Montana 1948


Larry Watson

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Racism, Prejudice, and the American West Theme Analysis

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.
Racism, Prejudice, and the American West Theme Icon

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 can see them for what they really are. Marie must sleep in a small servant’s bedroom off the kitchen, even though there is a free bedroom upstairs. Ronnie Tall Bear, though a star athlete, does not go to college because he cannot get accepted as a Native American. Wesley, though he is Marie’s advocate, and (we are led to believe) a generally good man, dislikes Native Americans as a group, believing them to be lazy and dishonest, and their beliefs to be foolish and old fashioned. Frank, meanwhile, is blatantly racist—Wesley believes his brother thought less of Marie Little Soldier than of a dog. And Grandpa Julian is of the opinion that abuse of Native Americans is something that just happens—his biggest concern about his son Frank’s abusive behavior is that Frank will accidently end up with a non-white child.

In the novella, popular depictions of the American west—“Cowboys and Indians” as they appear in movies, television shows, and radio programs—are often held up against the realities of the town. David spends a great deal of time sifting through these images and trying to reconcile them with the world he actually lives in. His dad, “The Sheriff” is not nearly as exciting as a western cowboy and his job ends up not being about “defeating bad guys” but rather extremely morally complex. David’s caretaker, Marie Little Soldier, meanwhile, does not match stereotypes of “Indians” he sees in popular culture. Throughout the novel, Watson calls attention to one of the most forgotten and underplayed struggles in US history: that of Native American communities who want to maintain their culture, identities, and dignity in a United States that has systematically disenfranchised them and looks upon them with little more than prejudice.

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Racism, Prejudice, and the American West ThemeTracker

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

Below you will find the important quotes in Montana 1948 related to the theme of Racism, Prejudice, and the American West.
Chapter 1 Quotes

The harshness of the land and the flattening effect of wind and sky probably accounted for the relative tranquility of Mercer County. Life was simply too hard…nothing was left over for raising hell or making trouble.

Related Characters: David Hayden (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Wind
Page Number: 4
Explanation and Analysis:

I never wondered then, as I do now, why a college didn’t snap up an athlete like Ronnie. Then, I knew, without being told, as if it were knowledge that I drank in the water, that college was not for Indians.

Related Characters: David Hayden (speaker), Ronnie Tall Bear
Page Number: 14
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 2 Quotes

All of these accomplishments made Ollie the perfect choice for white people to point to as an example of what Indians could be.

Related Characters: David Hayden (speaker), Ollie Young Bear
Page Number: 48
Explanation and Analysis:

I imagined all the Indians of our region, from town, ranches, or reservation, gathered on top of Circle Hill to do something about Marie’s death. But in my vision, the Indians were not lined up in battle formation as they always were in movies, that is, mounted on war ponies, streaked with war paint…Instead, just as I did in my daily life I saw them dressed in their jeans and cowboy boots, their cotton print dresses, or their flannel shirts.

Related Characters: David Hayden (speaker), Marie Little Soldier
Page Number: 93
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 3 Quotes

“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:
Epilogue Quotes

I find history endlessly amusing, knowing, as I do, that the record of any human community might omit stories of sexual abuse, murder, suicide.

Related Characters: David Hayden (speaker)
Page Number: 164
Explanation and Analysis: