Half Broke Horses

by

Jeannette Walls

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Half Broke Horses: Chapter 6 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Jim convinces the English investors to buy the neighboring Hackberry ranch, which has a windmill with well water. He and Lily now preside over 180,000 acres of land. Lily loves Hackberry, and believes its well means that their days of  “hauling fuel drums” like they did in the storm were over. Lily buys a truck-load of lead pipe from Los Angeles, which they use to connect the spring water to a spigot at the house. Lily paints the rooms different colors, something the artistic Rosemary especially appreciates. Lily decides she wants to buy Hackberry, and the family begins saving every penny. Lily comes up with money-making schemes, including selling encyclopedias door-to-door, and takes the children to scavenge for bottles to recycle, insisting it is teaching them “resourcefulness.”
Rosemary’s artistic inclinations are beginning to blossom, and her love of the Hackberry rooms foreshadows her dream of becoming an artist. Now that she has identified a new goal to work towards, Lily continues to be extremely resourceful and hardworking, doing whatever it takes to save money for Hackberry. She also continues to try to teach her children lessons in everything they do.
Themes
Women’s Strength in a Man’s World Theme Icon
Poverty and the American Dream Theme Icon
Fate vs. Self-Reliance  Theme Icon
Lily is now nearing her thirty-ninth birthday. When the family drives by a sign for flying lessons, she insists they stop. The pilot, whom she calls Goggles, is surprised that Lily, not Jim, wants the lesson, because he has never taught a woman before. Lily scoffs at being called a “little lady,” and Goggles agrees to take her up in the rickety two-seater plane. Lily takes her first flight and feels as though she is seeing the world for the first time. Rosemary is surprised she spent money since they are supposed to be saving; Lily responds that she could make money as a pilot, and the lesson was an investment in herself.
Goggles reflects the sexist attitudes of his time, which Lily is quick to call him out on. Lily has been fascinated by flying ever since she saw the red airplane soar overhead on her return from Red Lake, and it is the pinnacle of human technology at the time. Flying allows Lily to see the world as never before. Flying lessons are one of the very few non-essential things Lily readily spends money on, reflecting their importance to her.
Themes
Women’s Strength in a Man’s World Theme Icon
Technology and Progress Theme Icon
Still needing more income, Lily writes to Grady Gammage, who helped her get her job in Red Lake, about teaching opportunities. He tells her about a remote job in a town of Mormon polygamists. Jim accompanies her and the children to help them settle in the town. Main Street is tiny, and Lily shares the teacherage room with Rosemary and Little Jim. There are no cars, and people are so poor that the children wear dresses made of feed sacks. When the locals discover that Jim is the son of the famous Mormon Lot Smith, they warm up to the family.
By reaching out to Grady Gammage, Lily is again drawing upon her past to influence her future. Lily has had a rocky relationship with organized religion up to this point in the novel, and this, combined with her feminist viewpoints, forebodes drama upon moving to a deeply religious polygamist town.
Themes
Women’s Strength in a Man’s World Theme Icon
Fate vs. Self-Reliance  Theme Icon
Lily observes that the students’ houses are like “breeding factories” where up to seven wives “churn out” babies. The girls are “docile and submissive,” and at around thirteen years old they disappear into their arranged marriages. Lily decides she must teach her female students that they do not have to become “broodmares dressed in feed sacks.” She includes lessons on nursing, women like Amelia Earhart and Eleanor Roosevelt, and her own story of breaking horses and learning to fly a plane. She encourages them that they can all do it too, so long as they have the “gumption.”
Because Lily has worked so hard to establish her autonomy and independence in a sexist world, she cannot abide watching the young girls she teaches be treated like animals. By drawing upon her own history as inspiration, she emphasizes just how unique her life has been and how powerful it can be to simply show these girls what options exist beyond the restrictive confines of their town. She reiterates her belief in the power of self-reliance above all else.
Themes
Women’s Strength in a Man’s World Theme Icon
Poverty and the American Dream Theme Icon
Fate vs. Self-Reliance  Theme Icon
Related Quotes
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The local patriarch, Uncle Eli, scolds Lily for teaching the girls “worldly ways,” and says the town will shun her if she continues. Lily refuses to be cowed, and the next day gives a lesson on religious freedom. When Uncle Eli comes to the house to intimidate her, Lily grabs her revolver and shoots past his ear, saying that next time she won’t aim to miss. The sheriff comes by, and Lily knows she won’t last long. She continues to teach, but is fired by the county superintendent in the spring.
Lily butts heads with male-dominated society, but as always, retains her conviction that she is doing what is right. She once again pulls out her revolver to defend herself. Nevertheless, she is still living in a patriarchal world, and no matter how strong she might be personally, she is ultimately forced to face the consequences of going against society’s rules.
Themes
Women’s Strength in a Man’s World Theme Icon
Poverty and the American Dream Theme Icon
Fate vs. Self-Reliance  Theme Icon
Lily gets another job in Peach Springs, where she agrees to be the teacher, janitor, cook, and bus driver. The town has set aside money for a new form of transportation for the kids. Lily buys a hearse from a used car lot and spray paints “school bus” on the side. She drives 200 miles every day to pick up and drop off her students. Rosemary and Little Jim also attend the class, and she paddles them often to make sure no one thinks she is playing favorites. One day Little Jim is unconscious after falling off a swing, and Lily must frantically pile all the children into the hearse and drive them home before heading to the hospital. Jim wakes up on the way, but, not wanting to go back to school, Rosemary pretends to be sick. Lily makes her spend the night alone in a room at the hospital to teach her a lesson, and she never plays hooky again.
Lily taking on so many jobs at once again emphasizes her incredible work ethic and refusal to ever complain about her lot. The hearse is yet another sign of her resourcefulness. The episode with Rosemary reveals Lily’s refusal to put up with bad behavior from her children, though it also suggests the occasionally harsh nature of her parenting. She continues to be concerned with teaching her children lessons.
Themes
Women’s Strength in a Man’s World Theme Icon
Poverty and the American Dream Theme Icon
Fate vs. Self-Reliance  Theme Icon
Lily decides to use the hearse to run a taxi business on weekends and puts some of the extra money towards more flying lessons. When her neighbor’s three cousins visit from Brooklyn, she agrees to drive them to the Grand Canyon and takes Rosemary with her. Lily is appalled at how spoiled and delicate the Brooklyners seem. They ask Rosemary about Santa Claus, but she has no idea what they are talking about. On a hill, the hearse’s brakes give out. The Brooklyn ladies are scared, but Lily is proud that Rosemary remains fearless. Lily is able to maneuver the car so that they crash safely, and says that if you drive you need to know “how to crash.”
The Brooklyn cousins exist in sharp contrast to the people of Lily’s world. To Lily, city folk are deeply frivolous and weak, and lack the strength of character imbued by growing up closer to the land. Lily continues to value boldness and bravery, while her emphasis on knowing “how to crash” echoes Dad’s insistence that Lily know “how to fall.”
Themes
Connection to Nature Theme Icon
Fate vs. Self-Reliance  Theme Icon
Lily decides to show the children what Christmas is like, and tries to convince them that Santa Claus has brought them gifts. Rosemary is not fooled. The kids are excited about Christmas lights, though, and the family cuts down a pine tree. That night Jim connects the lights to the hearse battery, and the sight astounds the children—as well as some ranch hands who have never seen electric lights before.
Rosemary’s refusal to accept Santa Claus adds comic relief to the story. The Christmas lights again represent the increased presence of modern technology, even on a ranch seemingly in the middle of nowhere.
Themes
Technology and Progress Theme Icon
Deputy Johnson’s son Johnny Johnson is in Lily’s class, and a real trouble maker. He kisses Rosemary and sticks his hand up another girl’s dress, causing Lily to slap him. He hits her back, at which point she hits and spanks him to teach him not to mistreat girls. Afterwards she refuses to apologize to the Deputy, and her contract is not renewed. Jim says she has a habit of getting into altercations, but Lily insists she just has a habit of sticking up for herself and does what is necessary when the rules are wrong. Nevertheless, she is tired of being fired. She realizes she is crying in front of Rosemary, something that makes her feel as though she has let her daughter down. She asserts that she is “not a weak woman.”
Lily again stands up to the misogyny surrounding her, and again must face the consequences. She perseveres by sticking to her belief that she has been doing what is right. Her refusal to cry in front of Rosemary stems from her hatred of people feeling sorry for themselves or showing weakness. It evidences how much she values being stoic and strong, and setting a good example for her daughter—even if from an outside perspective, it might be good for Rosemary to see that not everyone can be strong all the time.
Themes
Women’s Strength in a Man’s World Theme Icon
Lily is determined to prove to the town that Deputy Johnson did not break her spirit. When Gone With the Wind is set to play at the local movie theater, she vows to attend in a fancy dress. Gone With the Wind is her favorite book, and she admires that Scarlett O’Hara never lets anything get in her way. Lily sews her own gown out of her red living room curtains. Jim drives her in the hearse. Upon arrival, Lily waves to the crowd, including Deputy Johnson, as the photographer’s lightbulb flashes.
Lily rejects finery and, as always, finds practical uses for what she already has. Her admiration for Scarlett O’Hara is unsurprising given the respect for strong, no-nonsense women she has exhibited throughout the book. As with Ted, she refuses to let a man think he has broken her spirit.
Themes
Women’s Strength in a Man’s World Theme Icon
Poverty and the American Dream Theme Icon