Analysis of the Montana 1948 by Larry Watson






Authors have always used their literary works to convey a certain message or to depict some evil in the society within which they live. This is clearly depicted in the novel “Montana 1948″ by Larry Watson. The novel revolves around the life of a boy named David Hayden, who lives with his extended family in a minute town known as Bentrock, Montana. The Hayden family is known to be extremely powerful in Mercer County and incorporates members such as a war hero and the local sheriff. However, the summer of 1948 marks the turning point in David’s life as far as his point of view of the things that he has ever known is concerned. First, David’s nanny named Marie Little Soldier fell sick upon which David’s uncle Frank was called in to examine her. Marie, however, refuses to be examined by him and confides to David’s mom Gail, that Frank molests Native American patients. Ultimately, Marie dies, but David Hayden admits to his dad that she may have been sexually abused and murdered by Uncle Frank. This leaves Wes, who is David’s father and the local sheriff in a dilemma as to the legal action that he is supposed to take. He has to decide whether let Uncle Frank remain free and maintain his loyalty to his family, or be loyal to justice of the land and arrest Uncle Frank. Ultimately, there is an agreement that Uncle Frank should be locked up in David’s house cellar until such a time when an appropriate decision is made pertaining to his fate. However, Uncle Frank ends the reigning dispute when he commits suicide with the cellar.

One of the most dominant themes in the novel is racism. Daisy McAuley, one of the local women uses the term “squaws” in reference to the Indian women. This is a racist terminology that incorporates terms such as “redskin”, “black gin” “nigger”. It is worth noting that these things are a symbol of racial inferiority. Daisy has always known that doctor Frank Hayden rapes Indian women but does not care much about that. This is because the entire community bears some prejudice against Indians and opines that they are ignorant of what doctors should do when examining them.

In addition, racism is shown to be a function of misunderstanding and ignorance with Julian Hayden as a prime example. This key symbol of Julian’s opinions is his two story “dude ranch”. While Europeans conquered the west thanks to their guns and brute force rather than their intelligence and knowledge, Julian is quite ignorant of this fact in his opinion. He uses the term “red meat” to refer to the Sioux thereby denigrating them as objects that may be used anyhow by his son frank. Julian’s crude and boorish nature are exhibited by his regular use of foul language, as well as his reference to bodily functions in describing other races.

While it may be assumed that Wes was free of racial prejudice against the Indians, subtle expressions of the vice may be noticed in some of his behavior. For example, Wes prevents his son David from wearing moccasins that had been given to him as he believed that the shoes would make David as lazy and flat-footed as Indians. The use of shoes in reference to Indians may point at the fact that the society believed that there was nothing wrong in keeping them under their feet, as that is where they belong. Wes’s prejudice is seen especially in the fact that he thought them to be irresponsible, superstitious, ignorant and lazy, of course, with a few exceptions.