How is the contrast between Trampas and the Virginian represented in Wister's novel, The Virginian?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Owen Wister's novel The Virginian, recognized as the first authentic Western novel, portrays the protagonist who is known as the Virginian as a genuine, honest man who believes in the law of the land, even if it is rather harsh, such as the hanging of a friend of his who stole cattle. On the other hand, Trampas is an unconscionable individual described by watchers of a poker game in Medicine Bow in Part I as ""Cow-puncher, bronco-buster, tin-horn, most anything."

In this particular incident, the first meeting of the two, Trampas, who is losing to the Virginian challenges him on one hand after he raises the bet and other raises it further, and the Virginian quietly studying his cards, "Your bet, you son-of-a--." 

The Virginian's pistol came out, and his hand lay on the table,
holding it unaimed. And with a voice as gentle as ever, the voice
that sounded almost like a caress, but drawling a very little
more than usual, so that there was almost a space between each
word, he issued his orders to the man Trampas: "When you call me
that, SMILE." And he looked at Trampas across the table.

Further, the narrator feels that in that voice the "bell of death...ringing."

This incident sets the tone of the relationship of the Virginian and Trampas who finds himself under the supervision of the Virginian after the dark-haired man is appointed ranch foreman for Judge Henry. Trampas hates the Virginian because of having backed down from the threat given him at that poker game. The Virginian is rustic, but highly ethical as he adheres to the law, whereas Trampas is lacking in scruples, even criminal in the end.

On a return trip from taking cattle to stockyards in Chicago, the Virginian's men threaten to get off the train and seek gold in the Black Hills of the Dakotas. Discerning that the ringleader of this insurgency is Trampas, he devises a plan to discredit his enemy. When the train halts near a bridge, the Virginian brings back a bag of frogs to eat; while the sit around him, the Virginian tells a Twain-like tall tale that completely fools Trampas and his authority is again diminished as the men ridicule him for being gullible. Of course, this incident also increases Trampas's antipathy for the Virginian. But, wisely he keeps his enemy close to him rather than trying to fire him.

In a further incident, after sadly witnessing the hanging of his friend Steve, the cattle thief, the Virginian comes upon the trail of two cattle rustlers with only one horse, who happen to be Trampas and Shorty, two hands at the ranch. Later, Shorty is found murdered as Trampas has taken the horse. Later, when out riding with Molly, the Virginian sights Trampas on a lower road. Their eyes meet and Molly knows "that this was not enmity at first sight." Then in Chapter XXV, the Virginian, who has ridden to the town that he has seen Trampas approaching, enters a saloon and Trampas, who is there, challenges him. In classic Western fashion, the Virginian uses the pistol he once set upon a poker table and shoots the miscreant Trampas.