Half Broke Horses

by

Jeannette Walls

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Lily’s father, whose name is Adam but is always referred to as Dad in the narrative, was kicked in the head by a horse as a child, resulting in a speech impediment that makes him difficult to understand. Nevertheless, he loves horses and often prefers their company to human beings, because the animals do not mock or pity him. He trains carriage horses for a living. and Lily observes that he seems to have his own language with them. He tries to instill his knowledge of horses in Lily, training her to “break” horses from the age of six. Dad is extremely intelligent and well-read, and frequently writes letters to politicians about the dangerous effects of industrialization on the human soul. His resistance to modern technology, however, suggests that his business is doomed; he scoffs at Lily’s asking whether he would ever buy a car, even though the horse-drawn carriage will soon become obsolete. A man of many eccentricities, Dad is obsessed with phonetic spelling—even dubbing the family ranch the “KC Ranch” (Casey Ranch)—and can frequently be found working on a biography of Billy the Kid. He also believes everyone must work to achieve their “Purpose in Life,” and constantly tries to teach his children lessons to help them prepare for that Purpose. Though often a kind and supportive father, Dad also has a hot temper; he went to prison for three years before Lily’s birth for allegedly murdering another man, but maintains his innocence throughout his life. He is also prone to half-baked schemes (a tendency that, many years later, will be paralleled by his granddaughter’s husband Rex). Much to his daughter’s disappointment, for example, he uses Lily’s tuition money to buy four Great Danes that he plans to breed; the dogs are later shot by Old Man Pucket. Dad is a proud Irishman who abhors prejudice and identifies with aggrieved Native Americans and Mexicans, sentiments he passes on to Lily. At the end of his life he calls Lily his best hand on the ranch, and dies shortly after she visits him in a nursing home.

Dad / Adam Casey Quotes in Half Broke Horses

The Half Broke Horses quotes below are all either spoken by Dad / Adam Casey or refer to Dad / Adam Casey. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Women’s Strength in a Man’s World Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Scribner edition of Half Broke Horses published in 2010.
Chapter 2  Quotes

Most of the other girls came from rich ranch families. Whereas I was used to hollering like a horse trainer, they had whispery voices and ladylike manners and matching luggage. Some of the girls complained about the gray uniforms we had to wear, but I liked the way they leveled out the differences between those who could afford fancy store-bought clothes and those of us, like me, who had only home-dyed beechnut brown dresses. I did make friends, however, trying to follow Dad’s advice to figure out what someone wanted and help her get it, though it was hard, when you saw someone doing something wrong, to resist the temptation to correct her. Especially if that someone acted hoity-toity.

Related Characters: Lily Casey Smith (speaker), Dad / Adam Casey
Page Number: 38-39
Explanation and Analysis:

Mom and Dad always talked as if it was a matter of course that Helen and I would marry and Buster would inherit the property, though I had to admit I'd never actually met a boy I liked, not to mention felt like marrying. On the other hand, women who didn't marry became old maids, spinsters who slept in the attic, sat in a corner peeling potatoes all day, and were a burden on their families, like our neighbor Old Man Pucket’s sister, Louella.

Page Number: 39
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 3  Quotes

As I listened to Dad, I could feel myself pulling away from him. All my life I'd been hearing Dad reminiscing about the past and railing against the future. I decided not to tell him about the red airplane. It would only get him more worked up. What Dad didn't understand was that no matter how much he hated or feared the future, it was coming, and there was only one way to deal with it: by climbing aboard.

Related Characters: Lily Casey Smith (speaker), Dad / Adam Casey
Related Symbols: The Red Airplane
Page Number: 68
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 4 Quotes

She was convinced that Mom in particular would never forgive her for bringing shame on the family. Mom and Dad would disown her, she believed, the same way our servant girl Lupe's parents had kicked her out when she got pregnant. No man would ever want her again, Helen said, she had no place to go. She wasn't as strong as me, she said, and couldn't make it on her own.

"Don't you ever feel like giving up?" Helen asked. "I just feel like giving up."

"That's nonsense," I said. "You're much stronger than you think. There's always a way out." I talked again about the cottonwood tree. I also told her about the time I was sent home from the Sisters of Loretto because Dad wouldn't pay my tuition, and how Mother Albertina had told me that when God closes a window, he opens a door, and it was up to us to find it.

Page Number: 108
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 7 Quotes

Dad's death didn't hollow me out the way Helen's had. After all, everyone had assumed Dad was a goner back when he got kicked in the head as a child. Instead, he had cheated death and, despite his gimp and speech impediment, lived a long life doing pretty much what he wanted. He hadn't drawn the best of cards, but he’d played his hand darned well, so what was there to grieve over?

Related Characters: Lily Casey Smith (speaker), Dad / Adam Casey, Helen
Page Number: 199
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 9 Quotes

I felt there was a lot more I could say about the subject of danger. I could have given her an entire lecture on it, talking about my dad getting his head staved in by a horse when he was three, about my Chicago friend Minnie getting killed when her hair got caught in machinery, about my sister, Helen, taking her own life after accidentally getting pregnant. Life came with as much adventure and danger as any one body needed. You didn't have to go chasing after them. But the fact of the matter was, Rosemary hadn't really listened to what I had to say ever since that time we visited the Havasupai and I gave her the whipping for swimming with Fidel Hanna.

Page Number: 257
Explanation and Analysis:
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Half Broke Horses PDF

Dad / Adam Casey Character Timeline in Half Broke Horses

The timeline below shows where the character Dad / Adam Casey appears in Half Broke Horses. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 1 
Connection to Nature Theme Icon
Fate vs. Self-Reliance  Theme Icon
...climb down and wade through the now shallower water to reach their house. Upon arrival, Dad rushes to greet them while Mom kneels in prayer, asserting that her praying through the... (full context)
Technology and Progress Theme Icon
Connection to Nature Theme Icon
...is barely enough to raise their cattle. The land is also overrun with peacocks, which Dad intended to sell but proved unpopular with locals. Dad’s main job is breeding and training... (full context)
Poverty and the American Dream Theme Icon
Lily notes that she was born in 1901, shortly after Dad got out of prison for allegedly murdering a settler in a land dispute. Dad’s own... (full context)
Women’s Strength in a Man’s World Theme Icon
Poverty and the American Dream Theme Icon
Connection to Nature Theme Icon
...ceiling, and the dugout is always filled with mosquitos. When Lily gets yellow jack fever, Dad takes care of her. Mom says the fever may have “boiled her brain” and made... (full context)
Women’s Strength in a Man’s World Theme Icon
Poverty and the American Dream Theme Icon
Fate vs. Self-Reliance  Theme Icon
...her parents and reminds her of “the civilized world.” Because she refuses to do chores, Dad does them with Apache, an old man who was captured by Native Americans as a... (full context)
Poverty and the American Dream Theme Icon
Connection to Nature Theme Icon
...shot and killed; his children argued about how to split up his herd of horses. Dad felt like he got cheated out of his share and is caught up in lawsuits... (full context)
Poverty and the American Dream Theme Icon
Technology and Progress Theme Icon
Despite the way his speech makes him sound, Lily asserts that Dad is smart and well-read. He is a prolific writer, frequently focused on the perils of... (full context)
Women’s Strength in a Man’s World Theme Icon
Connection to Nature Theme Icon
Lily reflects on helping Dad train the horses from the time she turned five. Dad tells Lily to always “think... (full context)
Women’s Strength in a Man’s World Theme Icon
Connection to Nature Theme Icon
Fate vs. Self-Reliance  Theme Icon
...this by riding them bareback until they “accepted their fate.” She was thrown often, though Dad said falling was an important part of life. Once, while riding an easily-spooked horse named... (full context)
Fate vs. Self-Reliance  Theme Icon
...telling Lily that this is how the world works. Lily unsuccessfully tries to barter, which Dad thinks will help her learn the “art of negotiation” and achieve her “Purpose in Life.”... (full context)
Connection to Nature Theme Icon
Fate vs. Self-Reliance  Theme Icon
...even more than flash floods. When she is eleven, a “monster” of a tornado strikes. Dad sets all the horses free so they have a chance to gallop away from the... (full context)
Chapter 2 
Poverty and the American Dream Theme Icon
Technology and Progress Theme Icon
Connection to Nature Theme Icon
The family travels for three days to reach the Casey Ranch, which Dad likes to call the “KC ranch,” where the countryside is so green that Lily can... (full context)
Women’s Strength in a Man’s World Theme Icon
Technology and Progress Theme Icon
Fate vs. Self-Reliance  Theme Icon
Despite being only eleven, Lily oversees the hiring of farmhands for her father. Dad is distracted by training horses, and continues to write to politicians and newspapers “railing against”... (full context)
Women’s Strength in a Man’s World Theme Icon
Poverty and the American Dream Theme Icon
Fate vs. Self-Reliance  Theme Icon
...classroom. Unfortunately, Mother Albertina calls Lily back to her study later to tell her that Dad has failed to pay her tuition for the next semester, and she will need to... (full context)
Women’s Strength in a Man’s World Theme Icon
Poverty and the American Dream Theme Icon
Fate vs. Self-Reliance  Theme Icon
...train station and assures her that when God closes a window he opens a door. Dad meets Lily in the town of Tinnie, along with four huge Great Danes in the... (full context)
Women’s Strength in a Man’s World Theme Icon
...dead by neighboring Old Man Pucket, who accuses them of chasing his cattle. A furious Dad grabs his shotgun, but Dorothy wrestles it from him and tells him that shooting Pucket... (full context)
Women’s Strength in a Man’s World Theme Icon
Poverty and the American Dream Theme Icon
Fate vs. Self-Reliance  Theme Icon
Dad decides to file a legal claim against Old Man Pucket instead and appoints Lily to... (full context)
Women’s Strength in a Man’s World Theme Icon
Poverty and the American Dream Theme Icon
Fate vs. Self-Reliance  Theme Icon
...fifteen. Mom thinks leaving the ranch would reduce Lily’s chance of finding a husband, and Dad wants her to stay and help, but they allow her to take the test. She... (full context)
Women’s Strength in a Man’s World Theme Icon
Poverty and the American Dream Theme Icon
Connection to Nature Theme Icon
Fate vs. Self-Reliance  Theme Icon
...take four weeks. She plans to hide her hair and keep her “voice low,” and Dad gives her a small gun for added protection. The morning of her departure, he also... (full context)
Chapter 3 
Women’s Strength in a Man’s World Theme Icon
Poverty and the American Dream Theme Icon
Technology and Progress Theme Icon
Fate vs. Self-Reliance  Theme Icon
...carriage horse business. Lily no longer wants the life of a horsewoman and realizes that Dad is stuck in the past. Seeing the plane made her understand how much more there... (full context)
Chapter 7
Women’s Strength in a Man’s World Theme Icon
Poverty and the American Dream Theme Icon
...has died while Lily was studying in Phoenix, and now Buster and Dorothy have put Dad in a nursing home. Dad begs Lily to come see him before he dies, calling... (full context)
Poverty and the American Dream Theme Icon
Fate vs. Self-Reliance  Theme Icon
They reach Tucson and visit Dad in his old folks’ home, where he appears very frail and is too sick to... (full context)
Women’s Strength in a Man’s World Theme Icon
Poverty and the American Dream Theme Icon
Connection to Nature Theme Icon
Dad left the KC Ranch to Buster and the homestead on Salt Draw to Lily, but... (full context)