English 321 – Frontier Literature

Grant T. Smith, Ph. D.

Gabriel’s Story – Discussion Questions


·        Do some research of the role the African American played in the “West.  Was there a “Black Cowboy?”  How many freed slaves moved West to start a new life?  How successful were they?  What literature addresses this topic?  To begin your research look at http://www.coax.net/people/lwf/bkcowboy.htm 


·        Compare the beginning of Gabriel’s Story to the beginning of My Antonia.  How are the representations of the West similar?  How are they different?  What do the differences signify to the reader?  In other words, what did the West mean to this15-year-old Black boy?  And what did the West mean to Jim, the narrator of My Antonia?


·        Does race even play a role in this book?  If so, how?  Or is the book just another western that follows a traditional western formula?


·        There are many “homes” in this novel.  How is the house or “homestead” represented?


·        How is the landscape(s) represented in the novel?


·        Gabriel’s Story is a narrative of a boy’s journey across a part of the West.  In what ways does the novel fit the traditional “bildungsroman” novel?  What obstacles does Gabriel face?  How does he overcome them?  What does he learn?  Does he experience any kind of epiphany?


·        Flannery O’Connor is an American writer who has been criticized for the violence in her work.  She justifies it by claiming that it often takes this “jarring” of our sensibilities to allow us to see truth.  How does Durham use violence in this book?  How is it different from the violence in Shane?  Find passages to support your argument.


·        In many ways, Marshall (now there is an ironic name) is a great philosopher.  Is he the great modern agnostic existentialist?  How does he see the world?  What do you make of his philosophy regarding “grace” for example (pp. 160-161)?  What are the flaws in his thinking?  How is he an American grotesque?


·        Comment on Durham’s use of language.  Does he capture the Western idioms?  Cite examples of passages of discourse that strike you as being impressively lyrical or absurd.


·        How does David Anthony Durham present the universe in Gabriel’s Story?  In other words, what is the human condition in this tough novel?