Hope and Dread in Montana Literature

The rich literary tradition of Montana, contends author Ken Egan Jr., reflects a catastrophic vision of the West that shows the horrors of domination and the foolish and destructive habits of the imperial heart. Since the 1860s, Montana's writers have depicted struggles for survival in the state's dramatically beautiful but heartbreaking landscape and for decency in a region characterized by the headlong exploitation of both natural and human resources. So, too, has Montana's political culture reflected the strife between the state's utopian potential and its often apocalyptic realities. Egan's objective, in this intellectually provocative and deeply perceptive survey of Montana's literary history, is to demonstrate the roots of the state's literature in its conflicted history and complex mixture of racial and ethnic traditions and, at the same time, to offer the possibility of thoughtful solutions to the West's daunting social and environmental dilemmas through the insights of some of the state's best writers. From the narratives of early explorers and ranchers, Native Americans, and settler women, through the works of such major twentieth-century luminaries as A. B. Guthrie and Ivan Doig, Egan traces the evolution of Montanans' early fantastic dreams of economic, religious, and cultural success into failure and despair, violence and tragedy. Yet, side by side with these tales of woe are tales of endurance and even triumph, evidence of the strength and creative potential of the state's people.