Gretel Ehrlich book report

Introduction to the Main Idea and the Theme

About Men is a non-fiction essay written by Gretel Ehrlich in her book The Solace of Open Spaces. Through the essay, which was written in 1985, Ehrlich reflects on her experiences on the ranch when she resides in New York and how dearly she holds the image of a cowboy. In the essay she describes the many less apparent qualities of the ever so famous figure of cowboys and identifies some very peculiar qualities that have never been noticed through the eyes of the cinema or fiction tales. Ehrlich writes from her experience and observation what she believes is the true picture of a cowboy. A figure to us that is heroic and rigid, to Ehrlich is heroic for all the more very different reasons. Ehrlich through the essay opens a whole new window into the live of an ordinary cowboy and how each day filled with hectic and insignificant but straining duties is an adventure for him and how dealing with an emotional relationship a challenge.

Summary of the Essay

Ehrlich starts off the essay by remembering her own experiences at the ranch and how she recalls the expressions on the cowboys’ faces riding on the horses and compares them to the picture she looks at as she writes. She emphasizes on his stereotypical image and contradicts with the common impressions associated with the cow boy figure (Ehrlich, 1985, p.82). She refuses to accept the rigid, headstrong, and stern image of the cowboy and loneliness and dryness of his job being the obvious reasons behind it. Interestingly, she points out that cowboys are more soft-hearted than other men, who are engaged in jobs relating to writing and numbers. The toughness of the cowboy is not because he is to comply with the social image attested with him but he is so to counter the troubles he faces and the harsh circumstances he has to go through (Ehrlich, 1985, p.83). The life of a cowboy is no easy ride. He works day and night at the ranch with the animals who get into all sorts of troubles during a day’s work and the cowboy has to look after them even if it means sleeping with them to make sure they are ok if some fatal disease let’s say occupies them. In the cowboy’s world, being heroic does not imply having a lot of courage, but acting promptly and spontaneously to avoid unpleasant consequences (Ehrlich, 1985, p.83). But then the cowboys also have to live and deal with the pain that result in the aftermath of all the chores and the heroism at the ranch. Even at the face of extreme bodily pain, cow boys are not the ones to complain but they laugh out their miseries with their companions (Ehrlich, 1985, p.84). Ehrlich supports her argument against the rigid outer look of the cowboys as opposed to the softhearted inside by giving an example of a rancher who was admiring the features of a baby lamb. The cow boys tend to hide their tenderness and maintain their rigidness. But that does not imply that they do not respect women. The Wyoming men are known for the respects they pay their women. They raise their hats whenever a woman passes by (Ehrlich, 1985, p.83). But beyond the respects, they lack the communication skills required to express the emotions hidden inside of them to their wives or love ones at home. Their lack of vocabulary is evident through their long days of work in complete isolation from the civilization and socialization, where only interactions with the animals surpass the day long activities of the cowboys. As much as they long for a heart to hear talk with a loved one, they fail to do so, and keep a distance unwillingly, the result of which is the rigidness reflected through their expressions (Ehrlich, 1985, p.84). Ehrlich concludes the essay by saying that the very strength of a true cowboy lies in his vulnerability and his softness.

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Strategies by the Writer

Ehrlich won awards for her essays and books and especially for the book she wrote this essay for, owing to her clever strategies in writing. She used rather few strategies and literary conventions in this small piece of writing but it is nonetheless an impressive work.


Ehrich used a ‘flashback’ to reflect to her memories at the ranch and how she recalls is the true picture of a cowboy. She identifies in the beginning where she resides now, that is New York and that she is not at the ranch anymore. And remembering so vividly the scenes and the sights, she shows how she longs to go back and live in the place she holds so dear. She writes the essay from her memory and includes once or twice, words said by her friends or acquaintances to make her point in the argument she makes in favor of the cow boys.


Ehrlich has used symbolism, where a symbol or a person is used to reflect some emotion or any practical object (McGee, 2001). Through the means of a cowboy image, Ehrlich really describes the characteristics of a man. Cowboy being the manliest figure, Ehrlich uses him as a symbol to represent all men who are macho like but fail to regard their soft sides and hide it through a mask of rigidness. As she claims that cowboys with lack of communication complicate their relationships with women, men in the ancient and the modern world have always been observed to do just that. Ehrlich though defends the cowboy image, but also unveils the true essence of a man: his soft and caring nature. She says she misses the real cow boys figure around in her new residence. She might mean she does not see the real picture of a man how he is supposed to be, rigid and kind, heroic and caring, etc. Of course, through the eyes of the practical world resting outside the cinema, the life of a cow boy is of less interest for a sophisticated culture, but what the author really tries to emphasize through the character description of a cow boy is how similar the traits of any other man are who claims to be rigid but is soft on the inside.

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Evaluation and Reflection on the Theme

Ehrlich drew a perfect picture of a cowboy, or rather an ordinary man, who is aggressive and cold on the whole but is tender actually. There is a lot to relate to the life of a cowboy with that of any other man, not exactly but metaphorically. For example, the lack of communication that Ehrlich refers to in the essay is common among almost all the men who prefer not to talk about emotions as it is difficult for them (Ehrlich, 1985, p.83).
The theme of the essay is brilliant as Ehrlich makes the reader think about something that does not occur in ones mind having no experience of visiting a ranch and how cliché it is to imagine a cowboy with all play and no feelings. Ehrlich proves us wrong so clearly with no room for objection. But to really understand her defensive explanations, we need to put into effect our imagination to create a picture in our minds of a cow boy going through the troubles of the day and then longing for a comforting talk that he fails to have time and again. Without imagination, her point can be read but not understood. Despite of being a non-fiction, her writing urges the reader to imagine the life of a cowboy through her eyes and understand how different he really is from the stereotypical image of his displayed in the movies.


About Men is an interesting short piece of writing by Gretel Ehrlich, where we are encouraged to put aside our usual images of a cow boy and venture into the really challenging and rough life and yet simple life of a cow boy who displays toughness and yet longs for emotional comfort. Cleverly written, Ehrlich induces vivid images of the ranch into our eyes which makes this writing all the more pleasing to read.

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