Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)

*Missouri River

*Missouri River. Great river of the upper Midwest and northern Great Plains that provides the first stage of Caudill’s route to the West. It also serves as a test during his passage from youth to adulthood. As a crew member on a small trading vessel, a keelboat, he experiences the daily toil of rowing, poling, and dragging the boat against the unpredictable and often dangerous currents of the river. He also witnesses the unequal relationship between the European American traders and the Native Americans whose lands and ways of life are threatened by the westward expansion of white commerce and settlement. The constant potential for violence between whites and Indians contrasts with Caudill’s growing love for the pristine landscape of river, bluff, hill, and prairie. The sky and the earth soon seem to him “the ceiling and floor of a home that was all his own.”

Although the Missouri is a tributary of the Mississippi River, it is longer than the Mississippi. It also passes through more varied terrain and has more picturesque tributaries—most notably the Yellowstone River. However, the literary importance of the river is the fact that it has its source in the Rocky Mountains, whose majestic peaks and serene valleys are Caudill’s unspoken goal. The river is a road to both worldly and spiritual fulfillment, though Boone himself is unable to put his yearnings into words for himself or his companions.

*Teton River

*Teton River (TEE-tawn). Tributary of the Missouri River that rises in northwest-central Montana. The captain of Caudill’s keelboat sets out from St. Louis intending to reach the most northern tributaries of the Missouri, where he could trade...

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(Great Characters in Literature)

Astro, Richard. “The Big Sky and the Limits of Wilderness Fiction.” Western American Literature (Summer, 1974): 105-114. Reasons that The Big Sky fails as a nostalgic historical novel depicting a tragic hero falling. Boone Caudill, a one-dimensional character who is ignorant of the effect of time on historical details, cannot learn from friends or enemies, cannot gain wisdom, and symbolizes bankrupt primitivism.

Cracroft, Richard H. “The Big Sky: A. B. Guthrie’s Use of Historical Sources.” Western American Literature 6 (Fall, 1971): 163-176. Says Guthrie augments authenticity by writing into The Big Sky language, scenes, and incidents from works by Henry Marie Brackenridge, John Bradbury, Washington Irving, and George Frederick Ruxton, among others.

Ford, Thomas W. A. B. Guthrie, Jr. Boston: Twayne, 1981. Critical biography, chapter 3 of which treats The Big Sky in terms of its plot, Guthrie’s purposes (to present facts about mountain men; to convey his love of the West), the novel’s landscape pictures, its themes, (destructive violence and encroachment of civilization), its Calvinistic meditations, and its unadorned handling of time and space.

Gale, Robert L. “Guthrie’s The Big Sky.” Explicator 38 (Summer, 1980): 7-8. Sees Jim Deakins’ offer of his own flesh to feed Boone Caudill and the goat’s gift of blood to Boone as forming a Holy Eucharist which Boone ignorantly spurns, resulting in unsociablity and natural desolation.

Stewart, Donald C. “The Functions of Bird and Sky Imagery in Guthrie’s The Big Sky.” Critique: Studies in Modern Fiction 19, no. 2 (1977): 53-61. Presents interlocking bird and sky similes and metaphors as transforming a well-organized novel into coherent, imaginative art. Images individualize characters and actions, underline moods, and elucidate themes.