Library Dissertation Showcase

Buffalo Bill, popular culture and urban, working class masculinity in late nineteenth century America

  • Year of Publication:
  • 2019

This study investigates the representation of masculinity within popular culture in late nineteenth century America, through the examination of dime novels. It focuses on Western dime novels featuring Buffalo Bill, a popular fictional character. The material examined was produced between 1880 and 1900 and was primarily written by Colonel Prentiss Ingraham. Buffalo Bill’s portrayal is considered within the context of industrialization, urbanization and immigration which were responsible for creating anxieties surrounding the ‘decline’ of American manhood. This character’s depiction is also discussed in relation to the growing jingoist sentiments in America, the Cuban fight for independence and the Spanish-American war. This study gives insight into the images of masculinity that urban, working class men were exposed to during a time of significant social change and anxiety. Working class manhood during this period has been largely neglected by scholars, who have favoured discussions on middle class men. Buffalo Bill’s portrayal reveals how working class men consumed traditional images of masculinity, which experienced a wider cultural revival during this period. The extent to which these men were exposed to such images is revealed through the examination of other sources, including cheap penny newspapers, such as The New York Sun and The Evening World, and popular fiction. Popular discourse surrounding gender, race and age added to the complexity of portrayals of masculinity within dime novels. However, such portrayals did not strictly adhere to those which appeared more widely within popular culture. Popular imagery surrounding the American West was an important way for men, such as Theodore Roosevelt, to express idealized American masculinity. The relationship that was constructed between manhood and the West featured within popular culture, which was disseminated to urban, working class consumers.

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