Last Updated on September 5, 2023, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 356
Buffalo Girls is a novel by American writer Larry McMurtry. The book was published in 1990. Calamity Jane was a frontierswoman who became popular during Buffalo Bill's Wild West show and, later, the 1901 Pan-American Exposition in New York, and the novel features letters that she wrote to her daughter. The first major theme of the novel is Wild West culture; Calamity Jane—whose real name was Martha Jane Canary—worked as a scout in the Great Plains and western territories. Calamity Jane was a close friend of Wild Bill Hickok and other famous outlaws of the time. Calamity Jane's life was a mixture of both true historical accounts and Wild West mythology. Her experiences in the uncharted territories of the United States would later become sensationalized in the media and would eventually create her celebrity image as Calamity Jane.
A related major theme of the story is the struggle of women in an environment dominated by men. Through tenacity and perseverance, Calamity Jane would work as a scout in the frontier—a job that is rarely held by women—all the while encountering indigenous tribes who attacked non-native frontiersmen crossing their territories. Her celebrity status later in life was partly due to the novelty of a female gunslinger and pioneer. She was seen as a unique character that broke the stereotypes about the Wild West.
Another prominent theme of the book is motherhood. Though she gained notoriety from the media and the public as an outlaw, Calamity Jane stated that she never was one. In the book, the readers see a more intimate and sensitive person behind the aura of her reputation as Calamity Jane.
Yet another prominent theme in the book is the illusion of the Wild West. Calamity Jane and other famous figures of that bygone era exploited the public's obsession with the mythical Wild West. Contrary to what was sensationalized in media and literature, Calamity Jane and her contemporaries faced hardships and danger. In the end, wealthy entertainment moguls exploited Calamity Jane and her peers, thus marking the end of the Wild West mythology until Spaghetti Western films resurrected interest during the mid-twentieth century.