Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 385
Wallace Stegner is generally recognized as one of our most important living American fiction writers, and in that fiction he has generally taken for his physical and moral landscape the geography of the American West. It is a part of the country that Stegner knows well, having been born and reared West of the Mississippi, and having lived most of his life there. In this collection of essays, Stegner looks at the changing nature of the West, at the alterations wrought upon landscape and character as reflected in its politics and economics and art.
The first section of WHERE THE BLUEBIRD SINGS deals with Stegner’s own life, tracing his path from his birth in Iowa, to his childhood in Canada and Montana, and on to his maturity in various parts of the country. More specifically, Stegner traces his personal development as a Westerner; the author probes his own nature and his own relationship with the Western landscape, seeking to understand its influence upon his private and artistic Self.
The second section of the book takes a broad and incisive look at the identity of the American West, at its stereotypes, its myths, and its transformations. Stegner notes that the only unity within the vastness of the region is aridity: Water, and the scarcity of water, identifies the West most precisely and dramatically. The West, says Stegner, is a region we have sought to shape in our own images, and so we have imposed our necessary myths upon it. What Stegner argues is that the direction in which the West is headed runs counter to nearly all of those cherished and inauthentic images.
The third and final portion of the book studies the literary art of the West, suggesting ways of reading that literature. Stegner emphasizes the need to understand the literature of the West as a product of a particular place and therefore infused with the spirit of that place. In his essays here on such writers as Walter Van Tilburg Clark and Norman Maclean, Stegner describes his own aesthetic vision and his impulses as a writer. He make special mention of the autobiographical element in his fiction, an element which he says especially allows for knowledge and truth-telling. It is that very knowledge and truth for which Stegner will continue to be known.
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