The Virginian

by Owen Wister

Start Free Trial

Student Question

What morality issues and conflicts are in Owen Wister's The Virginian?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Many questions of morality are raised all throughout Owen Wister's novel The Virginian. The first issues of morality concerns excessive vanity and the desire for revenge.

Vanity is especially displayed by Trampas early in the novel when, while playing cards with the Virginian, he loses and accuses the Virginian of cheating. The false accusation is a clear sign of Trampas's excessive vanity. We also know it is a false accusation for a couple of different reasons. First, no one else among the crowd supports Trampas's view that the Virginian cheated. Second, when Trampas insults the Virginian and the Virginian responds by drawing his gun, pointing it at Trampas and saying, "When you call me that, smile," Trampas actually backs down (p. 29). Trampas would only have been willing to back down if he had known all along that his accusation against the Virginian was actually false.

The immorality of the desire for revenge also shows up in Trampas's character. As the narrator warns us, "A public back-down is an unfinished thing,--for some natures at least" (p. 30). The narrator's warning becomes prophetic for, sure enough, the Virginian makes an enemy of Trampas. Trampas first demonstrates his desire for revenge when Judge Henry solicits the Virginian's help in leading a group of men to direct a train shipment of steer to the market. Trampas proves to be one of the men in the party, and, to spite the Virginian, he tries to get the men to desert the job to look for gold in the Black Hills instead. However, the Virginian successfully makes Trampas look foolish, and the men desert Trampas and stick to the job they'd been hired to do instead.

Trampas demonstrates his desire for revenge a second time when he challenges the Virginian to a duel when the Virginian and Molly arrive in Medicine Bow for their wedding day. But, of course, the Virginian prevails again.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Approved by eNotes Editorial