and the Western.
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