Crossing the medicine line : the cowboy in Canadian prairie fiction

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Wiebe, Reginald G. D.
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Following Jane Tompkins' proposal in West of Everything that the cowboy generates his sense of self by opposing eastern centres as well as migrating across prairie landscape, and Dick Harrison's suggestion in Unnamed Country that Canadian prairie writing has developed no such figure, I choose to examine the impact of the (predominantly) American cowboy on Canadian prairie fiction. The conflicting dynamics of Harold Innis' Laurentian Thesis, which states that Canadian culture and identity were imported from the east, and Frederick Turner's Frontier Thesis, arguing that American identity is generated on the new frontier, provide means to interrogate the ways in which the cowboy represents and reveals different aspects of Canadian identity than can be found through the comparable law-making figure of the Mountie. The cowboy opposes the Laurentian Thesis, but, I argue, does not simply translate the Frontier Thesis to Canada. I track the ways the cowboy inflects Canadian prairie life - through the lenses of gender, of national selfhood, and of First Nations identity - by examining the writing of Sinclair Ross, Guy Vanderhaeghe, and Thomas King.