Critical Context

Much of Larry McMurtry’s work is a continuing examination of life in modern Texas, both rural (as in The Last Picture Show, 1971, and Texasville, 1987) and urban (as in All My Friends Are Going to Be Strangers, 1972, and Terms of Endearment, 1975). Much of the remainder, including Lonesome Dove, is an attempt to understand the frontier past. Other McMurtry novels set in the nineteenth century include Anything for Billy (1988), an account of the life of Billy the Kid, and Streets of Laredo (1992), a sequel to Lonesome Dove. The characters Augustus, Woodrow, and Deets are based on the real plainsmen Oliver Loving, Charles Goodnight, and Bose Ikard. Many of the features of the trail drive are suggested by events described in Teddy Blue’s We Pointed Them North (1939), but McMurtry’s novel is an ironic account of these lives and adventures. McMurtry’s modern Texas novels are filled with a sense of frustration and dissatisfaction, as if Texas had once been a place where one could find fulfillment but, because of the collapse of frontier values, one no longer can. Lonesome Dove, most of the characters of which remain frustrated, suggests that the root of the problem may lie not in historical changes but in the male psyche, since Clara, with her self-reliance and her happiness in her involvement in the lives of those around her, is the most fully developed and fulfilled character.