Our story begins on a prosperous farm, isolated from civilisation, in the heart of the Great Plains of America in the 1930’s. Two brothers work for their father, a crippled patriarch refusing to let go of management of the farm. The elder works the land, the younger works the books. When the father threatens to send the elder brother away, disdaining him for little more than a farmhand and denying him his birthright, the elder brother kills the younger brother in a fit of a rage. In attempting to conceal his crime, the elder brother sets fire to the corn fields and his face is severely burnt. The pride of the father protects his living son from trial, although he banishes him from his homeland forever. As the elder son leaves the farm for the final time, he and the land are consumed by a dust storm. And so begins the elder brother’s exile, fleeing westwards amongst the migrants of the Dust Bowl, carrying with him the mark of his guilt.
Born From Dust is a neowestern retelling of the Cain and Abel story, as described in Genesis 4: 1-15. We have chosen to situate our narrative in the American Dust Bowl of the 1930’s, when thousands of farmers and their families were forced by dust storms to migrate from their homes westwards to an uncertain future in California. What fascinated us about the Cain and Abel story was that it is an extremely small-scale, human narrative happening in the context of an epic developing story. In response to this, we have taken the idea of exile in the Cain and the Abel narrative and situated it against the backdrop of a national exodus. The land is the focus of the Biblical narrative and our retelling of it; in both Cain is a farmer, his crime is motivated by a dispute over the land, and his punishment is banishment from it. God tells Cain “When thou tillest the ground, it shall not henceforth yield unto thee her strength; a fugitive and a vagabond shalt thou be in the earth” – to us, this curse has eerie resonances to the farmers made exiles by the Dust Bowl.