The Frontier as Masculine Territory: Sam Hawken’s The Dead Women of Juárez in Context
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Contemporary adventure narratives—from westerns and war stories to thrillers and hard-boiled detective fictions—still insistently activate the myth of the frontier, which is offered as a space where men can achieve regeneration and a sense of purpose by indulging a form of masculinity based on violence and aggression. Increasingly, however, the frontier emerges as just a temporary respite and the violence of the protagonists ends up being self-destructive. Sam Hawken’s The Dead Women of Juárez (2011), a crime story situated on the US–Mexico border, is a case in point since the novel reveals the sterility of a myth that transports men to nostalgic spaces and past forms of masculinity rather than compel them to adjust to redefinitions of masculinity based on the incorporation of new (feminine) attributes. In this paper I analyse Hawken’s The Dead Women of Juárez alongside other contemporary texts which, like Hawken’s novel, locate the male protagonists in frontier scenarios, such as the television series The Shield (Fox 2002–2008), Deadwood (HBO 2004–2006), Jericho (CBS 2006–2008), Breaking Bad (AMC 2008–2013), Dexter (Showtime 2006–2013) and Fargo (FX 2014–). Iargue that, in spite of their deconstruction of the frontier ethos and associated forms of masculine behaviour, they do not contemplate an alternative form of heroic masculinity in a culture in which the lonesome cowboy is still a national icon.