Not only did Wright consult with cowboys on the accuracy of his
details; he worked on and visited actual counterparts of his
The story begins when a young man, who calls himself Patches,
walks (an unusual event in a country where everyone rides horses) into
the Baldwin ranch seeking a job as a cowhand.
Modeled after Wright's millionaire friend from Hiram College (Sons,
p. 158), the tenderfoot quickly learns the ranch work under the
guidance of Baldwin and his foreman, "Wild Horse" Phil Acton, and
becomes a good cowhand. He
gains the respect of the cowboys, but some of the neighbors,
especially Jim Reid, are suspicious of the stranger because of an
increase in cattle stealing and because he associates with Yavapai
Joe, a partner of Nick Cambert's, the suspected cattle rustler.
Kitty Reid, who was reared in the area but who has recently
returned from three years' schooling at Cleveland, Ohio, provides the
feminine interest in the story. Education
changes her attitude toward life in Arizona.
Before she went to school, she loved Phil Acton, but since her
return she wonders about the crudeness of ranch life and cowboys and
doubts her love. She
finds a friend in Patches who has had a good education sometime in his
mysterious past. She also develops a worshipful friendship with a visiting
professor who comes West to scientifically study the cattleman whom he
thinks, "to be but a rude, illiterate, and wholly materialistic
creature, but little superior in intellectual and spiritual powers to
his own beasts" (When a Man's, p. 209).
Kitty finally realizes the superficiality of the professor, and
she rejects him, repulsed by him and by the fakery of eastern culture
(When a Man's, p. 286).
Although Patches reveals to his friend Phil that he has come
West to work at being a man, the reason for his goal is not clarified
until Kitty's newlywed friends arrive at the ranch.
The wife is Patches' old friend, Helen Wakefield, whom he once
proposed to. She laughed
at his proposal because he was at the time not a man but a spoiled,
rich child (When a Man's, p. 272). The "new" Patches traps the cattle rustlers, clears
his name, and helps to unite Kitty and Phil. At last, Kitty becomes aware of the superiority of the West and
the western man (When a Man's, p. 288). Patches leaves the ranch to continue his maturing process,
taking with him Yavapai Joe, whom he hopes to turn into the Western
ideal of a man, training him as Baldwin and Phil trained Patches.
Wright presents the contrast of West and East with the first
meeting of Phil Acton and Patches:
Without question one was the proud and finished product of our most
advanced civilization. It was as evident that the splendid manhood of the other had
never been dwarfed by the weakening atmosphere of an over-cultured, too
conventional, too complex environment. (When a Man's, p. 24)
there is a quality about the two men which makes them kindred spirits,
and perhaps their situations easily could have been reversed. Patches, unlike Phil, is not a rigid individualist. He classes himself as "a dependent" who relies on
other people to take responsibility (When a Man's, p. 170). Patches becomes one of Wright's converts to the western code of
ethics and achieves recognition as a true westerner when he releases
his hold over Kitty, since he took advantage of her weakness for
luxury and culture when he asked her to marry him (When a Man's,
Patches learns the code of the West from the men who exemplify
it, men like Phil and Baldwin. The
code includes minding one's own business (When a Man's, p. 27),
protecting women (When a Man's, p. 117), protecting the
employer and his property without consideration for one's own personal
safety (When a Man's, p. 164), and seeing and remembering
everything that happens (When a Man's, p. 166). The people who do not follow the code are ostracized or killed,
as Nick Cambert discovers when he is arrested for cattle theft and for
shooting Phil Acton.
Baldwin, Kitty, and Phil, all natives of the desert, see the
superiority of the West from essentially the same point of view, but
Kitty requires more time to see the quality of the land as she
temporarily backslides toward the artificiality of the eastern
culture. Baldwin states
that Arizona is a manufacturer of men, for the uninitiated will not
survive in the desert (When a Man's, p. 60). He also acknowledges that the hard land makes good marriages,
for couples must work together to survive, leaving little time for the
leisurely activities available to urban couples who "marry and
separate, and separate and marry again" (When a Man's, p.
Phil, echoing Baldwin's thoughts, recognizes the power of the
land and is satisfied with his situation, for "everything that a
man has a right to is here" (When a Man's, p. 127). In contrast, Kitty, because of her superficial education, can
no longer see the value of the land and longs for the culture of the
city. Her education is a
set of contrasts:
In that new world she was to learn that men and women are not
to be measured by the standards of manhood and womanhood--that they
were to be rated, not for strength, but for culture; not for courage
but for intellectual cleverness; not for sincerity, but for manners;
not for honesty, but for success; not for usefulness, but for social
position, which is most often determined by the degree of uselessness. It
was as though the handler of gems were to attach no value whatsoever
to the weight of the diamond itself, but to fix the worth of the stone
wholly by the cutting and polishing (When a Man's, p. 118).
after Patches warns her of what she might be losing if she leaves
Arizona, does she realize that Phil is a superior man to the eastern
man, and she appreciates him for his sincerity and for educating
himself for her benefit. But
it takes Patches, a convert to the code of the West, to convince her
that she has been wrong.
The stereotypes of the West held by city residents result in
several views: the
extreme view of disdain is that of the scientific professor, who is
representative of the rodeo spectators who look at Phil, "as they
might have viewed some rare and little known creature in a
menagerie" (When a Man's, p. 37). Phil, uncomfortable with the tourists' stares, retreats to the
freedom of the desert. Patches'
former love, Helen Wakefield, also expresses the standard image of the
West as she is disappointed not to see "cowboys riding about
everywhere, with long hair and big hats, and guns" (When a
Man's, p. 243). She
finds instead ordinary men just as she might find in Cleveland. The westerners assert that the West is becoming as civilized as
the East, but they never want for the West the moral and mental
corruption which they see in the eastern culture.
Wright presents two themes in this novel: the West is intrinsically better than the East, and the western
man is superior to the eastern man. The westerner is independent, an effect of the West's
spiritually superior culture because the West represents purity,
sincerity, and honesty. The
ability to be an independent man is present in both cultures. Baldwin describes Patches as a "thoroughbred that's been
badly mishandled" (When a Man's, p. 74).
With the help of western men, Patches is able to become the
independent man he desires to be. Wright hopes to dispel the stereotypes of the West by
faithfully presenting a realistic picture of Arizona culture and
characters, and he adds his own illustrations of the ranch equipment,
brands, and scenes to his text.