From Backbreaking to Beautiful: The Transition and Effects of the American West


Joseph Harris

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Publication Date

Spring 2021


This paper focuses on the mythical and romantic creation of the American West and its effects on the American society. The American West was a place that brought people opportunities and a chance at a fair life. For example, Cowboys used the American West as an opportunity to sell cattle to eastern markets. Homesteaders adventured into the American West to start new lives and build their families and fortunes through agriculture. However, both were exaggerated with accounts about the lifestyles and was turned into a pop culture phenomenon. Robert Athearn explains that the reputation of a Western American cowboy and farmer was tainted because of new exaggerated lifestyle that is portrayed. People began to look at the profession of a cowboy as a joke. As industrialization and urbanization of the East began to bleed into the American West and the opportunities for the wild life of the cowboy or building houses on the prairie began to fade. Athearn, Henry Nash Smith, Richard Slotkin and Patricia Limerick argue that as technology updated, old methods of agriculture and ranching become obsolete. The younger generation of the American West did not care to work on farms. They wanted to live in cities that had industrial opportunities. Cities eventually become monotonous to the younger generation and they wanted adventure but also wanted to keep the economic security that industrialization brought them. Adventure was given to them in exaggerated novels, films, and paintings that created a mythical image of the American West.


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