Larry McMurtry’s Lonesome Dove Quartet as a Symbol of Frontier Rhetoric Represented by Trauma, Abuse of Women, Violence and Massacres.

Lonesome Dove written by Larry Mcmurtry in the year 1985 is a western novel. The novel is a bestseller and won the 1985 Pulitzer prize for fiction. The Lonesome Dove is a story about to retired
Texas rangers captain Woodrow F. Call and Captain Augustus (Gus Macrae). They won the hat creek cattle company in the small Texas town called Lonesome Dove.

The coworkers are Joshua Deets a black tracker and Peaeye Pi Parker. Another farmer ranger who is stupid. The cook is a reformed Mexican bandit named Bolivar. Then another boy named Nett Dobbs who is seventeen years old worked for them. His mother, Maggi is a prostitute. Marion Tangum in her paper “Larry Mcmurtry’s Lonesome Dove: “This is what We Call Home”” writes:

Although each of these studies illuminates important elements of the novel's concern with myth, none is based on a systematic examination of its narrative structure, or who is relating central statements regarding a mythic Texas past. In a manner suggested by Mikhail Bakhtin, I will explore the narrative structures through which McMurtry illuminates myth in Lonesome Dove. Listening to the novel in a Bakhtinian way reveals a myriad of narrative voices dialogically coming and collaborating to bring to the surface mythic definitions of a"Texas"home, and so inviting our attention-and perhaps their own individual deconstructions. (61)

Frontier Rhetoric as read in the Lonesome Dove is highly terrifying for example a recollection of Dillard Brawley’s infested leg is described thus. Mcmurtry writes, “it had rotted sufficiently that the family got nervous about blood poisoning and persuaded he can Call to saw it off” (Lonesome Dove 15). There is a revision of frontier mythology through underscoring issues of gender, race, and nation from the angle of trauma theory. This can also be called an American frontier trauma narrative. Deborah L. Madsen in her paper “ Discourses of Frontier Violence and the Trauma of National emergence in Larry McMurtry’s Lonesome Dove Quartet” states

These narratives continue to preserve the image of the frontier as a contact zone where a primitive multiculturalism gave rise to pathological mixed-blood individuals who are doomed to inhabit a liminal space that is at once nowhere and everywhere (186).

Lorena's sufferings during her captivity by renegades is so violent that it can be seen in both the Lonesome Dove and The Streets of Laredo. In the Lonesome Dove she is repeatedly raped and beaten which is narrated by the narrator. She is also threatened with murder. Only Lorena in the second novel The Streets of Laredo talks about how she was tortured by Mox Mox the man burner. His accomplish is Blue Duck. He is a killer and burns men. Lorena describes thus. Mcmurtry writes in The Streets of Laredo,

For a second the had felt a scream starting in her head, or had heard, inside herself, the piercing echo of many screams from the past. She felt cold and clammy, so heavy with fear that, for a second, the didn't know if she could move. During the hours when she had been a captive of Mox Mox and his boss, Blue Duck, she hadn't been able to move, and the terror that she felt during those hours was a thing that would never leave her.(The Street of Laredo 233)

McMurtry’s four western novels have sadistic psycho paths whose intention is only to kill and torture the captives. The mixed blood characters represented in his western novels are Blue Duck, Joey Garza and Ahumado. In Comanche Moon (1997), the renegade Blue Duck is told by the chief of an neighbouring band of Indians whose chief Slow Tree says, “you are not a comanche, you are a Mexicano” (430). Though buffalo hump knows that his son Blue Duck is a psychopath he is reluctant to send him into exile. Blue Duck hates his mixed blood status. He has Mexican blood in him. He is a product of colonial contact. McMurtry writes:

Several young men in the tribe had been born of white captives, or brown captives, and the old men didn’t like it. The half breeds were sometimes driven out… He often thought of leaving the tribe himself, but hadn’t, because he was not ready and not equipped… when he was ready he meant to leave of his own accord - one morning his father would just discover that he was gone. He would shame the old ones, though, by killing more whites than any of the young men who were pure blood, of the tribe. (CM 69)

In most of McMurtry’s novel, the Frontier is portrayed as liminal space. The concept of cross cultural conflict and its consequences are there. In Comanche Moon one of the Texas rangers commits suicide because his wife is sexually assaulted by seven red indians. The Texas rangers rescue maudi clark who was captured by the red indians. Her husband comes takes away his surviving children and goes away leaving behind his raped wife. She knows that her husband who is a white man will not come back for her because he thinks that she is tainted as she has been repeatedly raped by the indians. Deborah L Madson writes:

Miscegenation, sexual content across the barrier of racial difference, threatened the whiteness of the expanding American nation and with it the colonizing power of American whiteness. That the fear of racial mixing was sexual rather than cultural is evidenced by the fact that although children were subject to the same kind of violent treatment in depictions of the Indian as a savage and merciless captor, children were accepted back into white society when their mothers were not.(195)

In McMurtry’s novel Comanche Moon the Texas rangers have to cleanup a historic comanche raid. Comanches are a tribe of red indians. They have come all the way from the prairie gulf of Mexico. On the way they have killed some white settlers. During the burial the rangers raise the question why the white settlers come to this dangerous place from a faraway land. This leads call to reflect. McMurtry writes in Comanche Moon:

Over and over, he and Augustus had come upon little families, far out beyond the settlements, attempting to farm country that had never felt the plow. Often such pioneers didn’t even have a plow… Mainly what they had, as far as Call could tell, was their energies and their hopes. At least they had what most of them never had before: land they could call their own. (336).

This passage reveals the violence of the frontier and the horrors associated with it. There was always a clash between the white settlers and the native American. In between them where the mexican bandits the Texas rangers, prostitutes and cattle thieves. Within this frame work McMurtry has carefully woven the novel, The Comanche Moon. Buffalo Hump by using traditional weapons tries to create terror into the white settlers and bring them to the negotiating table. The white settlers are referred to as maggots trying to enter the blood of the comanche. Buffalo Hump eventually leads the ‘Great Raid’ into Austin, San Antonio and Houston. Deborah L Madsen in her article “Discourses of Frontier Violence and the Trauma of National emergence in Larry McMurtry’s Lonesome Dove Quartet” writes :

In Comanche Moon the Rangers witness branding season in south Texas and quickly that the ownership of cattle depends only on who is able to get their brand on the animals first. The animals are there for the taking by the very pioneers who have taken the land. Natives may be unable to take back this land; however, they can take the women and children who will provides the next American generation who will live on it and transform it by right of occupation from Comanche to American territory. This is why the rescue and return of captives are so crucial in these narratives.(196-97)

The interracial bonding between white settlers and native Americans and Mexicans result in their offsprings being psychologically affected. Buffalo Humps and the Mexican captive Rosa’s child is the renegade Blue Duck. Goeye Garza, the psycho path is the result of interbreeding between apache red indians and Mexicans. White settlers systematically control the land whereas Native Americans and Mexicans cannot do so. Kim Newman in his book Wild West Movies: How the West was Found, One, Last, Lied about, Filmed and Forgotten writes:

While couched in terms of the coming of civilisation, the rise of law and order or the establishment of community values, the Western is essentially about conquest. Cavalries conquer the Indians, pioneers conquer the wilderness, lawmen conquer outlaws and individuals conquer their circumstances. But with each conquest, another stretch of territory, whether geographical or philosophical, comes under the hegemony of the United States of America.(1)

McMurtry indirectly represents the trauma of captivity. The victim is exposed to extreme violence. For example when Lorena is captured by Blue Duck fear is nothing to her as she has undergone a suffering even worse than death. When Gus Mccray angrily raids Blue Duck scam to rescue Lorena, she finds her completely alienated from speech due to the trauma she has undergone.

In Dead Man’s Walk the rangers long to return to civilization. Instead they join a party to capture and annex santa Fe which is part of new Mexico. The party leader is a pirate named Caleb cop out of the two hundred adventures - soldiers only about forty survive. The others die of starvation mauling by bears murdered by Indians and to be arrested by the Mexican authorities. The survivors are forcibly maid to walk across the Jornada Del Muerto (“Dead Man’s Walk”) to el paso. Along the way many Mexicans and Texans die. Finally the Texas contingent is massacred as they try to run for their lives. The remaining ten Texans have to gamble for their life by drawing a bean from a jar. White bean signals life and the black bean deat. Call and Mccrae are among the last five survivors then return to Texas escorting an english woman and her son who are held captive by the Mexicans. As Brian McHale in his book writes, “Traditional historical novels strive to suppress . . contradictions between their versions of historical figures and the familiar facts of these figures’ careers” (17). Dead Man’s Walk can also be called a rewriting of the history of the West. It can also be classified in the genre of metafiction. Linda Hutcheon says

...willfully contradictory phenomenon. Starting from ks theoretical self-awareness of history and fiction as human constmcts, it asserts and then deliberately undermines such principles as value, order, meaning, control, and identity ... that have been the basis of bourgeois liberalism (qtd. in Bertens, “Debate” 12)

To conclude Lonesome Dove quartet is an all pervading set of four novels delineating frontier fiction which has frontier violence, frontier rhetoric and all the ingredients that go into the making of a successful frontier novel.

Works Cited

McMurtry, Larry. Comanche Moon. Picador, 2015. Print.

---. Dead Mans Walk. Picador, 2015. Print.

---. Lonesome Dove. Pan Books, 2011. Print.

---. Streets of Laredo. Picador, 2015. Print.

Hutcheon, Linda. Irony's Edge: The Theory and Politics of Irony. New York: Routledge, 1994. Print.

Madsen, Deborah L. “Discourses of Frontier Violence and the Trauma of National Emergence in Larry McMurtrys Lonesome Dove Quartet.” Canadian Review of American Studies, vol. 39, no. 2, 2009, pp. 185–204. Print.

Riley, Glenda, and June Namias. “White Captives: Gender and Ethnicity on the American Frontier.” The American Historical Review, vol. 99, no. 2, 1994, p. 644. Print.

Tangum, Marion. “Larry McMurtry's ‘Lonesome Dove’: ‘This Is What We Call Home.’” Rocky Mountain Review of Language and Literature, vol. 45, no. 1/2, 1991, pp. 61–73. Print.

K. Antony
Research Scholar
Rani Anna Government College for Women

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