In response to advance criticism which charged that the novel was "episodic and fragmentary," Wister was prompted to change The Virginian's subtitle from A Tale of Sundry Adventures to A Horseman of the Plains. Perhaps this reflected an attempt on Wister's part to focus the reader's attention on the unifying theme of the novel, which appears to be the development of the character of the "horseman," the Virginian himself. According to Wister, he dramatically uses the Virginian "to picture an era and personify a type."
Wister's unnamed Virginian embod ies the spirit of Wyoming between 1874 and 1890, a turbulent era of transition from raw wilderness to elementary civilization. The Virginian symbolizes the West's initial resistance to the taming forces of the East and its inevitable surrender.
At the beginning of the novel, Wister portrays the Virginian as the epitome of freedom and rugged individualism.
A self-reliant bachelor, skilled at...