Essay The Cowboy Figure

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The Cowboy Figure

The figure of the cowboy is prominent, not only in America’s history, but also in contemporary society. The cowboy has always been regarded as the epitome of freedom, machismo and individuality, and his character maintains a certain romantic quality about it. Riding the range with his trusty horse, forging the frontier, and exposing himself to the mercy of the wilderness, the cowboy lives for himself alone and yet he lives the life about which the rest of society can only fantasize. The cowboy, fearless hero of the West, has become a cultural icon. One literary critic, Sara Spurgeon, sums up the cowboy fantasy by saying that:

the figure of the cowboy personifies America’s most cherished myths--combining ideas
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Civilization itself, as it pushed westward, caused the cowboy to move further out on the frontier where he could find things a little less restricted, a little more free” (63). This transient lifestyle and need for freedom and space is vital to the cowboy’s subsistence. Such a lifestyle, however, is unrealistic for the majority of people in today’s society, which is why they look to the cowboy to fulfill their fantasies, and by following his adventures they are able to live vicariously through him. Not only is the cowboy unrestrained by physical barriers, but he is also free from societal barriers and laws. On the frontier, the cowboy is beyond the law, and as Lambert argues, he is “beyond any law except for that of his own making” (63). Lambert goes on to describe the ‘Cowboy Code’ and the restrictions placed on the individual cowboy by himself and his peers. This code includes guidelines concerning the use of another cowboy’s horse, the settlement of debts and bills before a move, the responsibility to feed and shelter even an enemy should he be in need during a storm, and other similar obligations of the cowboy’s duty. The ‘Cowboy Code,’ according to Lambert, is rather extensive and at times very detailed, indicating that the authentic cowboy is perhaps not as free as the general public understand him to be. However, these restrictions seem inconsequential to an outsider when

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