As We Go Along

The Intersection of Literary Movements and The New West’s Meditation on Identity in Lady Bird

“When boys and girls are growing up, life can’t stand still, not even in the quietest of country towns; and
they have to grow up, whether they will or no. That is what their elders are always forgetting.”
Willa Cather, My Ántonia


        If you replace the composing elements of a ship, is it fundamentally the same ship? This is the essential question of the philosophical concept known as The Ship of Theseus. The puzzle seeks to explore ideas of Athenians who “replaced each plank in the original ship of Theseus as it decayed, thereby keeping it in good repair. Eventually, there was not a single plank left of the original ship” (Cohen). Many have debated whether or not these incremental changes mean that the ship remained the same or that it became an entirely new object. Comparably, this same logic can be applied to human’s physical bodies, as well as our thoughts and souls. 

        Physically, humans have evolved and been able to survive the replacement of atoms and molecules, the very entities that make up the human body. Related to identity, Stoics would argue that a ship (or human) is made up of both a physical material substance and immaterial, often unexplainable qualities. The physical construction on its own is not what constitutes the identity of a person or thing, rather it is the incorporeal elements such as the soul or the ideas brought forth that make the object or being what it is (The Ship). 

        While American Western Frontier literature was staunchly “dominated by the rigidity of geographical place” for years, the emergence of a New West sought to build off of, if not change out, part of the Western narrative (Varner). Rather than tie themselves to Frederick Jackson Turner’s notion that the Western Frontier line is the celebration of “the true essence of the national character,” New West scholars pushed aside the idea that the Frontier moved strictly West while denying nostalgic Frontier mythology, and instead subscribed to an idea related to the common theme of the Frontier being something related to a “challenge to the human spirit and the ingenuity of humanity to adapt so that ‘the essentials of the familiar may live on in the fresh atmosphere’” (Baym, 814 and Handy, 44). Much like a ship that has new parts being added to it, New West writers built upon the ideas that came before them in order to reconstruct old definitions for a new audience, all while maintaining a common Western spirit, only in a different time and perhaps location. 

        In a 1990 essay, novelist Larry McMurtry wrote, “To the great extent that there was a West of the imagination – and this was the West that most Americans knew – it was the artists, not the pioneers, who created it” (Miller, 4). For many members of the New West era, the question became one that involved how writers of the time would surpass the old Western Frontier and the writing that shaped it. Since the contiguous United States had already been explored and inhabited, traditional Frontier stories of people moving West began to mold into stories of people experiencing that life in the West for themselves, as well as exploring new frontiers, both geographically and mentally, and “calling into question the ways in which [the West had] been defined in the past” (Rio & Hestetun). While the notion of exploring and discovering oneself was one that always paired nicely with the crossing of the Frontier, New West writers took the soulful concept and turned the Frontier into a road to take along such a psychological process, thus such literature extensively contributed “to the development of an alternative to the Frontier mentality” (Rio & Hestetun). 

        This revitalization of the West allowed writers to find a new voice amongst the old or focus on searching for something that drives new meaning. Later 20th and 21st-century writers have since further developed the concept of the New West, taking its roots and letting them grow in new places. The Western Frontier ideas of freedom, power, and finding yourself have since permeated into a variety of genres and writing styles, and for some, in complete amalgamation with several literary movements, as is the case with Greta Gerwig’s 2017 film Lady Bird. Lady Bird chronicles the life of Christine ‘Lady Bird’ McPherson as she navigates her senior year of high school and her relationships and connections with her hometown of Sacramento, all-girls Catholic high school, friends, boyfriends, and family, particularly her mother, Marion McPherson. All such things play varying roles in Lady Bird’s life, while many also stand to represent or illustrate elements of various literary movements. Because the film is a story of adolescent growth and discovery, Lady Bird’s New West representations and aspirations are not fully developed, and are still very much intertwined with that of previous literary movements and ideologies. While Lady Bird’s guiding pillars hold up a film that works as a modern take on New Western ideas, it is built upon and grounded in elements of Romanticism, Realism, Pastoral, and Mythical Regionalism. Lady Bird explores the Romantic portrayal of the Ideal versus the New West advocation for the inclusion of new narratives, characteristics of Realism such as detail, multi-dimensional characters, and class in conjunction with the New West’s rejection of tradition, Pastoral tensions such as rural versus urban, simple versus complicated, and work versus labor in connection to the New West’s pursuit of a new dream that is in contrast to old mythology or ways of life and thinking, and stories of Mythical Regionalism and how they relate to the New West’s concept of self-reliance and maintaining a unique identity within society. 

        Lady Bird opens with a quote from Sacramento-native, Joan Didion that reads: “Anyone who talks about Californian hedonism has never spent a Christmas in Sacramento.” The quote poignantly sets up Lady Bird’s ensuing feelings about her hometown. “I have to get out of Sacramento,” she later says. “It’s soul-killing. It’s the midwest of California” (Gerwig, 51.00). This repulsion that Lady Bird has for her hometown is most often portrayed in the two places she spends the majority of her time, her school and home. It is in those two locations that she witnesses and experiences the idealized and real lives of people, each of which mirror qualities of literary Romanticism and Realism. 

        Lady Bird attends Immaculate Heart, an all-girls Catholic high school. It is there that she is taught lessons of ideality and morality, both of which are characteristics of Romantic literature. While many Catholics greeted the teachings of Romanticism with skepticism because of the movement’s “religious redirection of Christ into the immanent domain of Hellenic mythology [that] excludes Christ as a real savior,” Catholicism, as well as Lady Bird’s experiences at school, possess similar values, ideas, and characteristics of Romanticism, particularly the search for and illustration of the Ideal (Drahos). Though both Romanticism and Catholicism viewed Rationalism and conflicting societal beliefs as sources of corruption, each also viewed itself as a vehicle whose purpose it was to teach its listeners how to be good people. To do this, their stories often depicted life in its ideal form, the way one would wish it to be. At school, Lady Bird is substantially less wealthy than many of her classmates. She and her best friend Julie continually gaze upon the expensive cars and houses of their fellow students, reinforcing the Romantic importance of social class and the girl’s dreams of what they wished their lives would be. While Lady Bird cannot uphold the same wealthy image as her classmates, or the “ideal life” that she sees them living, she also refuses to follow the Catholic teachings on morals and ideals. 

        Despite the school’s best efforts to impart the Catholic tradition, Lady Bird spends her school days concocting and committing acts of rebellion or otherwise inappropriate behavior, from stealing the communion wafers to throwing away her math teacher’s grade book to telling a pro-life speaker “If your mother had had the abortion we wouldn’t have to sit through this stupid assembly” (Gerwig, 53.48). While Lady Bird cannot control her socio-economic standing, she could practice the lessons of grace and goodness that much of her school teaching professes. However, she does not, and is instead consumed by her desire to escape her current life through a somewhat obsessive quest for popularity, which includes leaving her family to spend Thanksgiving with her boyfriend’s wealthy family and abandoning Julie to join the popular clique at school. 

        Though Lady Bird is a zealot for anything she believes, a part of her journey of  self-understanding, particularly amongst her peers, is her brief period of conformity. Early in the film, as Lady Bird sits in mass, the priest tells the students, “We’re afraid that we will never escape our past, and we’re afraid of what the future will bring. We’re afraid that we will not get into the college of our choice. We’re afraid that we won’t be loved, that we won’t be liked, that we won’t succeed” (Gerwig, 4.10). In her quest for her cultural ideal, and to assuage these fears, Lady Bird changes the way she wears her hair, talks poorly about teachers she actually likes, lies about where she lives, and quits the theatre program, all further distancing herself from the moral lessons of goodness, honesty, and respect that she knows deep down to be the right thing. While Lady Bird never really embodies the Catholic belief system, as the social choices she’s made leave her feeling unheard and alone, Lady Bird realizes that she cannot turn her back on the values of trying to be a moral and just person. After reconciling with several of those she has hurt, Lady Bird is able to begin to form a new narrative for herself that includes pieces of the moral ideals that are a part of something higher than the social-based ways she was pursuing, while also bringing her to an understanding that life is not always ideal and that one does not have to be perfect or follow every lesson to be considered a good person. In the way that New West stories sought to expose the imperfections of the West and the stories of those who were not heard before, Lady Bird’s eventual understanding that life does not operate in ideals allows her to create a new narrative for herself that celebrates her unique qualities and imperfections, things that she had previously tried to conceal. Her identity becomes a fusion of the moral lessons she has learned and her initial “do it your own way” attitude. 

        Although the religious West stemmed from traditional and national trends, Westerns have “bent these trends along their own trajectories,” with many people altering their religious “roots to meet their changing socioeconomic and cultural needs” (Collins, 185, 184). Similarly, the Catholicism that Lady Bird is exposed to at school is rarely brought up in her home life in the same way. Though Lady Bird’s family works hard to get by, scrimping and saving so that she can attend Immaculate Heart, it is not necessarily for religious purposes, rather it is because Lady Bird’s older brother “saw somebody knifed in front of him at the public school” (Gerwig, 54.09). Regardless, Lady Bird’s homelife and its portrayal remain in contrast to that of her school life, as the former exemplifies her life and personality in greater reality and detail, with those who inhabit the home appearing with real complexity and temperament and the family’s social class being important not because of the image it projects, but because of its real-life implications, all characteristics of literary Realism. 

        As a response to the ideals of Romanticism, the movement of Realism sought to portray life as it really was by people who were looking for stories that reflect their own reality. “No longer dependent on a stable notion of ‘character’ but on the ‘cultivation of the modem art of personality,” Realist narrative works were often constructed “out of ‘the little, every-day happenings and occurrences that form the greatest part of everyone’s life’” (Wardley, 199 and Sharistanian, xxiv). Such is the case with Lady Bird and the McPherson family home. Lady Bird lives in a small one-story house on “the wrong side of the tracks” with her mother Marion, father Larry, adopted brother Miguel, and Miguel’s girlfriend Shelly. Their collective life is illustrated through verbal and non-verbal comprehensive detail, with the stress of their life being shown through the quick escalation of an argument about making something as small as “your own fuckin’ eggs” or small references to Marion’s own childhood and her abusive alcoholic mother as reasoning for how she treats Lady Bird (Gerwig, 8.47). Non-verbal details often involve the house itself, such as Larry playing solitaire on the computer, a reference to his depression, or the contents of Lady Bird’s bedroom, particularly the wall, where she displays a variety of personal chattels, including “Vote Lady Bird” campaign posters and the names of her crushes that she has written, all of which she eventually paints over before going to college. All such things add together to create a well-rounded, real depiction of each of the characters. 

        With such detail and attention paid to the members of the McPherson family, Lady Bird embodies the Realist notion of stories being about individuals and their relationships. While the film tells a poignant adolescent story, it is built out of little moments, proving the concept that “the act of ‘coming of age’ is a lot more complicated than surviving from one milestone to the next” (Hundert, 2). Early in the film, Lady Bird remarks to her mother that she wishes she “could live through something” (Gerwig, 1.35). While Lady Bird yearns for “earth-shattering” occasions to fill her life, the film does not rely on such monumental moments, rather its overall tone takes a more Realistic approach, celebrating and delving deep into the moments that make up people’s everyday lives (Loughrey). To do this, the characters appear in their real, multi-dimensional complexities, particularly Lady Bird and Marion. In preparation of both Thanksgiving at her boyfriend’s house and her senior prom, Marion and Lady Bird go shopping at a local thrift store. Both scenes depict a mother-daughter dialogue that causes a spat with one of them making the slightest inflection. Before Thanksgiving, though obviously hurt by her daughter’s choice to celebrate somewhere else, Marion comments, “I just think it’s such a shame that you’re spending your last Thanksgiving with a family you’ve never met instead of us, but I guess you want it that way… are you tired […] I just couldn’t tell because you were dragging your feet” (Gerwig, 25.47). The little digs visibly bother Lady Bird, who seethes that her mother is “so infuriating” (Gerwig, 26.18). Months later in the same store, as Lady Bird tries on a dress she says she loves, Marion responds with the comment “is it too pink?” (Gerwig, 1.07.20). Their following conversation demonstrates the subtleties and complexities of their relationship, many of which arise from the way each thinks about the other and their inability to convey their feelings honestly.

Lady Bird 

Why can’t you say I look nice? 


I thought you didn’t even care what I think. 

Lady Bird 

I still want you to think I look good. 


I’m sorry, I was you telling you the truth. 

Do you want me to lie? 

Lady Bird 

No, I just… I just wish that you liked me. 


Of course I love you. 

Lady Bird 

But do you like me? 


… I want you to be the very best version 

of yourself that you can be. 

Lady Bird 

What if this is the best version? 

        The push and pull of a daughter seeking approval from a mother who doesn’t know how to connect to, understand, or help her is one all too real and familiar to anyone who has held either role of mother or daughter. The scene underscores the notion that neither person is right or wrong and that they both have things to figure out, a concept similarly related to the Realist characteristic of multi-dimensional characters and dialogue. While Lady Bird is often justifiably upset by some of her mother’s off-handed remarks, Lady Bird’s realistic portrayal of their life illustrates that much of Marion’s personality is a result of the family’s financial circumstances and social standing. Though Lady Bird is concerned with their family’s finances because it dictates what she wants and can’t have, for Marion, it is a real issue that forces her to lead the family while taking extra shifts at work after Larry loses his job and spirals into a depressive state. While Lady Bird is concerned with the thought that her mother doesn’t like her, Marion obsesses over class and the family’s image because she knows it has real implications in her husband finding work in their small town. So when she learns that Lady Bird has been telling people she’s from “the wrong side of the tracks,” Marion’s heart breaks in the belief that her daughter thinks that what they have provided her with is not enough. Though this is not what Lady Bird intended, as she was blinded by her attempt to say something cool in order to inch closer to her ideal life, Marion’s interpretation and reaction illustrate the burden of class and socio-economic status that has been put upon her family in the most Realist sense. 

        Lady Bird and what she does is described by one of her boyfriends as “very baller, very anarchist” (Gerwig, 42.14). To Julie, she “can’t do anything unless [she’s] the center of attention” (Gerwig, 52.25). To Marion, Lady Bird isn’t “even worth state tuition” (Gerwig, 2.52). While Lady Bird’s multi-dimensional character means something different to everyone she’s around, her New Western aura of rejecting tradition and refusing to listen to others’ opinions about her choices remains constant. Lady Bird’s rejection of tradition is seen throughout her exploration and realization of herself in her attempt to test her own human individualism and live a life that is alive, often resulting in multiple facets of her identity that “are often in conflict, and [that] cannot be resolved into tidy meanings” (Sharistanian, xxiii). This search for sovereignty begins with the very name of the film: Lady Bird. In her audition for the school musical, director Father Leviatch asks Lady Bird why she has put “Lady Bird” in quotes and if it is her given name. She replies, “Yes, I gave it to myself. It’s given to me by me” (Gerwig, 12.07). Lady Bird’s insistence that everyone call her by this new name suggests that she is trying to find freedom and liberate herself from what has been given to her. While she questions institutions and big ideas around her in an attempt to dig herself out of learned falsehoods, it is only after she leaves Sacramento, when she finally gets a chance to find truth through the liberation of declaring her own values independent of those of her home, that she accepts her given name. Surrounded by new people in a drunken haze, Lady Bird observes that “people will call each other by names that their parents made up for them but they won’t believe in God” (Gerwig, 1.23.09). She then proceeds to introduce herself as Christine, shedding her Lady Bird persona in recognition of the fact that she does not need to fully reject what has been given to her in order to be a unique, multi-dimensional person. 

        Though Lady Bird and Marion’s tenuous relationship is brought on partially by the stress of their finances, as Larry puts it, they “both have such strong personalities” which are often at odds with each other, causing tensions that mirror that of the Pastoral. While the Pastoral is an idealized portrayal of rural life, often filled with the contemplations of love, time, and nature, its tension between rural and urban life play a central role in Lady Bird and Marion’s relationship. In the film’s opening scene, Lady Bird and Marion drive through the California landscape listening to John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath on tape. While a connection is made between Steinbeck’s California and the California of the film, the book also “demonstrates their divergent attitudes. In The Grapes of Wrath, California holds the promise of a brighter future. In Lady Bird, California is the nest that [Lady Bird] seeks to fly away from” (Locke). After the tape finishes, Lady Bird and her mother get into an argument about Lady Bird’s college plans. Lady Bird declares, “I don’t even want to go to school in this state anyway. I hate California […] I want to go to the East Coast. I want to go where culture is like New York, or at least Connecticut or New Hampshire” (Gerwig, 1.57). In direct opposition to Lady Bird’s urban aspirations, Marion interjects that she should stay in rural Sacramento and “just go to city college, and then to jail, and then back to city college,” prompting an irate Lady Bird to throw herself out of the moving car to escape the conversation (Gerwig, 3.03). Lady Bird and Marion’s opposing views of her future continue to be an unsaid barrier between them, as well as a strain that influences other Pastoral tensions that their relationship mirrors. 

        While Lady Bird dreams of life on the East Coast, Marion is bogged down by financial troubles, her work at the psych hospital, her depressed husband, and taking care of her children. While “trapped” in Sacramento, Lady Bird feels stagnant and as if nothing is happening, yet, in reality, she is largely blind to the struggles and happenings of her mother and family, thereby showing her simple, child-like outlook on life compared to her mother’s complicated view that must always extend beyond herself. As Marion struggles to hold everything together, she often finds herself at odds with Lady Bird with regard to their attitudes toward work and labor. Though in certain instances Lady Bird embodies the common teenage “too cool for that” attitude, she works hard at things that bring her joy, such as her school’s theatre program or working to pay and complete her college applications. Despite such work, Lady Bird believes her mother thinks little of her, yet fails to recognize that Marion does not have the luxury to work on things simply because she wants to. Instead, Marion’s labor provides for the family and is often at odds with Lady Bird’s free spirit. Upon returning from her homecoming dance, Lady Bird is berated by her mother for how she has left her room and clothes unkempt. “You can’t leave your room like this,” Marion says. “None of these things were put way right […] This uniform is gonna look like trash on Monday, this isn’t right. We can’t treat our clothes like this. I don’t know what your wealthy friends do…” (Gerwig, 20.57). While Marion’s disparagement of Lady Bird is a job in and of itself, her necessary labor often coincides with an opposition to Lady Bird’s work ethic. Believing that in order for her and Larry’s labor to result in some sort of compensation, she explains to Lady Bird that she “can’t look like a rag because that makes [them] look like rags,” and if she looked more presentable “some of [her] friend’s fathers could employ [her] father [but] they’re not gonna do it if it looks like his family is trash” (Gerwig, 21.39). Lady Bird’s tossing aside of her school uniform and Marion’s aggravation about it demonstrate their different ways of working and processing, with Lady Bird more focused on the ways the work she does can benefit herself and Marion fixated on their image, presentation, and working toward something that will result in tangible commodification. 

        As Lady Bird is at constant odds with her mother over the direction of her life, her views and sensibilities on the subject are stationed in the pursuit of her own dream. In Walden Pond, Henry David Thoreau argues that “if one advances confidently in the direction of [their] dreams, and endeavors to live the life which [they have] imagined, [they] will meet with a success unexpected in common hours” (Thoreau). The idea of going to the West, or to the woods as Thoreau did, in order to “live deliberately” is a common theme in Frontier Literature, and one that Lady Bird’s motivation to get away exemplifies. In the way that Thoreau wanted to “live deep and suck out all the marrow of life,” Lady Bird “wants to go where culture is” (Thoreau and Gerwig, 2.38). To her, the pursuit involves a sense of importance and accomplishment, a sense of genuine drive that is invisible to others, including Marion. However, as Lady Bird tries to find her truth free of expectation, she discovers that the wildness of life in New York City is not exactly what she’d envisioned it to be. The urban jungle “prove[s] to be mean,” with Lady Bird finding herself feeling alone and without a place within it (Thoreau). It is only when she finds pieces of home within her new environment, a church or calling her family, that she feels tranquil. While Lady Bird’s Western idea of going away and pursuing her own dream is evident in the choices she makes, the nature of her story being one of adolescence also ties it back to the Pastoral and the tensions of the genre. Lady Bird is someone trying to find her own frontier, untamed by anything she once knew, yet, she ultimately comes back to it and realizes that the rural, complicated lessons of life that her mother worked so hard to teach her are still important elements of who she is, regardless of where she goes. 

        Though Lady Bird’s attitude and behavior may indicate that she is oblivious to the struggles and needs of those around her, and despite her professed hatred of Sacramento, her growth as an individual is heavily influenced by her subconscious attention to detail. In a meeting with her favorite teacher, Sister Sarah Joan, she tells Lady Bird that she has read her college essay and that based on her writing, Lady Bird “clearly loves Sacramento” (Gerwig, 1.05.54). She tells a confused Lady Bird that she writes “about Sacramento so affectionately and with such care” (Gerwig, 1.05.58). Lady Bird then tells her that she was just describing it, which Sister Sarah Joan infers to be love. Begrudgingly, Lady Bird admits that she just pays attention, to which Sister Sarah Joan remarks, “Don’t you think they are maybe the same thing, love and attention?” (Gerwig, 1.06.13). While the film centers around Lady Bird’s eagerness to leave the nest, and the problems that such a desire causes in many of her relationships, it is her eventual discovery of her love for her home that display stories of Mythical Regionalism. 

        The ideology of Mythical Regionalism expresses the belief that “region is more important than a physical or economic phenomenon, but regions are also constructs of the mind, as informed by culture, art, myths, images, poems, and values of the region” (Peters). Concerning the individual, Mythical Regionalism maintains that one’s identity is a product of their region, just as the region is a construct of those who have lived there. Though examples of Mythical Regionalism often assume a rural or agrarian environment, it is often contrasted with the tempting pull of a city, technology, or money. Such a story of Mythical Regionalism mirrors the life of Lady Bird, as she cannot wait to leave her home for the remarkable and wondrous East Coast. Lady Bird believes that she will be truly happy in the culture-filled big city in a way she couldn’t possibly ever be in Sacramento. Yet, when she finally achieves this goal, in the realization that she is alone and free to do whatever she pleases, she finds herself called to a church and moved by the beautiful singing she hears within it. The city pulls her from her Sacramento-tied identity, taking her from her roots, yet she ultimately discovers contentment and a richer understanding of herself when she intertwines those roots of her home with her new life, rather than completely abandoning her past. 

        While Lady Bird’s story illustrates the voluntary pull away and eventual acceptance of Mythical Regionalism, Marion represents a story of Mythical Regionalism involving the act of staying in a place and finding the good in it where no one else can. As Lady Bird aspires to greater things beyond Sacramento, Marion has cultivated a life in a place her daughter cannot understand the point of staying in and living. Lady Bird’s identity represents one that is a product of their home while Marion’s illustrates someone who has constructed the place in which she lives. From her work at the psychiatric hospital to her heartbreaking gift of socks she gives to her children for Christmas because it’s all she can afford, despite her faults, Marion works tirelessly to take care of others, trying to make the best home she can. For all of their quarrels and disagreements, it is this difference of connection to their homeland that drives much of Marion and Lady Bird’s relationship. 

        The human culture is shaped by the complexities of finding oneself in society. While degrees of conformity may be inescapable, Ralph Waldo Emerson argues that “the great man is he who in the midst of the crowd keeps with perfect sweetness the independence of solitude” (Emerson, 136). In her Mythical Regionalistic pulls away from Sacramento, Lady Bird attempts to completely reject the society she comes from and what those who love her have given her. Lady Bird’s strong desire to be self-reliant becomes conflated with escaping the idea of who she was and where she came from. It is only after she leaves Sacramento that she realizes and accepts the New West’s notion of self-reliance: being able to think your own thoughts and building upon ideas already out there through your own experiences. It is here too that she realizes that her life can go beyond, yet still stay connected to Sacramento. In the final moments of the film, Lady Bird leaves a voicemail for her mom: 

Hi Mom and Dad, it’s me. Christine. It’s the name 

you gave me. It’s a good one. Dad, this is more for 

Mom – Hey Mom: did you feel emotional the first

time that you drove in Sacramento? I did and I 

wanted to tell you, but we weren’t really talking 

when it happened. All those bends I’ve known my 

whole life, and stores, and the whole thing. But I 

wanted to tell you. I love you. Thank you, I’m… 

thank you. 

        As she speaks, pastoral scenes of the Sacramento landscape move across the screen as if those watching them were in the car going by it all. First at the wheel of the car is Lady Bird, who tearfully gazes across the bridge toward the setting sun. As she looks around her, she is instantly replaced with her mother, who holds the same stare and location. The edit jumps between the mother and daughter each driving the same roads at different times as they look upon the home they have shared. It is in this moment that Lady Bird fully becomes a story about coming home to yourself. While Lady Bird’s coming-of-age story is “a process of learning how to position one’s self in relation to others,” both Lady Bird and Marion’s love and attention to the space around them allow each to recognize that coming home to yourself is recognizing the sharing of one’s past with another person (Hundert, 2). With this understanding, Lady Bird may live an independent life outside of her hometown, always knowing that she holds a “precious, incommunicable past” with the land and people of Sacramento (Cather, 196). 

        Though Lady Bird embodies New Western ideologies and elements of Romanticism, Realism, Pastoral, and Mythical Regionalism, the story is about a young woman from the West hoping to go to the East. However, despite where Lady Bird’s aspirations lie, Lady Bird does not center around those Eastern ambitions, but instead around Lady Bird’s discovery of her love for the West she’s from. Her goal of moving away helps to illustrate the Frontier theme of being disinterested in a place and wanting to go and discover something she’s never seen before, but it is the elements of the aforementioned literary movements that help her to explore a New Western relationship with land and identity and the linkage between them. The story within the film illustrates that as we go along to new places, meet new people, and experience new things, we realize that who we are is what we’re built on, and that no matter where we go, the people we were before are always a part of us. Though life is always in transition, in the way that a ship that gets new pieces does not become a completely new ship, neglectful of its old elements, our unique truths move with us, adding to the ships we helm. Similarly to how Lady Bird is a product of her environments and relationships, the New West is the product of a fusion of a variety of different literary movements, people, and ways of thinking. In these personal and literary ways, Lady Bird exhibits the telling of a modern Western story while also absorbing a variety of styles of storytelling, emphasizing the sentiment that while Lady Bird may become more or less than who she was in Sacramento, the spirit of her home will everlastingly guide her in whatever she may live through.

Works Cited 

Baym, Nina. “Old West, New West, Postwest, Real West.” American Literary History, vol. 18, no. 4, 2006, p. 814. Cather, Willa. My Ántonia. Oxford University Press, 2008. 

Cohen, Marc. “Identity, Persistence, and the Ship of Theseus.” University of Washington, University of Washington, 6 Oct. 2004, 

Collins, Sandra. “Religion in the Modern American West.” Library Journal, no. 15, 2000. EBSCOhost, David Rio, and Øyunn Hestetun. “Introduction : Storying the West in Postfrontier Literature.” European Journal of American Studies, no. 3, 2011. EBSCOhost, doi:10.4000/ejas.9249. 

Drahos, Kristen. “Reason’s Shadow: Romanticism’s Impact on Catholic Thought.” Church Life Journal, University of Notre Dame, 11 June 2018,

Gerwig, Greta. Lady Bird. Film Script, Daily Script, 2017, 

Handy, Robert T. “American Methodism and Its Historical Frontier: Interpreting Methodism on the Western Frontier: Between Romanticism and Realism.” Methodist History, vol. 23, no. 1, Oct. 1984, pp. 44–53. e. 

Hundert, Anna. “’Lady Bird’ and the Art of the In-Between.” The Ploughshares Blog, Emerson College, 23 Jan. 2018, 

Lady Bird. Directed by Greta Gerwig, performances by Saoirse Ronan, Laurie Metcalf, and Tracy Letts, A24, 2017.

Locke, Aaron. “The Significance of Pop Culture in Greta Gerwig’s ‘Lady Bird’.” Hypable, 21 Nov. 2017, 

Loughrey, Clarisse. “Saoirse Ronan on Lady Bird: ‘Everyone’s Dealing with Their Own Stuff. Everyone Has an Issue, Everyone Has a Sadness’.” The Independent, Independent Digital News and Media, 23 Feb. 2018, scar-nomination-role-model-directing-a8225026.html. 

Miller, Cheryl. “Creating the American West.” Policy Review, no. 141, 2007, p. 88. EBSCOhost, ite. 

Peters, KJ. “New West Writing W9D3 Lecture.” Histories: Literature of the Frontier. English 2297, 2019.

“Self-Reliance.” The Essential Writings of Ralph Waldo Emerson, by Ralph Waldo Emerson, Modern Library, 2000, pp. 132–153. 

Sharistanian, Janet. “My Ántonia.” My Ántonia, Oxford University Press, 2008, pp. vii-xxiv.

“The Ship of Theseus.” The Metaphysicist, Information Philosophy, Thoreau, Henry David. Walden Pond. Commonwealth Editions, 2004. 

Varner, Paul. New Wests and Post-Wests: Literature and Film of the American West. Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2013. 

Wardley, Lynn. “Realist Writers and Social Struggle.” NOVEL: A Forum on Fiction, vol. 24, no. 2, 1991, pp. 199–201. JSTOR,


Biographical Note:

Sophie Jonsson is a senior at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles. Originally from Minneapolis, Minnesota, Sophie is pursuing a degree in English with additional minors in Art and Film Studies.