Date of Completion


Document Type

Honors College Thesis



Thesis Type

College of Arts and Science Honors, Honors College

First Advisor

Dona Brown


frontier, westward expansion, frontier fiction, Rolvaag, Cather, Wilder


In American history, the idea of the frontier is both history and mythology. Some scholars approach the topic from a historical perspective, others from a literary one. Historian Frederick Jackson Turner’s famous “Frontier Thesis” (1893) occupies that same liminal space, resting somewhere between the quantifiable history of the frontier and the symbolic frontier in American culture. Turner is not responsible for the romanticized ideal of the frontier—that version of the frontier had existed long before he wrote. What Turner produced was an attempt to capture the imagined frontier, during a time when America was moving away from its actual frontier experiences. In my work, I will use Turner’s ideas about the frontier as a template to explore the idealized version of the frontier as an important feature of American literature. If we treat the Frontier Thesis simply as one version of an ongoing cultural and literary tradition, rather than as a historical hypothesis, it can help us to examine how the myth of the frontier manifested itself in American popular literature. There are hundreds of American books about the frontier, but here I will focus on three: Giants in the Earth (1927) by Ole Rølvaag; O Pioneers! (1913) by Willa Cather; and Little House on the Prairie (1935) by Laura Ingalls Wilder. Each explores a similar tension between the frontier characteristic Turner described as “restlessness” and the pull toward permanence and domesticity.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.