An enormously entertaining classic, THE WAY WEST brings to life the adventure of the western passage and the pioneer spirit. The sequel to THE BIG SKY, this celebrated novel charts a frontiersman's return to the untamed West in 1846. Dick Summers, as pilot of a wagon train, guides a group of settlers on the difficult journey from Missouri to Oregon. In sensitive but unsentimental prose, Guthrie illuminates the harsh trials and resounding triumphs of pioneer life. With THE WAY WEST, he pays homage to the grandeur of the ...
An enormously entertaining classic, THE WAY WEST brings to life the adventure of the western passage and the pioneer spirit. The sequel to THE BIG SKY, this celebrated novel charts a frontiersman's return to the untamed West in 1846. Dick Summers, as pilot of a wagon train, guides a group of settlers on the difficult journey from Missouri to Oregon. In sensitive but unsentimental prose, Guthrie illuminates the harsh trials and resounding triumphs of pioneer life. With THE WAY WEST, he pays homage to the grandeur of the western wilderness, its stark and beautiful scenery, and its extraordinary people.
A.B. Guthrie's "The Way West" (1949) is a western historical novel that describes a journey on the Oregon Trail in 1845. In 1950, the book received the Pulitzer Prize, and in 1968 it was made into a movie. The book is part of a series of western novels by Guthrie (1901 -- 1991) of which this book and its predecessor, "The Big Sky" are the best known.
For many years, my work had a great deal to do with the American west and with American history. If I had known this novel, perhaps I would have had a fuller, more informed perspective on what I was about. In a simple, rough prose, Guthrie explores the characters of the early American pioneers who risked the arduous journey to Oregon and their motivations for doing so. The book describes the hardships of the journey in terms of difficult terrain ranging from desert to rivers and mountains, illness, stampedes and rattlesnakes. Much of the novel is about the relationship between the settlers and the various Indian tribes. The book is replete with scenic descriptions from sand and barenness to majesty. The story at times moves forcefully and with drama and tension while in other places like an old wagon train it seems to plod along. The book is told in a third-person narrative voice, but Guthrie frequently gets inside his characters as they discuss or meditate on intimate thoughts.
The book begins in Independence, Missouri in 1845 as a group of residents gather together to risk the long journey. Most of the primary characters get introduced early, and they are fleshed-out and differentiated as the book progresses. The three major figures are Tadlock, an ambitious, agressive former politician from Illinois, Lije Evans, a farmer with a wife Rebecca and 17-year old son, and Dick Summers, a former mountain man familiar with the ground who is hired to pilot the wagon train to Oregon. Leadership and its nature forms a strong theme in the book. Tadlock initially is chosen as the leaders of the expedition, but the travelers rebel at his arbitrary and frequently harsh decisions. A reluctant Evans becomes the leader in his stead and gradually gains the confidence and wisdom that comes with maturity. With his knowledge and tact, the mysterious Summers is the key to the successful navigation of the trail.
The book describes the many different reasons that people often pulled up roots and undertook a long, dangerous journey with no guarantees at the end. The search for a better life, restlessness, and a belief in the United States, among other things, played roles. Near the mid-point of the book, Evans meditates on his own reasons and "yonderings" for the trip and those of his companions.
"Again he felt greatness, smallness and greatness both among such wild riches. And, seeing the train widing behind him, he thought with pride of it, of the onwardness of its people, of their stubborn, unthough-out yondering. It wasn't a thing for reason, this youndering, but for the heart, where secrets lay deep and mixed. Money? Land? New chances? Patriotism? All together they weren't enough. In the beginning, that is, they weren't enough, but as a man went on it came to him how wide and wealthy was his country, and the pride he had talked about at first became so real he lost the words for it."
Much later in the journey, Evans reflects again on the gritty persistence required to undertake the trip and to reach the goal:
"Now when they were about to come to it again, to lower down the bluff and try the ford, Evans told himself that if any train could get to Oregon, this one could. It had the best pilot that he knew of, best man and pilot both. Its stock was poor but no poorer than would come behind. Its wagons were as good as others would be by the time they reached the ford. But it was the men he counted on, the men and women and spirit of the company. They had their faults, he knew. They had their differences and sometimes spoke severe, what with sand in their teeth and worries in their heads, but they wished well for one another and they hung together. Lere where sometimes he heard the trains split up, old On-to-Oregon stayed one."
Besides describing the hardships of the journey and the nature of leadership, the novel perceptively discusses gender roles, (women receive a large, highly sympathetic portrayal in the book for their efforts on the trail, for their fortitude, and for their relationships with men), sexuality and its difficulties along the way, religion, and the tortured relationship between the settlers and the many different Indian tribes en route and at the destination in Oregon.
"The Way West" seems to me part of a long tradition of American "road" novels from "Huckleberry Finn" through "On the Road" in addition to being a historical novel and a western. The book offers a positive, largely heroic vision of the American ideal, as befitting a winner of the Pulitzer Prize. Although the characters are frequently flawed and selfish, their collective story and vision are inspiring. "The Way West" is a moving novel that will encourage reflection on character, the settlement of the American west, and the American experience.
May 6, 2010
one of the greatest western stories
I deal in western literature both fiction and non fiction which I sell in my western antique business. When people ask me for a recommended wetern book I ALWAYS point them to the Way West. It won a pulitzer prize and after reading it, you'll know why.
I tell people that if they can read the episode about the little boy who gets bit by the rattle snake and not get choked up over the frantic efforts to save him, just bring the book back and I would buy it back.
It's the story of people investing everything they have in moving west and risking everything in doing it. Their trials and tribulations and small joyful victories comprise the story. Their real life experiences are portrayed by fictional characters that you get to know and care for.
Don't miss the chance to read it.
Jun 27, 2009
O.K. but not really worth the time
Unfortunately, just as in "The Big Sky", there were a number of plot angles that were never carried out to a logical conclusion.
Nov 19, 2008
Not a bad book, but not nearly as good in my opinion as The Big Sky. The characters and story line were all much weaker in this book.
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