Riders of the Purple Sage, Grey’s most popular novel, develops the character types he would use for another twenty-seven years. The reading public responded so well to these characters and their stories that Grey became one of America’s best-selling authors.
Jane Withersteen is the frontier woman—strong and independent but tolerant of others, courageous but vulnerable to the assaults of evil men, dependable but adaptable. The central conflict in the novel is hers, the conflict between her commitment to her religion and her commitment to the man she loves. Lassiter is the typical Grey hero, an uncomplicated man of the West. He has no internal conflict. He has no doubts as to what the solution to his problem should be. He will find the man who stole his sister away into Mormon slavery and kill him. He has an additional and higher motivation for gunning down Bishop Dyer—the bishop’s and Elder Tull’s mistreatment of Jane—but his violent resolution would have been the same had he never met Jane.
Venters and Bess are the novel’s ingénues. In this young non-Mormon’s loyalty to Jane Withersteen and his defiance of the Mormon majority (he is referred to throughout the text as a “Gentile”), he represents the struggle of the individual against tyranny. Bess is one of several Grey females who romantically, and implausibly, disguise themselves as male riders. The lack of coarseness in her nature, her purity even...
(The entire section is 484 words.)