Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

“The Bunchgrass Edge of the World” is told in a third-person narrative voice that describes the principal character, Ottaline, in the austere context of three generations of a ranching family. The story displays both the external and internal conflicts of Ottaline. Her struggles with loneliness, obesity, identity, and coming to terms with the limitations of her place in the world eventually lead her to hold conversations with a dilapidated tractor. In the end, she marries the son of a cattle buyer and, on the eventual death of her father, is designated to become ranch manager.

Landscape is routinely a significant element in E. Annie Proulx’s stories. Her method is to portray the landscape in accurate detail so that the characters can become pronounced within the landscape. Landscape is almost a force of character for this author. It has a defining quality that accompanies the sparse dialogue of the characters. It has an omnipresent austerity that refuses to be molded to the wishes of the characters but rather bends them into submission. In this story, the landscape works to intensify the loneliness of Ottaline. She becomes an isolated being in a desert void of conversation. The limitations of her existence are physically reinforced by the place in which she was born and seems destined to live. She is forbidden to drive to town or ride to town, and she can only imagine the world to which her sister has escaped. Her brother is a wanderer who rejects the daily claims a ranch makes on its people. The landscape functions like a powerful voice, having its own consciousness, that constantly reminds Ottaline that her choices are few if any and that, like her father and grandfather, her life is to be in disparate communion with a stark place that diminishes human interaction and significance.

The story is about loneliness. Implicitly readers see the loneliness of Aladdin and Wauneta and each of the children, but the force of loneliness is displayed most powerfully...

(The entire section is 812 words.)