heroic, bigger than life heroes; the adventure of empire building; bountiful opportunities”
(Walle 2000, 49-50). Smith’s preface in Virgin Land urged that symbols and myths
designate larger or smaller units of the same kind of thing: an intellectual construction
that fuses concept and emotion into an image (Smith rev. ed. 1978, vii-xii).
While Slotkin agreed with Smith that the frontier as a symbol was paramount to
the explanation of American history and national character, unlike Smith’s upbeat
treatment of the West, Slotkin traced the destructive development of the system of
ideological formulations that constituted this mythic space (Walle 2000, 183). Slotkin
revised the myth and symbol method by undercutting the conventional view within the
school of thought of that time spearheaded by Smith.13 Today Slotkin’s work14 represents
the modern application of the myth method (Walle 2000, 49). His research focuses upon
the negative impact of the Western movement, such as the destruction of the wilderness
and the exploitation of the native people (Walle 2000, 181). Slotkin noted that these
consequences were also the legacy of the West (Slotkin rev. ed. 1998, 30).
As demonstrated, both Slotkin and Smith offer precedent for my research on the
mythic cowboy by examining symbols and myths as images, which at best reflect
empirical fact, but are never themselves factual (Smith rev. ed. 1978, viii). Smith wrote
that as images, symbols and myths were mental constructs existing “in a different plane”
from empirical fact (Smith rev. ed. 1978, vii). Likewise, in my paper, I will use the
Literature in Virgin Land,” read at a meeting of the American Studies Association of Northern California, Stanford University, Aug. 30, 1967. Quoted in Kuklick 1972, Myth and Symbol in American Studies)
13 While Smith focused on the symbolic “virgin land” theme, Slotkin was concerned with the “race war”/“savage war” theme, which he believed addressed political concerns (i.e. the use of force and the right of conquest) (Slotkin rev. ed. 1998, 33).
14 Slotkin’s body of work on the West includes Regeneration Through Violence (1973), The Fatal Environment (1985) and Gunfighter Nation (1992).