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Guns and the City: Guns in American Books and Movies

15 Feb 2013

The romance of the gun The gun has long been a symbol of power and masculinity in America. The figure of the gun-toting frontiersman in popular literature was created by James Fenimore Cooper in his adventure tales The Last of the Mohicans (1826) and The Deerslayer (1840). By the late 1800s, cowboy and Wild West imagery had become part of the collective imagination. A female cowboy, Calamity Jane (1852-1903) featured in Edward Wheeler’s Deadwood Dick dime novels from 1877. The first American female superstar, Annie Oakley (1860-1926) was a sharpshooter from Ohio who toured the country from 1885 as a performer in Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show. (The musical Annie Get Your Gun (1946) was a fictional account of her life.) The archetypal cowboy hero was established largely by Theodore Roosevelt’s The Winning of the West (1889-95), a history of the early frontier, and by Owen Wister in stories and novels, most notably The Virginian (1902). The image of the swaggering, gunslinging cowboy was also popularized by early cinema, notably through such classics as The Great Train Robbery (1903) and A California Hold Up (1906), the most commercially successful film of the pre-nickelodeon era. Since the 1930s, gangster films have…