Comparing Sexuality in Grey's Riders of the Purple Sage and Doctorow's Welcome to Hard Times

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Sexuality of the Frontierswoman in Grey's Riders of the Purple Sage and Doctorow's Welcome to Hard Times

The presentation of femininity in Doctorow's Welcome to Hard Times is a strong departure from the heroine of Zane Grey's Riders of the Purple Sage. Through the metaphor of the gun as the embodiment of masculinity, both authors closely examine the complexities of the sexualized relationship of a frontierswoman to the men of her society. Doctorow mirrors the tensions present in Grey's novel though Molly acts as an extraordinarily different vision of what the West required of a woman than Jane Withersteen. Both novels reach a sexual climax as the heroine engages the men of her society in a violent action of blood and birth.
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The book opens with the failure of Blue's manhood. He, bearing the title of 'Mayor,' failed to have both the courage and the skill to protect the town, especially the women, from the Bad Man. Molly mocks his failure even as she watches Blue "fill the cylinders of [his] gun": "Christ that Bad Man's the only man in town!...I can't believe it...using a lady, for Godsake, marching brave behind a lady's skirts" (Doctorow 16). This moment, with Blue symbolically taking up his manhood and with Molly simultaneously deriding his status as a man, encompasses much of the tension between the failed masculinity of the citizens of Hard Times and their feminine counterparts. Ultimately, Blue's gun fails him and he is saved from the Bad Man's superior skill and ruthlessness only by Molly's "struggling and pulling" (19).

Doctorow's portrayal of failed masculinity as the founding sin of Hard Times contrasts strongly with the more traditional Western. Zane Grey's Riders of the Purple Sage is a close parallel in many ways to the opening of Welcome to Hard Times. The scene opens with the Bad Man of the piece, Tull, preparing to whip Venters. Venters' failure to defend himself comes as a result of surrendering his guns to Jane's safekeeping. This symbolic castration leaves him at the mercy of the other men, and leaving him "behind a lady's skirts" (Doctorow 16). Jane risks herself and places herself in the enmity of the community by defending

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