The Eastern Establishment and the Western Experience: The West of Frederic Remington, Theodore Roosevelt, and Owen Wister by G. Edward White (review)
- Western American Literature
- The Western Literature Association
- Volume 3, Number 3, Fall 1968
- pp. 249-251
- Additional Information
- Purchase/rental options available:
Reviews The Eastern Establishment and the Western Experience: The W est of Frederic Rem ington, Theodore Roosevelt, and Owen Wister. By G. Edward White. (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1968. 238 pages, |6.75.) The Eastern Establishment and the Western Experience, the fourteenth number in the Yale University Press Publications in American Studies, ex amines the western experiences of Remington, Roosevelt and Wister, its imaginative recasting in their art and writing, and assesses their contributions as shapers of the national culture at the turn of the century. It would be unfair to say that G. Edward W hite sees them as three of a kind (although the metaphor is tempting.) H e does demonstrate that they shared many of the received values of the eastern establishment, that they went W est for similar reasons and found similar values, and that together they reshaped the image of the West for eastern readers. Roosevelt, Remington, and Wister were not the first members of the eastern establishment to go West, physically or imaginatively. But they con fronted the West—as experience and as idea—in different ways from that of their best-known predecesorss: James Fenimore Cooper, W ashington Irving, and Francis Parkman. These earlier representatives of the establishment were “both social historians and primitivists.” But their views of western society and their idea of nature were essentially traditional and colored by the values of the social and intellectual classes to which they belonged. Post-Civil-War America, W hite contends, held much different views of society and nature. The new industrial society was dynamic not static, and it sought to “channel and shape the wilderness” and "become nature’s architect instead of her worshiper.” Remington, Roosevelt, and Wister experienced 250 Western American Literature the instability of the new industrial order. Each man suffered an identity crisis during his adolescent years and found himself “disinclined or ill-equipped to perform the occupational role which his parents had envisaged his per forming.” Each man went West to escape the crisis, to achieve “a momentary stay against confusion.” The experience changed their lives by offering them a new and fresh awareness of themselves and human possibilities. It also gave them careers of sorts and, consequently, a cultural role. Remington became a painter, and all three became writers, by taking advantage of the material they discovered out West. Between them they were rsponsible for creating a new image of the West. Their contributions to the imaginative reconstruction of the West W hite spells out with some sense of their complexity and paradoxical nature. As artists they found the western environment picturesque yet capable of oppression, “a land of random yet constant danger.” They became fascinated by the "western laws of vengeance and violence,” yet they responded to such a life with exuberance and even zeal because it made and tested the character of a man. Together they portrayed the Westerner as free, decisive, self-reliant and masculine. The clashes between men in such a society Roosevelt found arduous and terrible, Remington tragically destructive, and Wister picaresque or heroic. They found in the Western experience “the esential life” and a bitter opponent of the enfeebled Eastern values fed by urbanization, sentimentalism and luxury. They appreciated the significance of the loss of the frontier in the 1890s and their later work was less anecdotal and more historical in perspective. They did not merely mourn the passing of the West, however; they “came to envisage an integration of East and West in a twentieth-century America that contained the best of both.” The values inherent in this integration of West and East W hite finds mirrored in the character and codes of the western figures these men imag inatively created; Remington’s cowboy, Roosevelt’s Rough Rider, and Wister’s Virginian. They represent a major contribution to “the wide and slightly vague concensus which held together moral certainty and progressive change” during the years preceding World War I. They are all gentlemen, either by birth, education, or nature. Yet they love the hardy life; they are all virile men. And they are self-righteous. Their qualities— particularly their racism—hardly constitute an entirely admirable list of Western influences on...