The University of Wisconsin Press

Literature & Criticism / American Studies / Folklore & Mythology


Easterns, Westerns, and Private Eyes
American Matters, 1870–1900
Marcus Klein

"Marcus Klein makes major contributions to American studies, literary criticism, and intellectual and social history. In a perfectly crystalline and crystallized way, he brilliantly exhibits how the American imagination was rapidly, unexpectedly, and utterly transformed as we made for the twentieth century. Klein demonstrates how immigration, popular literature, the rise of ethnicity, new psychological fears, and old fables mixed together to make modern America. No one has seen the underside of the American imagination so clearly and originally; but once we are allowed to see what Klein does, our understanding of our history and its vicissitudes is changed for good."
—Jay Martin, University of Southern California

In Easterns, Westerns, and Private Eyes, Marcus Klein explores the sources and accumulated meanings of certain tales and figures that have dominated the American imagination: the Horatio Alger story, the western, and the figure of the private eye. With their distinguishing locales, costumes, and gestures, they emerged in the late nineteenth century as a response to massive immigration, the great expansion of industry and commerce, and the crowding of the cities. Klein argues that these figures appear so frequently and continuously in American expression, both high and low, as to constitute a definition of American culture.

Klein recovers originating impulses within these tales by examining a broad range of documents, including nickel and dime novels as well as specimens of "high" literature, police and detective memoirs, rogues' galleries, cowboy memoirs, nineteenth-century child and welfare studies, and old guides to the city. Discovered in the detail of their historical context, the source tales are surprisingly sophisticated, witty, and frequently cynical and ironic. Indeed, Klein points out, these stories simultaneously interrogate and integrate the national pieties embodied in their fictional figures.

Whatever yearnings the rags-to-riches story, the detective novel, and the Western fulfilled in their day, they are still endlessly repeated—in books, in the movies, on television every evening. In their beginnings these tales are open-ended, Klein contends, and they endure because they are still teasing and unfinished.

Marcus Klein is professor of English at State University of New York at Buffalo. He has taught at Barnard College, University of Toulouse, University of Paris–Vincennes, Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and the Bread Loaf School of English. He is the author of the widely acclaimed After Alienation: American Novels in the Mid-Century and more recently Foreigners: The Making of American Literature, 1900–1940.

Media & bookseller inquiries regarding review copies, events, and interviews can be directed to the publicity department at or (608) 263-0734. (If you want to examine a book for possible course use, please see our Course Books page. If you want to examine a book for possible rights licensing, please see Rights & Permissions.)

September 1994

LC: 94-005675 PS
232 pp. 6 x 9
20 halftones

The 1994 cloth edition of this book is out of print, and the paperback is currently out of stock.

Book icon
Paper $17.95 s
ISBN 978-0-299-14304-6
Shopping cart ADD TO CART
  Review cart contents
Secure checkout


Home | Books | Journals | Events | Textbooks | Authors | Related | Search | Order | Contact

If you have trouble accessing any page in this web site, contact our Web manager.

Updated November 1, 2011

© 2011, The Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System