Montana 1948


Larry Watson

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Themes and Colors
Law versus Justice Theme Icon
Family and Loyalty Theme Icon
Racism, Prejudice, and the American West Theme Icon
Identity Theme Icon
Growing Up Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Montana 1948, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.

Law versus Justice

The central conflict in Montana 1948 concerns the tensions and differences between the practice and enforcement of law and the more abstract notion of justice, and the realization that the law does not or cannot always provide justice. The book repeatedly notes how the practice and enforcement of law is susceptible to public opinion and abuses of power.

Dr. Frank Hayden takes advantage of the fact that the his brother, Sheriff Wesley Hayden, does…

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Family and Loyalty

Montana 1948 explores different kinds of familial loyalty, and what happens when these loyalties pull people in different, even opposite, directions. Wesley Hayden has a duty to his brother, but also to Marie Little Soldier, who cares for David and is described as being “like family” several times in the novel. He first tries to deny that his brother Frank could have done the things Marie accused him of doing, but Frank’s guilt quickly…

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Racism, Prejudice, and the American West

Montana 1948 is a historical fiction about life in the “American West” shortly after the Second World War—it serves as an account of how racism affected individual lives in the specific time and place indicated by the book’s title. Bias against Native Americans in the Hayden’s community is fundamentally unquestioned. David, who narrates the story as he looks back from adulthood, comments that as a child, he never questioned certain biases, but now he…

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The novel often asks its reader to consider what determines a person’s identity. Is someone defined by their profession? Their familial position? Their successes or mistakes? Their race or culture? Or is there such a thing as “true” identity, some identity that exists independently of all of these things? Gail maintains that Wesley cannot be his “true” self while working as a sheriff, and wishes he would start practicing law instead. When his family talks…

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Growing Up

The narrator of Montana 1948, David Hayden, often describes the events in the summer of 1948 as events that wrenched him out of the innocence and obliviousness of childhood. The novella is therefore wrapped up in a coming of age narrative. Several elements of his coming of age are present throughout his recollection of the story. The first of these is David’s increasing sexual awareness. David is 12 years old when the events…

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