Even Cowgirls Get the Blues
Even Cowgirls Get the Blues is a 1976
1976 in literature
The year 1976 in literature involved some significant events and new books.-Events:* Saul Bellow won both the Nobel Prize for Literature and the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.-New books:*Kingsley Amis – The Alteration...

 novel by Tom Robbins
Tom Robbins
Thomas Eugene "Tom" Robbins Thomas Eugene "Tom" Robbins Thomas Eugene "Tom" Robbins (born July 22, 1936 is an American author. His best-selling novels are serio-comic, often wildly poetic stories with a strong social and philosophical undercurrent, an irreverent bent, and scenes extrapolated from...


Plot summary

Sissy Hankshaw is a woman born with a mutation
In molecular biology and genetics, mutations are changes in a genomic sequence: the DNA sequence of a cell's genome or the DNA or RNA sequence of a virus. They can be defined as sudden and spontaneous changes in the cell. Mutations are caused by radiation, viruses, transposons and mutagenic...

 of enormously large thumb
The thumb is the first digit of the hand. When a person is standing in the medical anatomical position , the thumb is the lateral-most digit...

s, though she considers it a gift. The novel covers various topics, including free love
Free love
The term free love has been used to describe a social movement that rejects marriage, which is seen as a form of social bondage. The Free Love movement’s initial goal was to separate the state from sexual matters such as marriage, birth control, and adultery...

, drug use
Recreational drug use
Recreational drug use is the use of a drug, usually psychoactive, with the intention of creating or enhancing recreational experience. Such use is controversial, however, often being considered to be also drug abuse, and it is often illegal...

, political rebellion, animal rights
Animal rights
Animal rights, also known as animal liberation, is the idea that the most basic interests of non-human animals should be afforded the same consideration as the similar interests of human beings...

, body odor
Body odor
Body odor or body odour, sometimes colloquially abbreviated as B.O., is the smell of bacteria growing on the body. The bacteria multiply rapidly in the presence of sweat, but sweat itself is almost completely odorless to humans....

, religion, and beets.

Sissy makes the most of her thumbs by becoming a hitchhiker and she travels to New York. She becomes a model for the Countess, a male homosexual tycoon of feminine hygiene products. He introduces her to a staid Mohawk
Mohawk nation
Mohawk are the most easterly tribe of the Iroquois confederation. They call themselves Kanien'gehaga, people of the place of the flint...

 named Julian Gitche whom she later marries. In her later travels she encounters, among many others, a sexually open cowgirl named Bonanza Jellybean and an itinerant escapee from a Japanese internment camp
Japanese internment camp
Japanese internment camp is a term generally used to refer to one or both of the following:*Japanese American internment, the internment of Japanese Americans in the United States during World War II...

 happily mislabeled the Chink
Chink, chinki, chinky or chinkie is a pejorative term referring mainly to a person of Chinese ethnicity but sometimes generalized to refer to any person of East Asian descent...

. Robbins finally inserts himself into the novel as a character as well.

Literary significance & criticism

"Cowgirls" was a favorite of the late 1970's anarchist hippie
The hippie subculture was originally a youth movement that arose in the United States during the mid-1960s and spread to other countries around the world. The etymology of the term 'hippie' is from hipster, and was initially used to describe beatniks who had moved into San Francisco's...

Counterculture is a sociological term used to describe the values and norms of behavior of a cultural group, or subculture, that run counter to those of the social mainstream of the day, the cultural equivalent of political opposition. Counterculture can also be described as a group whose behavior...

. Robbins writes short chapters filled with philosophical asides and quips (such as noting that because amoeba
Amoeba is a genus of Protozoa.History=The amoeba was first discovered by August Johann Rösel von Rosenhof in 1757. Early naturalists referred to Amoeba as the Proteus animalcule after the Greek god Proteus, who could change his shape...

s reproduce by binary fission, the first amoeba
Amoeba is a genus of Protozoa.History=The amoeba was first discovered by August Johann Rösel von Rosenhof in 1757. Early naturalists referred to Amoeba as the Proteus animalcule after the Greek god Proteus, who could change his shape...

 is still alive) and often speaking to the reader (chapter 88 begins with the narrator noting that the book now has as many chapters as a piano
The piano is a musical instrument played by means of a keyboard. It is one of the most popular instruments in the world. Widely used in classical and jazz music for solo performances, ensemble use, chamber music and accompaniment, the piano is also very popular as an aid to composing and rehearsal...

 has key
Key (instrument)
A key is a specific part of a musical instrument. The purpose and function of the part in question depends on the instrument.On instruments equipped with tuning machines, violins and guitars, for example, a key is part of a tuning machine. It is a worm gear with a key shaped end used to turn a cog,...


Film, TV or theatrical adaptations

The novel was made into a 1993
1993 in film
The year 1993 in film involved many significant films, including the blockbuster hits Jurassic Park, The Fugitive and The Firm. -Events:...

 film directed by Gus Van Sant
Gus Van Sant
Gus Green Van Sant, Jr. is an American director, screenwriter, painter, photographer, musician, and author. He is a two time nominee of the Academy Award for Best Director for his 1997 film Good Will Hunting and his 2008 film Milk, both of which were also nominated for Best Picture, and won the...

 and starring Uma Thurman
Uma Thurman
Uma Karuna Thurman is an American actress and model. She has performed in leading roles in a variety of films, ranging from romantic comedies and dramas to science fiction and action movies. Among her best-known roles are those in the Quentin Tarantino films Pulp Fiction and Kill Bill...

, Lorraine Bracco
Lorraine Bracco
Lorraine Bracco is an American actress. She is best known for her TV roles as Dr. Jennifer Melfi on HBO series, The Sopranos, and Angela Rizzoli on the TNT series, Rizzoli & Isles...

, Pat Morita
Pat Morita
Noriyuki "Pat" Morita was an American actor of Japanese descent who was well-known for playing the roles of Matsuo "Arnold" Takahashi on Happy Days and Mr. Miyagi in the The Karate Kid movie series, for which he was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor in 1984.-Early life:Pat...

, Angie Dickinson
Angie Dickinson
Angie Dickinson is an American actress. She has appeared in more than fifty films, including Rio Bravo, Ocean's Eleven, Dressed to Kill and Pay It Forward, and starred on television as Sergeant Suzanne "Pepper" Anderson on the 1970s crime series Police Woman.-Early life:Dickinson, the second of...

, Keanu Reeves
Keanu Reeves
Keanu Charles Reeves is a Canadian actor. Reeves is perhaps best known for his roles in Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure, Speed, Point Break and the science fiction-action trilogy The Matrix...

, John Hurt
John Hurt
John Vincent Hurt, CBE is an English actor, known for his leading roles as John Merrick in The Elephant Man, Winston Smith in Nineteen Eighty-Four, Mr. Braddock in The Hit, Stephen Ward in Scandal, Quentin Crisp in The Naked Civil Servant and An Englishman in New York...

, Rain Phoenix
Rain Phoenix
Rain Phoenix is an American actress, musician, and singer. Phoenix has four siblings: two brothers, actors Joaquin and the late River Phoenix, and two sisters, Summer and Liberty.-Early life:...

, Ed Begley, Jr.
Ed Begley, Jr.
Edward James "Ed" Begley, Jr. is an American actor and environmentalist. Begley has appeared in hundreds of films, television shows, and stage performances. He is best known for his role as Dr. Victor Ehrlich, on the television series St...

, Carol Kane
Carol Kane
Carolyn Laurie "Carol" Kane is an American actress. Kane has worked on the stage, on the screen and in television. She appeared on the television series Taxi in the early 1980s, as the wife of the character played by Andy Kaufman. She received two Emmy Awards for her work...

, Victoria Williams
Victoria Williams
Victoria Williams is an American singer-songwriter and musician, originally from Shreveport, Louisiana, although she has resided in Southern California throughout her musical career. She is noted for her descriptive songwriting talent, which she has used to immerse the listener of her songs into a...

, Sean Young
Sean Young
Sean Young is an American actress, best known for her performance in films from the 1980s such as Blade Runner, Dune, and No Way Out.-Early life:...

, Crispin Glover
Crispin Glover
Crispin Hellion Glover is an American film actor, director and screenwriter, recording artist, publisher, and author. Glover is known for portraying eccentric people on screen such as George McFly in Back to the Future, Layne in River's Edge, unfriendly recluse Rubin Farr in Rubin and Ed, the...

, Roseanne Arnold
Roseanne Barr
Roseanne Cherrie Barr is an American actress, comedian, writer, television producer and director. Barr began her career in stand-up comedy at clubs before gaining fame for her role in the sitcom Roseanne. The show was a hit and lasted nine seasons, from 1988 to 1997...

, Buck Henry
Buck Henry
Henry Zuckerman, better known as Buck Henry , is an American actor, writer, film director, and television director.-Early life:...

, Grace Zabriskie
Grace Zabriskie
Grace Zabriskie is an American actress. She has appeared in many popular American films but, she is best known for her work in television. She is perhaps best known for her roles in the television series Twin Peaks, Seinfeld, and Big Love.-Early life:Zabriskie was born in New Orleans, Louisiana...

, and Treva Jeffryes. Tom Robbins himself was the narrator.

In 2008, Seattle's Book-it Repertory Theatre adapted the novel for the stage.


  • John Cale
    John Cale
    John Davies Cale, OBE is a Welsh musician, composer, singer-songwriter and record producer who was a founding member of the experimental rock band The Velvet Underground....

    , formerly of The Velvet Underground
    The Velvet Underground
    The Velvet Underground was an American rock band formed in New York City. First active from 1964 to 1973, their best-known members were Lou Reed and John Cale, who both went on to find success as solo artists. Although experiencing little commercial success while together, the band is often cited...

    , named a song and album after the novel.
  • The band Nightmare of You
    Nightmare of You
    Nightmare of You is an American indie-rock band from New York City. Formed in 2004, the band currently consists of original founder vocalist Brandon Reilly, guitarist Joseph McCaffrey, and drummer Michael Fleischmann....

     based the song "Thumbelina" on the book.
  • The band The Gaslight Anthem
    The Gaslight Anthem
    The Gaslight Anthem is an American rock band from New Brunswick, New Jersey, consisting of Brian Fallon , Alex Rosamilia , Alex Levine and Benny Horowitz...

     titled a song on their album The '59 Sound
    The '59 Sound
    The '59 Sound is the second studio album by The Gaslight Anthem, released on August 19, 2008 on SideOneDummy Records.In December 2008, eMusic named The '59 Sound the best album of 2008. NME rated it as the 47th best album of the year...

    after the novel.

Partial publication history

Even Cowgirls Get the Blues was first published in 1976 by Houghton Mifflin. It was released as both a hardcover
A hardcover, hardback or hardbound is a book bound with rigid protective covers...

 and paperback
Paperback, softback or softcover describe and refer to a book by the nature of its binding. The covers of such books are usually made of paper or paperboard, and are usually held together with glue rather than stitches or staples...

novel concurrently.
  • First hardcover edition: ISBN 0-395-24305-X, Houghton Mifflin, 1976.
  • First paperback edition: ISBN 0-395-24510-9, Houghton Mifflin, 1976.

External links

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