Module Information

Module Identifier
Module Title
Literature of the American West
Academic Year
Intended for use in future years

Course Delivery

Delivery Type Delivery length / details
Seminars / Tutorials


Assessment Type Assessment length / details Proportion
Semester Assessment 2 x 3000 word essays  100%
Supplementary Assessment Make good any missing elements or resubmit failed elements. Where resubmission is required, a new topic must be selected 

Learning Outcomes

At the end of the module, students should typically be able to:
1. demonstrate a thorough knowledge of the core literary texts and of appropriate critical approaches to the study of those texts

2. demonstrate an understanding of the historical and cultural contexts in which the set material was produced

3. write about the set material in a well-structured and well-argued way

4. illustrate their knowledge and views by drawing upon appropriate literary, historical and critical sources beyond the core literary texts

5. demonstrate developing skills in critical analysis


1: Course Introduction

2: Rambling, Prospecting, Telling Tall Tales
Required reading: Mark Twain, Roughing It (1872)

3: Ecology, Feminism and the Desert
Required reading: Mary Austin, The Land of Little Rain (1903); and Frederick Jackson Turner, 'The Frontier in American History?'(1893)

4: The Western
Required reading: Zane Grey, Riders of the Purple Sage (1912)

5: The Great Plains
Required reading: Willa Cather, My Antonia (1917)

6: Los Angeles Noir
Required reading: Raymond Chandler, The Big Sleep (1939)

7: Native American Fiction
Required reading: Leslie Marmon Silko, Ceremony (1977)

8: Border Fiction
Required reading: Cormac McCarthy, All the Pretty Horses (1992)

9: Documenting the US-Mexico Border
Required reading: Luis Alberto Urrea, Across the Wire: Life and Hard Times on the Mexican Border (1993)

10: Masculinity
Required reading and viewing: E. Annie Proulx, 'Brokeback Mountain' (1999); and Brokeback Mountain (dir. Ang Lee, 2005)


1. To situate the American West using historical, geographical, cultural, and ecological criteria. To this end a wide variety of representations of Western American landscapes and cultures in nineteenth- and twentieth-century literature is consulted. Art, photography and film are also consulted.

2. To investigate the ideologies and practices which sustained the expansion of Euro-Americans into the West during the nineteenth century, and to examine how literary and visual representations have dramatized and called into question these ideologies.

3. To relate how issues of ethnicity, gender and cultural identity have increasingly come to the fore of twentieth-century Western American literature.

Brief description

This module examines the diverse ways in which the American West has been represented in a diverse selection of literature and film. Artistic and photographic representations will also be discussed. You will read texts that take us from the mining encampments of Nevada in the 1860s to the rudimentary housing and poverty of contemporary Mexicans living in Tijuana, Mexico along the border with southern California. Along the way you will contextualise and demythologise a number of familiar (and often stereotypical) Western American images (such as miners and pioneers, cowboys and outlaws, both villainous and noble Indians, and, of course, epic landscapes). You will also consider the West as characterised in nature writing, Westerns, crime fiction, and contemporary Native American and Mexican American literature.


This module is at CQFW Level 6