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MonkeyNotes-The Ox-Bow Incident by Walter Van Tilburg Clark
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HISTORICAL INFORMATION

The Ox-Bow Incident is a novel about the American West in the period when it was expanding. Beginning with Mark Twain's Roughing It, published in 1872, the Western genre of literature became popular among American writers, including Bret Harte, Owen Wister, Hamlin Garland, O.E. Rolvaag, and Zane Grey. In the beginning, most of the fiction written about the West gave a romanticized picture of frontier life, almost like a tall tale. In the 20th century, however, all types of American literature became more realistic.


By the time that Clark wrote his novel in 1940, Western writers were depicting the gloomier side of the frontier. The Ox-Bow Incident is definitely a realistic presentation, with its cattle rustlers, bar room brawls, shootings, and lynchings - a far cry from the early romantic visions of the West. In fact, the lawlessness portrayed by Clark is a frightening picture of the dangers encountered by Western settlers. But the book also reaches a depth not attempted by earlier Western writers. Clark delves into moral issues, unlike the earlier Westerns that were mostly written for entertainment. In the process, he creates a psychological study of his characters that has given the novel lasting value. Many critics consider The Ox-Bow Incident to be the masterpiece written on the American West.

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