Year of Award


Document Type


Degree Type

Master of Arts (MA)

Department or School/College

Department of English

Committee Chair

Nancy Cook

Commitee Members

David Moore, Anja Jabour


feminism, gender, Mildred Walker, Montana literature, The Curlew's Cry, Winter Wheat


University of Montana


In this thesis, I discuss the significance of gender in Mildred Walker’s novels The Curlew’s Cry and Winter Wheat. Walker wrote and situates both narratives in Montana, supporting my argument that literature of the American West remains a productive area for examining gender roles. The Curlew’s Cry is set at the closing of the American frontier in the early 20th century, while Winter Wheat is set during the settled agricultural era of the 1940s. I argue that instead of re-enforcing gender stereotypes commonly found in novels set in the American West during and after the white settlement of the plains, Walker introduces a modern and arguably feminist critique of the prescriptive roles found throughout the genre of the “Western.” Walker’s narratives portray her characters, both female and male, as unsatisfied with their too-narrowly defined gender roles. My reading of her texts suggests that neither the “cowboy” masculine West, nor the “settled” feminine West are adequate models to encapsulate the experiences and desires of those who chose to live on the last American frontier. In my analysis, I employ a feminist perspective on gender. My theoretical framework synthesizes literary criticism and historical criticism that focuses on the American West. Drawing from my studies of feminist criticism, I first explain my interpretation of what it means to offer a feminist reading of Walker’s work. In chapter one, I contextualize the theoretical basis of gender studies by outlining a simple review of the key ideas and scholars in the field. I also situate Mildred Walker as a woman, wife, mother and author in relation to her novels and the time within which she wrote. In my final two chapters, I examine the texts of The Curlew’s Cry and Winter Wheat, working to show the ways in which the narratives reveal a critique of the gender conventions typically found in the “Western” literary genre. In conclusion, I suggest Walker’s character Ellen serves as a model of “hybridity,” in that she disrupts the limitations of binary thinking through her acceptance of all her lines of inheritance.



© Copyright 2007 Pandora Andre-Beatty