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.
Identity Theme Icon

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 to him, Wesley often wonders aloud whether they talk to him as a father, a brother, a sheriff, or something else.

David’s awareness of identity—and its ability to shift and change in different circumstances—is also growing throughout the novel. Before the summer of 1948, Uncle Frank was to David a “hero,” an “athlete,” and a “doctor.” After the events of the novel transpire, David can no longer think of him as any of these things: Frank is a sexual abuser, a criminal, a murderer. And even worse, his father becomes the brother of a murderer—a startling shift in identity that David struggles to accept.

During all of this, as well, David is growing into and constructing an identity of his own (See “Coming of Age”). The novella explores these questions about identity in order to outline all of the different ways “identity”—a seemingly stable or constant truth about a person—is in fact difficult to pin down, and is prone to dramatic shifts and changes.

Related Themes from Other Texts
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Identity ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Identity appears in each chapter of Montana 1948. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
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Identity Quotes in Montana 1948

Below you will find the important quotes in Montana 1948 related to the theme of Identity.
Prologue Quotes

A story that is now only mine to tell. I may not be the only witness left—there might still be someone in that small Montana town who remembers the events as well as I, but no one knew all three of these people better. And no one loved them more.

Related Characters: David Hayden (speaker), Wesley Hayden, Gail Hayden, Marie Little Soldier
Page Number: xvi
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 1 Quotes

As long as my father was going to be a sheriff, a position with so much potential for excitement, danger, and bravery, why couldn’t some of that promise be fulfilled?

Related Characters: David Hayden (speaker), Wesley Hayden
Page Number: 5
Explanation and Analysis:

The sheriff of Mercer County was elected, but such was my grandfather’s popularity and influence—and the weight of the Hayden name—that it was enough for my grandfather to say…now I want my son to have this job…It would never have occurred to my father to refuse.

Related Characters: David Hayden (speaker), Wesley Hayden, Grandpa Hayden (Julian)
Page Number: 9
Explanation and Analysis:

“Are you telling me this because I’m Frank’s brother? Because I’m your husband? Because I’m Marie’s employer?...or because I’m the sheriff?”

Related Characters: Wesley Hayden (speaker), Gail Hayden, Marie Little Soldier, Frank Hayden
Page Number: 37
Explanation and Analysis:

I was beginning already to think of Uncle Frank as a criminal…Charming, affable Uncle Frank was gone for good.

Related Characters: David Hayden (speaker), Frank Hayden
Page Number: 38
Explanation and Analysis:

He was not only her husband, he was a brother…brother to a pervert!

Related Characters: David Hayden (speaker), Wesley Hayden, Gail Hayden, Frank Hayden
Page Number: 41
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 2 Quotes

Had I any sensitivity at all I might have recognized that all this talk about wind and dirt and mountains and childhood was my mother’s way of saying she wanted a few moments of purity, a temporary escape from the sordid drama that was playing itself out in her own house. But I was on the trail of something that would lead me out of childhood.

Related Characters: David Hayden (speaker), Gail Hayden
Related Symbols: The Wind
Page Number: 56
Explanation and Analysis:

He had long since stopped being my father. He was now my interrogator, my cross-examiner. The Sheriff. My Uncle’s brother.

Related Characters: David Hayden (speaker), Wesley Hayden, Frank Hayden
Page Number: 89
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 3 Quotes

I suddenly felt sorry for my father—not as he stood before me at that moment, but as a boy. What must it have been like to have a father capable of speaking to you like that?

Related Characters: David Hayden (speaker), Wesley Hayden, Grandpa Hayden (Julian)
Page Number: 108
Explanation and Analysis:

“Screwing an Indian. Or feeling her up or whatever. You don’t lock up a man for that. You don’t lock up your brother. A respected man. A war hero.”

Related Characters: Grandpa Hayden (Julian) (speaker), Wesley Hayden, Frank Hayden
Page Number: 112
Explanation and Analysis:

But our name was no joke. We were as close as Mercer County came to aristocracy. I never consciously traded on the Hayden name, yet I knew it gave me a measure of respect that I didn’t have to earn.

Related Characters: David Hayden (speaker)
Page Number: 119
Explanation and Analysis: