The story ‘people in hell just want a drink of water’ is a short tale about two families living in Laramie, the Dunmires and the Tinsleys. One of these families was well adjusted, the Dunmiries. They revelled in the reality of the west, in the hardship it brought and in the success that followed thanks to their knowledge of the area and how to work it. The Tinsleys on the other hand were an awful lot less suited to the realities of the west and they face struggles at almost every hardship. Together the two families offer two opposing visions of the west.
The Dunmiries are the dream, they are the mythologised version of the west; they are the successful ones, they are what everyone imagined when they headed to the west. The family is popular, well off, and really an addition to the comminuity whith what ended up being 9 sons all of whom grew up knowing the ways of the west and going on to live reasonably successful lives.
On the other hand we first meet the Tinsley family as they move to Laramie the dream of the west, still alive in all of their hearts; however it becomes soon apparent that the family is not in the slightest well adjusted. As they move in with their three children, the youngest of which is little more than a few months old, doesn’t stop crying throughout the whole journey. One of the first actions we see a specific Tinsley character make is Mrs Tinsley spontaneously picking up the crying baby and throwing them in the river. Immediately she regrets her decision, and goes to save the baby but her husband holds her back and the baby is never seen again. From this I feel it is evident that the Tinsleys are a family that has some deeply rooted troubles and perhaps the reason that they are now moving to the west is because they’re looking for a fresh start that they envisage the west to offer them.
The Tinsley’s are the reality, the proof that the west doesn’t and can’t fix the problems within a family, perhaps it might amplify them. As the years roll on the remaining children of the family move away and the son, Often referred to as Ras moves away to explore the world, although this is mainly the US and Canada, desperate to escape his families disjointed way of life, he neither writes nor visits his parents during this time which is representative of an outright rejection of his parents, although in particular of his mother who after throwing away a baby all of a sudden became incredibly protective over her remaining children.
While the Tinsley’s are portrayed as the messed up family, the antagonist if you will, at the beginning the story goes on to demonstrate the self-destructive nature of the idealised west and how the western lifestyle is that of a singular-no-one-matters-but-me ideology. the Dunmeries are clearly see themselves as the one true way of life and find it difficult for them to allow room in their look upon the world for differences, whether they be new commers who are used to a different way of life, the LGBT community as demonstrated in Brokeback Mountian, or the mentally/physically handicapped as I will go on to discuss.
Later on in the story the Tinsleys son, Ras, returns from his travels around with severe bodily and brain damage from an auto-crash. He becomes somewhat of a neuscence to the surrounding area through riding around on a horse (that his parents gave him to occupy him so they didn’t have to be constantly looking after him) and showing his penis to the women of the area. As soon as his parents find out of the matter they do their best to stop him through talking to him, using reasoning and calm measures, the eastern way. However when Jaxon Dunmirie meets Ras his first response is ‘There’s some around who’d as soon as cut [his penis off] and make sure he don’t breed no more half-wits,’. this is an extreme response to say the least, but one could say that it is representative of what the west is known for, extremes. To look at any western literature (and indeed western movies, tv shows, art and so on) is to look at endurance of the extremes. Unfortunately for Ras he does not knowingly put himself through the extremes, he receives warning, albeit very little, that something along the lines of people cutting off his genitals Might happen but by the next morning he is lacking a penis and gains a fever which leaves him bed bound for days as his groin and leg succumb to gangrene.
The point here is that the west unavoidably forces hardships upon people whether they expect it or not, and this short story shows this by putting you in the positon of someone who didn’t want, nor expect, nor was able to embrace these hardships that most western films revel in. The question of whether Ras deserved to have his genitals cut off some would say is debatable however personally I feel that under the circumstances it is unquestionably wrong, and The message here is that the Dunmiries (although it is not specifically said that the Dunmiries did it it will have been someone similar to the family and so they are representative in the story of the westerners who felt the need to act as the hand of justice in this scenario) , in all their self-righteous ness, felt it right to take the law into their own hands and without clear warning as far as the reader is concerned, and it has some detrimental effects or as Proulx herself says. ‘There was a somber arrogance about [the Dunmiries], a rigidity of attitude that said theirs was the only way.’.
The mythologised version of the west is one that believes it is always right and has a notable inability to deal with people who are different as considering the time in which this story was set (the early 1900’s) anywhere else Ras would have been put in a mental hospital but in the west they cannot see that he is different and so they attack him like white blood cells on a virus.
So in conclusion the story demonstrates a revisionist interpretation of the mythological west through presenting these two families as the mythological west vs the reality of the west for the unprepared. The fact that the mythological west is not presented as the protagonist, presents the mythological west as a problematic entity such as we have been learning about for the past semester.