Spring 2017

Degree Name

Master of Arts in English (M.A.)

Type of Paper/Work



Dr. Laura Zebuhr, Dr. Kanishka Chowdhury, Dr. Andrew Scheiber


The gunslinger archetype has appeared in countless western stories and seems almost synonymous with the genre itself. Yet this fixture of the western genre has escaped critical attention and has been conflated with the related, yet separate characters of the cowboy and the outlaw. This archetype finds its metaphorical and mythological roots in the writings of Henry David Thoreau and undergoes an evolution from its first major appearance in Riders of the Purple Sage, through Shane, to Once Upon a Time in the West, finally culminating in the character of the Judge, from Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian. This evolution reveals how the gunslinger is an embodiment of the tension inherent to the wilderness/civilization binary which these texts employ and attempt to surpass. As each of these texts tries to reckon with the tensions the gunslinger embodies, we see that it is the pervasive use of violence that defines the gunslinger’s narrative role.


Gunslinger, Thoreau

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.