Half Broke Horses


Jeannette Walls

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Themes and Colors
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
Fate vs. Self-Reliance  Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Half Broke Horses, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.

Women’s Strength in a Man’s World

Half Broke Horses is the story of Lily Casey Smith, author Jeannette Walls’ fiery grandmother who grew up in the western United States in the first half of the twentieth century. Lily is an extremely strong woman who frequently butts heads with the sexist attitudes of the time. Her story highlights the many ways society has tried to control women’s lives, as well as how women like Lily carved their own paths in a…

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Poverty and the American Dream

Lily’s life cycles through times of extreme poverty and relative comfort. Though she believes her impoverished background has given her an invaluable work ethic, she also feels looked down upon by the rich. Nevertheless, Lily’s story is a testament to the power of hard work and a manifestation of the traditional American Dream.

Lily grows up so poor that her family lives in a dirt dugout for the first few years of her life…

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Technology and Progress

Lily grows up during a time of rapid technological development across the United States, as electricity, indoor plumbing, telephones, and automobiles become an integral part of American society. Many characters resist the changing times, but Lily is able to find success by embracing modern life without ever forgetting her roots. In her world, only those able to adapt and evolve can survive.

Lily’s lifetime spans multiple technological advances that forever change the fabric of American…

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Connection to Nature

Though Lily appreciates modern technology, she remains intimately connected to the natural world. The novel presents nature as both destructive and nourishing, a force that at once dictates life on the ranch and grants characters freedom from meaningless or harmful societal rules and bureaucracy.

Lily learns to respect nature from a young age. The Caseys live in a dugout for the first few years of her life, where the natural world literally falls through their…

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Fate vs. Self-Reliance

The power of nature teaches Lily early on that life is fragile and unpredictable. While her mother is content to passively accept certain catastrophic events as “God’s will,” Lily instead chooses to believe in her own power to prepare for and respond to whatever comes her way. After Lily saves her younger siblings from the flash flood at the beginning of the novel, she resents Mom chalking their survival up to her own prayers rather…

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