Cultural values, ideologies, and social (national, racial, class, etc.) identities are asserted, dramatized, explored, and even challenged in the stories societies tell. Yellow Bird’s The Life and Adventures of Joaquin Murieta, the Celebrated California Bandit, though ostensibly a narrative about a single person, unavoidably presents its readers with images, figures, settings, and events that become the basis for analysis and interpretation. Focusing on particular elements of the Murieta story discuss the ways that this text represents US American identity and specific cultural values. You may decide to address one of the following:
1. What is the geography of The Life and Adventures? What arguments can you make about California as a transnational (US American/ Mexican/ Pacific Rim/ Native American) space by “mapping” the novel? Consider not only the novel’s topography but its human geography as well. Use these two brief pdfs to help you clarify your undertaking: geographicalimaginary & America(s) (idea of)
Advanced level: Locate, read and incorporate into your paper Frederick Jackson Turner’s seminal essay “The Significance of the Frontier in American History”.
2. Both The Life and Adventures and Ravenous explore (and construct) the mythic dimensions of the US American West. Consulting this entry from A Dictionary of Literary Terms and Literary Theory (allegory) compare these tales in terms of their allegorical function with regard to Manifest Destiny and the colonization of the US American West. How do specific figures in each story represent social and historical forces? How does the genre (adventure, romance, horror, comedy) of story told– its features and conventions– influence these representations?
Advanced level: Locate, read and incorporate into your paper John L. O’Sullivan’s 1845 article “Annexation” and research the windigo (wendigo, witiko) myth.
3. “The Diggings” of Gold Rush-era California were a largely homosocial environment. While women were present as un/waged workers, domestic laborers, and small business owners– as cooks, wives, entertainers, inn-keepers, and prostitutes, for example– their relative absence surely influenced both the social experience and popular understanding of the region. Examine the role of female characters in The Life and Adventures, paying particular attention to the status of women in the world of the banditti. How do women move the plot along? How do their acts and words regulate readers’ relationship to the novel as an adventure story?
Advanced level: Locate, read, and incorporate into your paper Maria A. Windell’s essay “Sanctify Our Suffering World with Tears: Transamerican Sentimentalism in Joquin Murieta”.