In Riders of the Purple Sage by Zane Grey, how are women depicted and are they realistic depictions? 

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thanatassa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Riders of the Purple Sage by Zane Grey is an interesting western novel in that though it treats many aspects of gender roles in a fairly conventional fashion, two of the strongest characters are in fact women. The plot details, being filled with coincidence, are generally not realistic.

The first example of a woman is Jane Withersteen, who in many ways serves as the moral compass of the book, torn between her need to see justice accomplished and her unwillingness to support the casual violence associated with it. While a limited number of wealthy women did own property in the west, the portrait of Jane seems idealized, especially in her fine moral sense and her ability to stand up to the stereotypical "evil Mormons". 

Bess, as the "masked rider" is a quite unrealistic character. One of the cliches of this sort of fiction is the woman who lives with a group of outlaws but still manages to retain her overwhelmingly important "purity" (virginity), showing signs of her gentle nature despite her rude upbringing. 

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Riders of the Purple Sage

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