Study Guide

Lonesome Dove Man and the Natural World

By Larry McMurtry

Man and the Natural World

You've heard the romantic cowboy song "Home on the Range." Oh, give me a home where the buffalo roam, where the deer and the antelope play. Where seldom is heard a discouraging word, and the skies are not cloudy all day.

There are other lyrics you might not know, like how the air is so pure, and the zephyrs so free, the breezes so balmy and light or the Red man was pressed from this part of the West, he's likely no more to return.

This song is wishful thinking at best, and chock full of lies at worst. As Lonesome Dove shows us, men may long for this romantic vision of the West, but it doesn't exist. The buffalo are dead. Deer and antelope might play, but so do grizzly bears and water moccasins. You may not hear a discouraging word, but you sure will hear gunshots as "the Red man" driven from their own lands come back to reclaim it. And the weather? Let's not even talk about the weather. It's like the seven Biblical plagues out there.

A home on the range might sound nice, but we imagine most people will be rushing for "all the cities so bright" after they see how dangerous it is on those plains.

Questions About Man and the Natural World

  1. What elements of nature do the cowboys find beautiful? What do they fear? Are there any elements that are both beautiful and scary?
  2. Who prefers to be in nature, and why? Which characters would rather stay in a town like Lonesome Dove?
  3. How is the wilderness in the book different from the wilderness today? Is there anything like a cattle drive today?
  4. Which is more dangerous, the environment or the people in it?

Chew on This

Men at this time have to strike a delicate balance. By settling in the wilderness, they are a part of nature, but they are also civilizing it, thereby eliminating it.

Lonesome Dove shows us the romantic side of nature without romanticizing it. Both nature and civilization are important in balance.

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