Year of Award


Document Type


Degree Type

Master of Arts (MA)

Degree Name

English (Literature)

Department or School/College

Department of English

Committee Chair

Kathleen Kane


Bakhtin, cowboy diplomacy, Dashiell Hammett, detective fiction, masculinity, Owen Wister, Raymond Chandler, silence, urban space, westerns


University of Montana


In the early part of the twentieth century, popular fiction and film in the form of Westerns and the noir detective story cultivated brands of masculinity through archetypal male characters. This project aims to propose and investigate the existence of a countervailing tradition between the language-resistant cowboy figure and his more verbally-inclined successor, the detective fiction hero. Chapter One deconstructs the Virginian’s silence in the original film version of Owen Wister’s novel The Virginian, and demonstrates a male aversion to language as a tool for guarding masculinity against the modernization and feminization of the West. The onslaught of modernization that transformed the United States in the beginning of the 20th century created a need for a new kind of hero, one akin to the cowboy hero in character, bravery, and wit, yet seemingly birthed from urbanity as undeniably as the cowboy was birthed from the open range. Chapter Two illustrates the primarily linguistic work of Dashiell Hammett’s Continental Op in Red Harvest and Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe in Farewell, My Lovely and elucidates that the detective’s status as an urbanite necessitates a different method of performing his work: he negotiates his urban world with a linguistic prowess quite different from the cowboy’s preference for action. Chapter Three, relying heavily on Chandler’s The Big Sleep, demonstrates that, upon close examination, the detective’s penchant for communication, akin to the cowboy’s aversion to it, ultimately enables him to complete the task at hand while protecting his masculinity. The cultural implications of this study suggest a socio-historical connection between a masculine code of silence cultivated in and perpetuated by American culture in popular fiction and film and a lack of verbal diplomacy in United States foreign policy. These strong parallels between America’s reputation as a “silent superpower” and the enculturated notions of language-resistant masculinity originate in the American imagination and present a crucially important dialectic to examine at the intersection of culture and politics in the present-day United States.



© Copyright 2007 Maria Carla Nissi