Land and Its People Irreversibly Interconnected

Wallace Stegner, The American West as Living Space

Land and Its People Irreversibly Interconnected

Wallace Stegner writes about the way a land shapes people’s character, letting them think they are those determining its form and general aspect. The living space is generally a notion accepted as a notion reflecting the character of those who live in it. The title of the book announces a desire to give what reality shows as being a huge landscape a limitation in order to grasp its essence. At some point of the book comprising the three William W. Cook Lectures, delivered at the Law School of the University of Michigan, confesses his relief due to the limited space that made him focus on the core things. His lectures about his home living space are concentrated the demanding personality of a land whose unity is accomplished only through people’s his biggest enemy: the aridity. His personal experience with the American west where he was born and raised, the experiences of others and the history of the vast land that once made people crazy to go find gold and get rich. They found gold, indeed, but it didn’t last. They learned a lesson, were it was a lesson for the next generations, at least.

One of the recurrent themes of the book is mobility. The novels centered on the West part of America are in Stegner’s view about movement. He is writing about the waves of people who came into the West as if he was speaking about the first people on the moon. The parallel is suggested by the vast arid space engineered by the human mind and hands into a living space. The first Americans who came to the West were attracted mainly by the American spirit of conquering and finding new territories to exploit to their benefits and yet they turned out to be the ancestors of the sons and daughters of the present day American West.

Stegner emphasizes the importance of another important factor that might be overseen by some contemporary Western Americans: history. The first people who came to the West may have “shouted into the void” instead of “listening to the silence”(Stegner, 1987), but they were unconsciously aware of the importance their past generations plaid in their lives. They were moving away spatially, but they were bringing their stubbornness and drive to turn dust into gold. He points out an interesting similarity between the first settlers of the American West and the successful business men of the Silicon Valley. Declarative speaking, both categories were acting only by their extreme self-consciousness and in total disregard of their history. but, the spirit was the inheritance that made them partially a reflexion of their past. As aridity makes the otherwise unitary American West landscape, the drive to conquer and tame new territories binds the rich businessmen to their ancestors conquering new lands not long ago. Americans or West Americans or people all over the world cannot escape their fate, regardless of how hard they try. Stegner is suggesting a possible explanation for the famous mobility of the Americans who will always be prepared to move away on the other cost if they will find a better job, or better living conditions: the support for their independence above all. It is the obsession for independence, in Stegner’s view, rather than a real need for being mobile that is driving the Americans in general, and the Americans from the West to keep moving at all costs. To illustrate the idea of their inability to escape their own fate, Stegner uses the example of Wister’s novel, the Virginian, whose hero, named after the region he comes from, although acting only according to his own laws, regardless of the laws of the country, if they do not serve his interest is yet, a hero. The novel has “residual qualities of the heroic, as the country in which it takes place has residual qualities of the wilderness frontier.” (Stegner, 1987, pp. 83). Stegner shows his conviction that the American West leaves an inescapable mark o everyone and thus, the writer who depicts a western character is bound to give him at least a few feature characteristic to a general western type that appears in fiction or in everyday life. He takes the example of his father and explains the process he went through until he became conscious of the western pattern developed in every individual, regardless of his name or place in the western landscape.

The western land that left the distinctive mark on those who ventured into was improved by the human mind and technology made it friendlier to human living conditions, but it also suffered damages because of the human foolishness and disregard for the laws of the wilderness. Ironically, the westerners tried to change it dramatically, unaware of the original aspects that made it ready to receive new inhabitants in spite of its aridity. The wilderness plays a major role in the American life, and the American West is especially vulnerable to all the changes people living there put it through. Stegner is concerned with environmental issues and he brings Rousseau’s unaltered savage into discussion as opposite to the alienated human of the present who se foolish acts disregard nature’s laws and the residues left by the history of the western land and that of its people.

Philip Fradkin introduces the words of Wendell Berry, a former student of Stegner, in an article in New York Times, on Stegner and presents them as the most illustrative of the writer’s personality: “He was perhaps his region’s greatest teacher: its greatest storyteller, historian, critic, conservator and loyal citizen” (Fradkin, 2008).

Stegner, the son of the American West, wrote about his homeland not only because its inspirational character, but also because of his awareness of the importance the land plaid in his inhabitant’s lives. He wanted to help preserve it for their future generations not only in fiction, but in physical reality.

Works Cited

Fradkin, Philip. Wallace Stegner and the American West. The New York Times. May 18, 2008. Retrieved at: Sep. 4, 2008. Available at

Stegner, Wallace. The American West as Living Space. University of Michigan Press. 1987

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