Year of Award


Document Type


Degree Type

Master of Arts (MA)

Degree Name

English (Literature)

Department or School/College

Department of English

Committee Chair

Nancy Cook

Commitee Members

Kathleen Kane, Christopher Preston, Nadia White


Fuller, Colton, Oil, Fracking, Mythology, Petromelancholia


University of Montana

Subject Categories

American Literature


Alexandra Fuller’s book The Legend of Colton H. Bryant, often read as merely a sad biography of a young man who meets his demise in the Wyoming energy patch, performs urgent cultural work. Fuller captures Wyoming’s shift from conventional (Easy Oil) extraction to the extreme (Tough Oil) extraction method known as hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, at the dawn of the twenty-first century. This shift to Tough Oil involves far more than engineering concerns, as Stephanie LeMenager points out in her cultural critique Living Oil. LeMenager terms our national failure to acknowledge the crises that accompany Tough Oil practices petromelancholia, focusing much of her attention upon the BP Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico and fracking near urban centers in Appalachia and California. The interior West and its landscapes of extraction remain overlooked, its denizens invisible. In this thesis, I argue that Fuller enacts a Western iteration of petromelancholia, and I make my case using textual evidence from The Legend of Colton H. Bryant, as well as secondary support from Stephanie LeMenager, Robert Warshow, John G. Cawelti, Wallace Stegner, Ray Ring, and many others.

In my first chapter, I explore the risks associated with the relinquishment of large tracts of Wyoming and the interior West as sacrifice zones, and I interpret the various strata of Fuller’s unusual comparison of drilling rigs to the Eiffel Tower. In my remaining chapters, I discuss the interplay of Western American mythologies with Colton’s worsening petromelancholic denial. In chapter two, I explore tensions between Wyoming’s cowboy identity and the petro-industrial complex. I then show how Colton’s cowboy repose positions him to enter the oil and gas industry. In chapter three, I explicate Colton’s deterioration and the various elements of his petromelancholia as he attempts to become a self-made man in the Western tradition. In my fourth chapter, I examine Colton’s denial and anger in Fuller’s gun-cleaning scene, and I analyze the ways in which Fuller rethinks two worn tropes of the Western genre, firearms and violence, to illustrate Colton’s deep and fatal petromelancholia.



© Copyright 2015 Lindsay Stephens