In Ch. 7 of The Great Arizona Orphan Abduction, Linda Gordon explores the connection between democracy and vigilante justice, focusing particularly on the American West. Reread her argument carefully, and then think about Owen Wister’s treatment of these same topics in The Virginian. Does this fictional account, loosely based on the Johnson County War, tend to support or refute Gordon’s argument? Do you think Wister would agree with Gordon that vigilantism is “a flaw in democracy,” but one that is “close to its center” (p. 254)?
In preparing this paper, you might consider questions like the following:
* What does Gordon mean when she writes that vigilantes “called on an ideology of popular direct action” (p. 255)? What else does she say about vigilante justice, particularly in the West?
* Who engages in vigilante justice in The Virginian? Who defends it? On what grounds?
* Which characters are initially unsettled by the lynching? What do they have in common? How do their views evolve?
Finally, you might think about the way that The Virginian reworks the historic events of the Johnson County War. As we saw, that conflict pitted cattle barons (members of the Wyoming Stock Growers Association) and some of their top employees against smaller operators, including both homesteaders and former cowhands who were trying to launch their own operations. How would various characters in the novel–the Virginian, the Judge, Steve, Ed, the “honest settlers of Jackson Hole” (mentioned in Ch. XXXIII), etc.–map onto that conflict? Does thinking about the historical inspirations for this novel change your reading of it in any way?
* This essay does not require any outside sources. If you want to use one, you must clear it with Prof. Wall or one of the TAs first!
* Cite all material drawn from Gordon, Wister, the readings on Johnson County, or any other source in footnotes or endnotes. (Do not use in-text citations!) Lectures do not need to be cited. Be sure to include page numbers when you are referring to a specific quote or scene. If you are not using the edition of The Virginian ordered for class, also indicate the chapter you are quoting/drawing from.
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