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(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

Though Proulx's social concerns center on the peculiar privations suffered by Wyoming residents, thematically Close Range takes up issues pertaining to the universal traits of human nature. Even while they struggle against the harsh Wyoming environment, the characters in Proulx's stories try to situate themselves in a larger society. Sometimes, the characters yearn for general acceptance, sometimes the fight takes place on a smaller scale as individuals deal with familial strife.

One of the principal ways in which the characters of Close Range try to fit in involves meeting the expectations of gender. Proulx suggests that Wyoming's culture places particular emphasis on masculinity, but men's need to demonstrate their manliness permeates all cultures. Her treatment of this subject, then, is truly a thematic one. Perhaps the most obvious examples of men self-consciously trying to assert their masculinity can be found in "The Mud Below" and "Job History." In the first story Diamond reacts against the jeers he receives as a child by engaging in a hyper-masculine profession: bull riding. As a youth, Diamond's diminutive size put him at a disadvantage: "five-foot three, rapping, tapping, nail-biting, he radiated unease. A virgin at eighteen—not many of either sex in his senior class in that condition—his tries at changing the situation went wrong." Throughout the story, Proulx suggests that Diamond's actions are a response to the stigma associated with smallness and delicacy. In whatever way possible, Diamond tries to puff himself up, asserting his manhood in an effort to gain the acceptance his size denied him. Though the rodeo is a peculiarly western mode for asserting masculinity, men and boys in all cultures strive to demonstrate their prowess in some way. For Leeland Lee, protagonist of "Job History," sex becomes a powerful tool for asserting both his masculinity and his age. Robbed of a stable father figure, Leeland marries his...

(The entire section is 476 words.)