English, Department of


Date of this Version

April 2005


Published in American Literary History 17:2 (2005), pp. 381–398. Copyright © 2005 Thomas Lynch. Published by Oxford University Press.


The "Southwest" is nearly always defined along the intersection of two axes, one cultural and the other natural. Certain characteristics of these two axes are obvious in the six works considered here. Culturally, the region is most distinguished from the rest of the US by the existence of two enduring ethnic communities, the indigenous and the Hispanic, with the presence of the Mexican border exerting a powerful influence. In very different ways, Molly H. Mullin’s Culture in the Market Place: Gender, Art, and Value in the American Southwest, Audrey Goodman’s Translating Southwestern Landscapes: The Making of an Anglo Literary Region, and J. Douglas Canfield’s Mavericks on the Border: The Early Southwest in Historical Fiction and Film address themselves to the influence of these indigenous and Hispano-Mexican communities and, especially, to the cultural and symbolic function they serve for their Anglo neighbors.

On the natural axis, aridity is the inescapable fact of life. Most of the region receives between four and sixteen inches of rain a year. Aridity—efforts to adapt to it and attempts to overcome it—underlies much of the region’s politics and culture. Aridity generates most of the region’s other distinctive natural characteristics as well, such as the unique flora and fauna, the stark ruggedness of the mountains, the dramatic visibility of the geologic strata, even the character of the light that so enamors artists. David N. Cassuto’s Dripping Dry: Literature, Politics, and Water in the Desert Southwest, Scott Slovic’s edited collection Getting Over the Color Green: Contemporary Environmental Literature of the Southwest, and Ellen Meloy’s The Last Cheater’s Waltz: Beauty and Violence in the Desert Southwest are all, in their different ways, considerations of aridity and its cultural and natural implications.