We Who Work the West


We Who Work the West

Class, Labor, and Space in Western American Literature

Kiara Kharpertian
Edited by Carlo Rotella and Christopher P. Wilson

Postwestern Horizons Series

288 pages


June 2020


$60.00 Add to Cart
eBook (PDF)
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June 2020


$60.00 Add to Cart
eBook (EPUB)
Ebook purchases delivered via Leaf e-Reader

June 2020


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About the Book

We Who Work the West examines literary representations of class, labor, and space in the American West from 1885 to 2012. Moving from María Amparo Ruiz de Burton’s representations of dispossessed Californio ranchers in the mid-nineteenth century to the urban grid of early twentieth-century San Francisco in Frank Norris’s McTeague to working and unemployed cowboys in the contemporary novels of Cormac McCarthy and Larry McMurtry, Kiara Kharpertian provides a panoramic look at literary renderings of both individual labor—physical, tangible, and often threatened handwork—and the epochal transformations of central institutions of a modernizing West: the farm, the ranchero, the mine, the rodeo, and the Native American reservation.

The West that emerges here is both dynamic and diverse, its on-the-ground organization of work, social class, individual mobility, and collective belonging constantly mutating in direct response to historical change and the demands of the natural environment. The literary West thus becomes more than a locus of mythic nostalgia or consumer fantasy about the American past. It becomes a place where the real work of making that West, as well as the suffering and loss it often entailed, is reimagined.

Author Bio

Kiara Kharpertian (1985–2016) received her PhD in English from Boston College, specializing in American literature and environmental studies. Carlo Rotella is a professor of English at Boston College. Christopher P. Wilson is a professor of English at Boston College.


"Kharpertian develops a compelling structure for adding class and labor to the field's longtime focus on categories of social identity like gender, ethnicity, race, and indigeneity, and on space/place-based inquiries."—Amanda J. Zink, American Literary History

“Grounded in a winning insistence that ‘belonging can become a force available to all of us and that literature provides a laboratory in which to test its properties and potentialities,’ Kharpertian’s book grapples with the complex interrelations of labor, class, and space while providing a tour of some of western literature’s more down-and-out corners.”—Daniel Clausen, Western American Literature

"If one wants to learn the latest trends in analysis of literature, this is a book to read."—Stan Moore, Denver Westerners Roundup

“This book is not only important, it is essential. . . . Kharpertian’s bold book understands class, labor, and space—as profoundly interrelated functions that bounce off of each other to produce effects of identity both individual and cultural. . . . This is an act of redefinition, a vital and important corrective to the ongoing cultural work being done by an outdated yet still attractive mythos [of the West].”—Nicolas S. Witschi, editor of A Companion to the Literature and Culture of the American West

“Through readings of literature by well-established and emerging western authors, Kharpertian provides a masterful study of labor and regional belonging that focuses on the struggle for dignity and sovereignty as well as the search for connections and community. Here, stories of miners, cowboys, bricklayers, and the unemployed appear alongside tales of ranchers, oil barons, bankers, and writers. The result is a powerful and engaging analysis that centers not on who won the West but on those who worked it.”—Susan Kollin, author of Captivating Westerns: The Middle East in the American West

Table of Contents

Editors’ Note    
Introduction: How to Tell a Western Story    
1. Naturalism’s Handiwork: Labor, Class, and Space in Frank Norris’s McTeague: A Story of San Francisco    
2. Civic Identity and the Ethos of Belonging: María Amparo Ruiz de Burton’s The Squatter and the Don and Raymond Barrio’s The Plum Plum Pickers    
3. Watching the West Erode in the 1930s: Sanora Babb’s Whose Names Are Unknown, Frank Waters’s Below Grass Roots, and John Fante’s Wait Until Spring, Bandini and Ask the Dust    
4. He Was a Good Cowboy: Identity and History on the Post–World War II Texas Ranch in Larry McMurtry’s Horseman, Pass By, Elmer Kelton’s The Time It Never Rained, and Cormac McCarthy’s All the Pretty Horses    
5. Tradition and Modernization Battle It Out on Rocky Soil: Sherman Alexie’s The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven, Stephen Graham Jones’s The Bird Is Gone, and Linda Hogan’s Mean Spirit    
6. From Prairie to Oil: Hybridization and Belonging via Class, Labor, and Space in Philipp Meyer’s The Son    

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