“Reality’s Never Been of Much Use Out Here”: No Country for Old Men and Close Range: Wyoming Stories as Anti-Westerns

WCU Author/Contributor (non-WCU co-authors, if there are any, appear on document)
Katelyn Hallman (Creator)
Western Carolina University (WCU )
Web Site: http://library.wcu.edu/
Brian Railsback

Abstract: A still-smoking gun and a damsel-no-longer-in-distress at the hip, he trots into the endless prairie expanse. He bears hardly a scratch; the black-hatted villains he leaves in his wake deservedly fair much worse. He is courageous, hardy, and noble. He is the mythic cowboy hero of the American West. More than that, he is an earnest, nostalgic representation of American ideals: individualism, goodness, masculinity, and freedom. However, as an endless stream of social movements, wars, and disillusionment commanded the second half of the twentieth century, the cowboy hero faced criticism in an increasingly skeptical and nuanced world. Thus, the traditional American Western went the way of the black hat. In its absence, a subgenre has emerged: the anti-Western, a dismantling of the classic hero. Where the Western saw virtue in a protagonist’s violence, sense of tradition, moral absolutes, and upholding of fixed societal roles, the anti-Western sees these as vices. It is in the anti-Western genre where Cormac McCarthy’s 2005 novel, No Country for Old Men, and Annie Proulx’s 1999 short stories from her Close Range collection, “The Mud Below” and “Brokeback Mountain,” are found. Whether natural or performative, the protagonists in these stories cling desperately to traditional American Western heroism to detrimental ends, varying from unhappiness to brutalization for themselves and those around them. If there is a hero of the classic Western variety, he surely cannot thrive in the callous and chaotic worlds constructed by McCarthy and Proulx, much less the all-powerful forces of contemporary American culture.

Additional Information

Paper submitted to the 2020 Research and Scholarship Conference, Western Carolina University.
Language: English
Date: 2020
anti-Western, No Country for Old Men, Close Range, Cormac McCarthy, Annie Proulx

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