Cowboys and detectives: mythologizing America
Adventure novels reflected myths of American individualism and opposition to tyranny and social privilege, arising from rebellion against the British. Western and detective stories in dime novels both feature simplistic morals, with heroes utilizing violence to defend family and community from criminals, often outside of the law. The stories are set on the edge of civilization: physically in the case of the American frontier, and socially in the case of urban crime. Social order is disrupted by crime and restored by the actions of the individual hero, not by the institutional machinery of law.
These genres of novel also reflected America’s contradictory myths about imperialism, which spread American technology and influence around the world, displacing or exterminating indigenous cultures, in the name of “civilization.” Native peoples and immigrants were often caricatured as irredeemable villains to be put in their place by white American heroes, or depicted only as sidekicks to the story’s hero.