Sundown in Pawhuska, Oklahoma
This chapter offers a reading of John Joseph Matthews’s 1934 novel Sundown as an account of the Osage oil boom that uses the bildungsroman form to dramatize the disastrous effects of unchecked production on the social life of an oil frontier within the continental United States: the Osage reservation in Pawhuska, Oklahoma. During the first half of the twentieth century, oil culture in the Osage reservation produced surprising symptoms of “liquid modernity.” Rather than seeing such instances of liquidity as accidental and unrelated, this chapter argues that examining petromodernity in Pawhuska can help us rematerialize, historicize, and reterritorialize accounts of cultural, material, and political instability. It uses Sundown to trace the “solid” to “liquid” narrative of global modernity along the oil flow back to the Osage oil culture. It argues that the novel allows us to think about “solidity” and “liquidity” not as chronological stages of modernity but as its expressions that often occur simultaneously.
Keywords: petromodernity, John Joseph Matthews, Sundown, oil boom, social life, Osage reservation, Pawhuska, Oklahoma, oil culture, liquid modernity