Mary Austin, The Land of Little Rain (1903)
- California writer Mary Austin's The Land of Little Rain marks a new appreciation for the American "wasteland" of the Southwestern desert, as well as a foundational document of Modernist American literature. More than that, however, it was a popular culture artifact, a collection of folklore and nature writing which was read and discussed far beyond the region it addressed. Readers of Austin flocked to the American Southwest in search of the "authentically" American experience--encounters with Southwestern Indian peoples and the rugged landscapes that they called home. In this selection from The Land of Little Rain, Austin presents a portrait of a small New Mexico town, "Las Uvas," or "The Town of the Grapes," where the residents are American and Mexican, Indian and Spanish, Catholic and pagan, all simultaneously.
- Questions to Think About:
- 1) How does Austin represent the culture of Las Uvas? What sorts of people are in the town, and what sorts of activities do they engage in?
- 2) What are the symbols of national identity--both "American" and Mexican--that Austin illustrates in this chapter? What is the purpose of her presenting these?
- 3) What can we learn about Austin's audience from what she writes?
- 4) How does Austin represent the idea of "syncretism"--the cultural practice of borrowing from other cultures while transforming that which is borrowed into a cultural product which is uniquely your own--in the Town of the Grapes? What is the purpose of syncretism in this culture? What causes it to happen?
- 5) How does Austin describe the desert in which this community lives, and why is that significant? How is this landscape similar to or different from other landscapes which we have seen so far?
- 6) In what ways is Austin's story a "Western"? Does it fit within the genre? How or how not does it do so?
Further resources and readings:
- Jacqueline D. Hall's Mary Hunter Austin from The Western Literature Association's A Literary History of the American West
- The Western Literature Association's A Literary History of the American West
- The University of Delaware's American Literary Theory Group's Mary Austin Site
- The Heath Anthology's Notes on Teaching Mary Austin provides excellent background from noted Southwest scholar Vera Norwood.
Prepared by Professor Catherine Lavender for Honors 502 (American Frontiers and Borderlands), Department of History, The College of Staten Island of The City University of New York. Send email to firstname.lastname@example.org
Last modified: Saturday, 19 August 2000.