Cowboys and Indians come to mind for many people when the idea of Southwestern literature is presented. The scene of a saloon shootout and John Wayne materialize. Southwestern literature is more than the O.K. Corral. Writers such as Willa Cather and Catherine Porter do not have the prototypical storyline stated above, but they are writers of Southwestern literature. In order to understand why Willa Cather and Catherine Porter should be considered a part of Southwestern literature, one must consider the difference between the American West and Southwest and understand that their writing is deeply influenced by the landscape and culture of the Southwest and centered on issues faced by inhabitants of the region.
Many people mistake about Southwestern literature for Western literature. The West encompasses the entirety of land west of the Rocky Mountains, both northern and southern, as outlined by the US Census Bureau.1 The geographical borders of the Southwestern region are slightly more varied; it centers around Arizona and New Mexico, but the inclusion of other states such as Texas, Colorado, Nevada, Utah, and Oklahoma vary from source to source. What this means for literature is a difference of culture. While Western literature seems to primarily focus on westward expansion, the Manifest Destiny, of the Anglo settlers, southwestern literature draws upon the relationship between the inhabitants and the land, the culture and its ensuing corruption, and the relationships between natives of the land and those settling there.
Southwestern literature is dependent upon the authenticity of the imagery provided. Porter provides apt description of the Mexican terrain saying, “We were alive under that deepening sky, jingling away through the yellow fields of blooming muster with the pattern of spiked maguey shuttling as we passed, from straight lines to angles, to diamond shapes, and back again, miles and miles of it spreading away to the looming mountains.” 149 Her description of the land is rich in color and has an air of magic and wonder to it. Cather describes the southwestern landscape with similar use of color, especially pertaining to the New Mexico region in Death Comes for the Archbishop. “In all his travels the Bishop had seen no country like this. From the flat red sea of sand rose great rock mesas... The sandy soil of the plain had a light sprinkling of junipers, and was splotched with masses of blooming rabbit brush,-- that oliver-coloured plant that grows in high waves like a tossing sea, at this season covered with a thatch of bloom, yellow as gorse, or orange like marigolds.” 94 Both women describe the land of desert with such vividness that one is not left with the idea of a barren, sandy soil but an environment that is rich with history as well as life. This life and history of the land are a part of the culture.
The Southwestern culture is one tied closely to the myth and magic of the land. The merciless nature of the land has also...