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    Lonesome Dove and Life's Journey Through Uncertainty

    True friendship involves seeing beyond dissimilarities, accepting flaws, and supporting personal growth, allowing individuals to be themselves and support one another through challenges.

    enAugust 08, 2022

    About this Episode

    If you've been listening to this show or reading the AoM website for awhile, then you likely know what my favorite book of all time is: Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry.

    It's therefore my real pleasure to be able to talk all about that novel today with Steven Frye, professor of American literature and author of Understanding Larry McMurtry. We last had Steve on the show to talk about The Road by Cormac McCarthy. In this episode, we unpack Lonesome Dove, beginning with some background on McMurtry, and the style and themes he explores in his work. From there we turn to Lonesome Dove, and its surprising influences, from Jane Austen to Cervantes. Steve and I explore the characters of Augustus McCrae and Woodrow Call, how they can represent the archetypes of the Epicurean and the Stoic, and what we can learn from their friendship. We also talk about the complexities of other characters in the novel, and end our conversation with why Lonesome Dove, despite not having a stereotypically happy ending, is such a life-affirming book.

    A spoiler alert here: We are going to reveal plenty of plot points in this discussion, so be aware of that if you haven't yet read Lonesome Dove.

    After the show is over, check out the show notes at aom.is/lonesomedove

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    🔑 Key Takeaways

    • Larry McMurtry's Lonesome Dove combines adventure and deep exploration of characters, showcasing his profound understanding of human nature and the enduring impact of his literary contributions.
    • Larry McMurtry's ability to develop relatable characters has made him a critically acclaimed and popular writer, allowing readers to deeply connect with his stories.
    • Larry McMurtry's writing style prioritizes exploring the complexities of human actions and experiences, showcasing the enduring courage of characters in chaotic situations, while highlighting the importance of friendship and the portrayal of heroic women.
    • Lonesome Dove" is a captivating novel about two aging Texas Rangers embarking on an adventurous cattle drive, highlighting the importance of character development and drawing inspiration from real-life figures and literary classics.
    • Lonesome Dove critiques traditional Western tropes, focusing on nuanced character development and a reimagined concept of heroism, while also highlighting the impact of manifest destiny and environmental devastation on the naturalistic world.
    • The book provides a deeper understanding of the characters' thoughts and emotions, highlighting the importance of capturing interior lives in storytelling and the need to adapt to constant change.
    • Augustus McCrae's character strikes a unique balance between indulgence and heroism, making him a truly captivating and relatable character for readers.
    • Embrace the unpredictability of life with a positive outlook or find meaning in enduring difficult experiences; face challenges head-on and find purpose.
    • Despite the challenges posed by societal changes, individuals can find new purpose and relevance by adapting and embracing new virtues and opportunities.
    • The novel highlights the importance of embracing virtues, balancing duty and living in the moment, and challenging societal norms to experience true personal growth.
    • True friendship involves seeing beyond dissimilarities, accepting flaws, and supporting personal growth, allowing individuals to be themselves and support one another through challenges.
    • How one's attractiveness and potential for growth can affect how their passive behavior is perceived by others.
    • McMurtry's portrayal of women in "Lonesome Dove" breaks down gender boundaries and showcases female perseverance, encouraging readers to see women as equal in courage and resilience.
    • True happiness lies in accepting the realities of life, both the joyful moments and the inevitable difficulties, as portrayed in McMurtry's "Lonesome Dove.
    • Although the death of a beloved character brings sadness, it also emphasizes the importance of friendship and human connection, leaving a positive impression on readers.

    📝 Podcast Summary

    Exploring the Power of Adventure and Human Character in Lonesome Dove

    Larry McMurtry's Lonesome Dove is a significant literary masterpiece that combines elements of adventure, storytelling, and deep exploration of human character. McMurtry's upbringing on a ranch in North Texas, surrounded by oral storytelling traditions and an early discovery of adventure novels, influenced his development as a writer. His educational background in literature and exposure to renowned writers further enriched his understanding of the literary tradition. Lonesome Dove, known for its portrayal of complex characters like Augustus McCrae and Woodrow Call, explores themes of friendship, stoicism, and the Western experience. Despite not having a conventionally happy ending, the novel is considered life-affirming, displaying the author's deep understanding of human nature and the complexities of relationships. This conversation sheds light on the profound literary contributions of Larry McMurtry and the enduring impact of Lonesome Dove.

    Larry McMurtry's success: the power of relatable characters.

    Larry McMurtry's success as both a critically acclaimed and popular writer can be attributed to his masterful portrayal of characters and their inner lives. McMurtry's focus on character development, influenced by British social novels of the 19th century, allows readers to deeply connect with his stories. His ability to render friendships, even if they are dysfunctional, creates a sense of identification and friendship among readers. Unlike other authors who are philosophically preoccupied, McMurtry's writing explores the human condition through relatable characters and their experiences. This emphasis on character-driven narratives, reminiscent of Jane Austen's works, has made McMurtry's books adaptable to the screen and has garnered him both critical and popular acclaim.

    Examining Human Actions Through Character-Driven Stories

    Larry McMurtry's writing emphasizes the importance of examining human actions and experiences rather than taking philosophical positions. Unlike authors like McCarthy and Melville who directly address philosophical questions, McMurtry focuses on characters living their lives and the ideas and thoughts that naturally arise in those experiences. His writing style is character-driven, filled with snappy dialogue, and often explores themes of change, chaos, and friendship. Additionally, McMurtry redefines heroism by highlighting the enduring courage of both male and female characters in the face of chaos. His emphasis on humor and the portrayal of heroic women characters further adds depth to his work.

    A Journey through the Wild West

    "Lonesome Dove" is a complex journey narrative that tells the story of two Texas Rangers who are past their prime. The novel is set during the great cattle era in the late 19th century, and the Rangers decide to take a large herd of cattle north to the Montana territory. Along the way, they encounter various adventures and misadventures, with ancillary characters playing a significant role in the story. While the characters in "Lonesome Dove" are fictional, author Larry McMurtry drew inspiration from the lives of famous cattle ranchers of the time. Additionally, McMurtry cites Miguel de Cervantes' "Don Quixote" as a basis for the main characters, with Augustus McCrae embodying the romantic idealist and Woodrow Call representing the pragmatist.

    Challenging and Redefining the Western Genre in Lonesome Dove.

    Lonesome Dove, a novel by Larry McMurtry, serves as a parody and critique of the Western genre while also redefining and enriching it. McMurtry aims to challenge the Western's embrace of manifest destiny and its lack of consciousness towards environmental devastation. The characters in Lonesome Dove are initially portrayed in a comic and non-heroic light but are later tested and demonstrated as heroes on their journey. McMurtry's portrayal of heroism in the novel differs from the prototypical Western hero, as it focuses on enduring challenges and standing up against a larger naturalistic world. Additionally, the main characters, Gus and McCrae, exhibit a propensity for violence that is less justifiable compared to traditional Western heroes. It is important to acknowledge and delve into the nuances of character and the re-conceptualization of heroism in the novel, especially when comparing it to its popular mini-series adaptation.

    Exploring the Characters' Internal Conflicts in Lonesome Dove

    Reading the book Lonesome Dove in addition to watching the mini-series provides a deeper understanding of the characters' internal conflicts and emotions. The book, written in third-person omniscient, allows readers to access the characters' thoughts and experiences, which are not fully portrayed in the mini-series. This highlights the importance of capturing the interior lives of characters and their responses to the chaotic and ever-changing nature of their experiences. The setting of the American West serves as a unique backdrop for exploring how people respond to chaos, with its aridity and transient nature symbolizing the constant movement and change intrinsic to the American experience as a whole. Therefore, by delving into literature that explores themes of friendship, complexity, and adaptation in such settings, readers gain valuable insights into the human condition and the need to adapt to the reality of constant change.

    The Pleasure and Heroism of Augustus McCrae

    Augustus McCrae's character embodies a balance between indulgence and heroism. As an Epicurean, he embraces pleasure and lives in the moment, finding joy in simple pleasures like whiskey, buttermilk, and meaningful conversations. However, when faced with challenges, he exhibits stoic qualities, demonstrating bravery, calmness, and adaptability. McCrae's heroic side shines through when he fights off dangerous men without losing his composure and when he showcases his wisdom and wit while trying to win over Lorena. The depth of his friendship with Woodrow Call is revealed in their final moments, emphasizing that their differences do not overshadow their bond. This balance between pleasure and heroism in McCrae's character sets him apart and makes him appealing to readers.

    Two perspectives on life's challenges - going with the flow or organizing the chaos.

    Life can be unpredictable and filled with suffering, but it is our duty to face it with courage and endurance. Augustus McCrae and Woodrow Call, the two main characters in "Lonesome Dove," embody different philosophical perspectives - Augustus being the Epicurean and Call being the stoic. Augustus views life as a twisting stream, where one must go with the flow and make the best out of unpredictable situations. On the other hand, Call believes in organizing the chaos of life through the ritual of work, finding meaning in accomplishing tasks and enduring difficult experiences. Both perspectives highlight the importance of finding purpose and facing challenges head-on, even when life seems overwhelming or futile.

    Navigating the struggle between tradition and modernity

    Individuals can feel lost and listless when their purpose and the virtues they possess become irrelevant in a changing world. Just like Call in the novel "Lonesome Dove," who is a victim of his own history and struggles to find a place for his traditional virtues in a modern society, many people today face similar challenges. This theme is not limited to literature, as we can observe it in real-life situations, such as former industrial towns where tradesmen and factory workers become obsolete due to mechanization and outsourcing. American literature has long explored the theme of work and the dynamic alteration of experience in a nation defined by perpetual change. However, the conversation also highlights that there is hope in finding new relevance and purpose, even when traditional virtues no longer hold immediate value.

    Exploring Virtues and Personal Growth in the Novel

    The novel invites us to embrace virtues that transcend time and circumstances. Woodrow Call represents duty, while Augustus McCrae represents living in the moment and embracing experience. However, Call's inability to claim his son, Newt, reveals his character's addiction to control and stoicism. Call defines his humanity by stoic endurance, but it is his moment of intimacy with Maggie that challenges this definition. Despite his protective behavior towards Newt, his deep emotional attachment remains hidden due to his value system and societal norms of the 19th century. The relationship between Gus and Woodrow further emphasizes the enduring bond they share despite the passage of time.

    Friendship goes beyond differences and embraces shared humanity.

    True friendship transcends differences and embraces the common humanity between individuals. Despite their contrasting personalities and interests, Augustus and Woodrow remained close friends because they were able to see beyond their dissimilarities. McMurtry's exploration of friendship shows that it is easy to establish a bond based on shared interests, but genuine friendship goes beyond that. It involves recognizing and accepting each other's uncertainties, flaws, and desires for personal growth. Gus and Call's friendship was built on mutual respect, affection, and the willingness to encourage each other to reach their full potential. True friendship withstands the test of time and challenges, allowing individuals to be themselves and support one another through thick and thin.

    Contrasting Perceptions of Passivity

    Both July Johnson and Jake Spoon share a passive approach to life's complexities and changes. However, their passivity is received differently by others. While July's passivity arouses contempt from everyone he encounters, Jake's passivity is seen as rascally and somewhat charming. One reason for this difference is that Jake possesses charisma and physical attractiveness, which makes him likable despite his contemptible qualities. On the other hand, July, who is younger and burdened with great responsibility as a sheriff, is expected to show potential and take action. The frustration towards July arises from the hope that he will realize his potential and act differently. Ultimately, July's age and the potential for growth make his inaction more disappointing, while Jake's laziness and self-serving behavior leave little hope for change.

    Challenging gender roles and redefining heroism in "Lonesome Dove

    McMurtry's portrayal of women in "Lonesome Dove" challenges traditional gender roles and redefines heroism. While the male characters in the book endure hardships, the women, like Lori and Clara Allen, also display immense courage and fortitude in the face of adversity. Clara, in particular, exemplifies a balance between practicality and a desire for a better life. She endures the loss of her husband and sons, just as the male characters endure their own challenges. McMurtry's depiction of Clara and Lori breaks down gender boundaries, showing that heroism is not exclusive to men. This exploration of female perseverance and heroism adds depth and complexity to the story, and encourages readers to see women as equal in courage and resilience.

    Embracing the Complexity of Life: Logic and Sentiment in Austen and McMurtry's Novels

    Life is a complex blend of different emotions and experiences. Both Jane Austen and Larry McMurtry explore the combination of logic and sentiment in their novels, emphasizing the importance of thinking with your head while also having a heart. In McMurtry's "Lonesome Dove," the absence of traditional happy endings doesn't mean the book is unhappy, but rather reflects the realities of life. We often desire happy moments and endings, but true happiness is incomplete without acknowledging the inevitability of aging and mortality. The characters in the book live and die, representing the genuine nature of life's ups and downs. It is this authenticity that draws us to books like "Lonesome Dove," even though they may not have traditional happy endings.

    The power of friendship and human connection in the face of tragedy

    The death of beloved character Josh Deets in the novel brings about a sense of sadness and tragedy. However, his legacy lies in the genuine love and camaraderie he inspired among the group of men, such as Augustus McCrae and Woodrow Call. This moment of communion in his death highlights the importance and redemptive power of friendship and human connection. As a reader of literature, this kind of ending, though not necessarily happy, leaves a positive impression, as it captures the depth and complexity of human experience. To learn more about Steven Frye's work, one can visit his website at stevenfrye.org or reach out to him via email for further discussion.

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