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Last Updated on September 5, 2023, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 564

Larry McMurtry’s novel Buffalo Girls, written in 1990, tells the somewhat fictionalized version of the wild adventures of real-life American West legends such as Martha (Calamity) Jane, Buffalo Bill Cody, and Wild Bill Hickock. Combined with characters of McMurtry’s own creation, such as beaver trappers Bartle Bone and Jim Ragg, Native American No Ears, madam Dora DuFran and her true love, the rancher Blue, these folks are friends of Calamity and important to the story development in Buffalo Girls.

The book has several themes and important quotes related to them. Chapter 7 starts out with Jim Bartle’s quote, “I suppose life’s harder for women.” This pretty much sums up one of the book’s major themes of feminist theory. Calamity Jane was famous for dressing as a man and so is McMurtry’s character Calamity. So much so that she even somewhat fools Bartle and Jim into wondering about her true identity. Why did she do this? Well, wouldn’t it have been easier for her during that rowdy, male-dominated society to dress and act as a man? She looked and acted the part, with her shooting and knife skills, her rough manner, and yes, her clothing. It was easier to pretend, and she enjoyed it. She needed to do this to survive and thrive.

Chapter 14 gives some background on the relationship between Calamity’s friends, Dora and Blue, who had fallen in love in Abilene. Dora is somewhat like Lorena, a pivotal character in McMurtry’s great tome Lonesome Dove. Like Lorena, Dora was also kind of stuck in a rut, wasting her beauty on a constant line of suitors. However, unlike Lorena, she had the opportunity to marry the love of her life, Blue, but instead chose to stay in Miles City because she claimed she didn’t want the life of rancher’s wife. It is clear that deep down her coarse lifestyle was more exciting than being stuck on a ranch for the rest of her life. Says Blue, “You was offered a hundred chances, and you didn’t come to risk it.” But she selfishly retorts, “I may have turned you down, but I never said I wanted you marrying someone else.” McMurtry excels at writing from a woman’s point of view, which is vividly highlighted in Dora’s complicated personality, showing the multidimensional nature of femininity.

Another important quote comes near the very end. Throughout the book, Calamity writes letters to her daughter Janey, whom she gave up for adoption as a baby because she knew her lifestyle was not compatible with being a mother. Her love for Janey is clear, and her voice to her is divulging and moving. In one of the book’s biggest twists, she reveals to Janey that Wild Bill was not her father (although she led everyone to believe this her whole life). She says, “Yet I wrote in this great love that never happened. I don’t recall that Wild Bill even spoke to me—if he did it was just to borrow a match or something.” She had talked about it so much that she had begun to believe it. But in reflection, she is remorseful and needs to tell Janey the truth, as she knows her death is near. She hopes this revelation will redeem her in the eyes of the daughter she never really knew.

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