Monday, March 16, 2015

Homoeroticism and racism abound

(Joe's Response: Oh well, let's go murder some brown people instead of talking about it.)

I only knew the name Zane Grey in association with westerns, so when I downloaded The Spirit of the Border on my Kindle I was expecting cowboys and maybe cattle rustlers (and yes, probably some offensive stuff about Native Americans). What I got was a book that was written by an erection for manifest destiny about racists with Disney princess hair attempting genocide in their spare time.

I've had some trouble extracting any kind of moral from this story. Clearly Grey is critical of genocide - which is always a plus - and makes sure to mention the abused Native Americans in his foreword, but only after he's talked about how this wouldn't be the great, big 'Murica we all know without men like Wetzel to murder those Native Americans. The story is just as undecided as the foreword: it seems to suggest that missionaries are sort of being dicks for trying to convert people (which I can get behind), but it also suggests that trying to convert Native Americans is a loser's game because savage is as savage does (which I can't get behind and is terrible), and also makes a point at the very end that humans are all different and people of all different races can be moral or immoral no matter how they were raised.

I just kind of can't get around the fact that everyone in this book is terrible. Everyone's awful and I can't fucking hang and get into the seriously awful bits so I'm just going to focus on the seriously (and I really have a lot of questions) homosexual bits.

Let's get this right out there: I just don't know what I'm looking at. I'm not trying to be insulting, I don't see homoeroticism in fiction as a bad thing, I'm just perplexed. The Spirit of the Border is chock-full of homosocial relationships and masculine admiration for masculinity. Zane Grey writes these dudes the way that Walt Whitman would if he was typing with one hand instead of carefully choosing his words. The weddings and heterosexual relationships in the book are less necessary to the story than the weddings at the end of The Importance of Being Earnest. I've done a preliminary search that doesn't turn up much queer theory commentary on Grey, but I think that may be because westerns aren't thought of as literary enough to merit that critical lens. The homosocial element here is MUCH more evident and more roundly discussed than anything you'll see between Sherlock and Watson but nobody seems to be suggesting that, yeah, these dudes probably want to bone.

Which it too bad, because it might make their utter disregard for women as anything beyond objects to be protected slightly more palatable. (Though not their desire to solve all their problems by killing non-whites: nothing could make that an easier pill to swallow.)

In short, I think this book has scared me off reading Grey for the foreseeable future. His descriptions of nature are charming but I don't really think that's enough to make up for the constant grimaces I had on my face when I was reading about missionaries, women, Native Americans, or basically anything else in the book.

     - Alli

Grey, Zane. The Spirit of the Border. Amazon Kindle Books. Seattle: Washington. 1906.

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