Half Broke Horses

by

Jeannette Walls

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Lily’s little sister is ladylike and delicate like Mom, and similarly unenthused about working on a ranch. By age sixteen she decides to move to Los Angeles to become a movie star. There, she struggles to find success, and dates a series of men before becoming pregnant by a slick Hollywood producer, who promptly abandons her. Unwilling to have a dangerous back-alley abortion and fearing she will be disowned by their parents, Helen writes to Lily for help and moves into the teacher’s quarters with her in Red Lake. Once Helen’s condition becomes known to the town, however, people begin to behave coldly toward both sisters. Helen overhears Mr. MacIntosh insist that she threatens the morality to the school and as such she should leave the town. Believing she is not strong enough to face the world on her own, Helen hangs herself the next day. Father Cavanaugh refuses to let her be buried in the town’s Catholic cemetery, so Lily, Jim, and Rooster must bury her on a hill. Feeling that Helen’s beauty was ultimately a curse, Lily vows never to tell any daughter of her own that she is beautiful.

Helen Quotes in Half Broke Horses

The Half Broke Horses quotes below are all either spoken by Helen or refer to Helen. 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

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 4 Quotes

The parents of my schoolkids included cattle rustlers, drunks, land speculators, bootleggers, gamblers, and former prostitutes. They didn't mind me racing horses, playing poker, or drinking contraband whiskey, but my showing some compassion to a sister who'd been taken advantage of and then abandoned by a smooth-talking scoundrel filled them with moral indignation. It made me want to throttle them all.

Related Characters: Lily Casey Smith (speaker), Helen, Mr. MacIntosh
Page Number: 107
Explanation and Analysis:

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:
Get the entire Half Broke Horses LitChart as a printable PDF.
Half Broke Horses PDF

Helen Character Timeline in Half Broke Horses

The timeline below shows where the character Helen 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
As Lily, her younger brother Buster, and their younger sister Helen try to bring the family cows in from the pasture, Lily senses that the animals... (full context)
Women’s Strength in a Man’s World Theme Icon
Poverty and the American Dream Theme Icon
Mom is closest with Helen, who inherited her dainty features and constitution. She dotes on Buster as the future of... (full context)
Chapter 3 
...and Dorothy are now married, and the latter basically runs the ranch. Mom frets about Helen, who is now sixteen, finding a husband; Helen, meanwhile, wants to move to Los Angeles... (full context)
Chapter 4
Women’s Strength in a Man’s World Theme Icon
Poverty and the American Dream Theme Icon
Technology and Progress Theme Icon
Connection to Nature Theme Icon
...changed little back at the ranch. Buster and Dorothy have children, Mom seems frail, and Helen is working as a clerk in Los Angeles. Patches is still alive and well despite... (full context)
Women’s Strength in a Man’s World Theme Icon
Helen has been writing to Lily about her life in Hollywood and the series of men... (full context)
Women’s Strength in a Man’s World Theme Icon
Fate vs. Self-Reliance  Theme Icon
Lily is shocked at how frail and jittery Helen appears upon her arrival at Red Lake. Helen seems distracted, and, still convinced she can... (full context)
Women’s Strength in a Man’s World Theme Icon
The sisters begin attend the local Catholic Church, where the grim Father Cavanaugh realizes that Helen is pregnant and unmarried. He forces her to make a confession and then tells Helen... (full context)
Women’s Strength in a Man’s World Theme Icon
Fate vs. Self-Reliance  Theme Icon
Lily tries to assure Helen that they will find a way to survive. She insists their parents will understand, and... (full context)
Women’s Strength in a Man’s World Theme Icon
Connection to Nature Theme Icon
The next day Lily plans to take Helen to the Grand Canyon to put their problems in perspective. Lily goes to get the... (full context)
Women’s Strength in a Man’s World Theme Icon
Connection to Nature Theme Icon
Fate vs. Self-Reliance  Theme Icon
Father Cavanaugh refuses to let Lily bury Helen in the Catholic cemetery because suicide is a sin. Lily, Jim, and Rooster bury Helen... (full context)
Chapter 5
Women’s Strength in a Man’s World Theme Icon
Fate vs. Self-Reliance  Theme Icon
Lily feels overwhelmed by grief following Helen’s death, and resents Red Lake for not affording her sister compassion when she needed it... (full context)
Women’s Strength in a Man’s World Theme Icon
Technology and Progress Theme Icon
...will be “a wanderer.” Lily names the baby Rosemary and notes that she looks like Helen. Considering Helen’s beauty to have been a curse, Lily vows never to tell Rosemary she... (full context)
Chapter 7
Poverty and the American Dream Theme Icon
Fate vs. Self-Reliance  Theme Icon
...ranch’s cemetery. Lily does not feel as gutted by his death as she was by Helen’s; she feels Dad had cheated death by surviving being kicked in the head by the... (full context)