Animal Dreams

Animal Dreams: The Female Western

In Animal Dreams, Barbara Kingsolver reinvents the Western genre, riffing on a couple of common tropes and stock characters while simultaneously creating a female-centered story that rejects the violence and disconnected heroes of stereotypical Westerns. As in many Western tales, a small town is threatened by a villain, but in this case it's a type of villain that makes more sense in a modern context -- instead of a gun-slinging "bad guy," we have a faceless corporation intent on pursuing its own financial interests at the expense of the environment. Instead of a staunch, infallible protagonist, we have an irresolute heroine whose disconnect from her emotions is not an asset, but a major source of weakness. While she does play a part in saving the town of Grace, her more important task is to overcome her resistance to intimacy. Naomi Jacobs calls this novel an anti-Western, a critique of the myths underlying popular Westerns that "unravels the Western's conventional approach to heroism, to violence and death, and to community."

The first trope that Kingsolver uses is that of a lonely stranger arriving in a rough small town. Codi Nolene rides into Grace on a bus instead of a horse, but otherwise her...

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