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Grand and ungrand narratives 

If stories are how we define our culture to ourselves, then what sorts of stories should Americans, and especially Westerners, be telling these days? That question is occupying the western literature aficionados on the Westlit listserv these days.

The Western story, particularly, has always been of the white male exploring and triumphing in strange lands. The basic themes bear surprising resemblance to classic myths from around the world. In the last 15 years, historians have pointed out how unfair that is to women, Indians, and other ethnic minorities. But the problem is: how do you tell a grand mythic story about multiculturalism?

It’s like making a movie about a committee. Moviegoers want to see bold individual action, not slow movement toward consensus. And even committees -- I know from working on them -- don’t work when you consciously try to include various interest groups. They work when people happen to have skills that mesh together -- skills that may or may not be related to their ethnic or social background.

I believe the answer is to keep the "grand narrative" form, while encouraging (though not forcing) it to apply to nontraditional heroes. It’s one of my ambitions for my forthcoming book "The Cowboy Girl."

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