Montana 1948 Essay Questions

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The key of the novel is the stark reality that following the rule of law does not equate with delivering justice. Prejudices against Native Americans, the influence of wealth and privilege and ignorance all conspire to allow the law to be enforced, but justice to be denied. The arrest of Frank Hayden also focuses this thematic light on one of the most insidious forms of perverting the true course of justice: public opinion suspects or victims and the pressure this places on the judicial system to act fairly and equitably in a way true to the concept of justice being blind.

Frank Hayden is a sexual predator whose arrest for raping Native Indian woman ultimately reveals the dark heart of such malevolent racism that it almost defies belief. Frank has convinced himself that he was committing any crime because Native American are subhuman. When combined with his own sense of entitlement at being a superior member of his own race, the very act of assault is instantly negated as criminal behavior in the same way that most people would never consider stepping on a roach to be a sin.

A deeply disturbed psychological motivation is obviously behind Frank Hayden’s incarnation of evil. The patriarch of the family—Grandfather Hayden—is revealed to have established a set pattern for indulging in a preference for Frank over his brother Wesley and the older man’s vulgar sense of entitlement and racist attitudes have been passed down to his favorite. Wesley happens to be the Sheriff and is charged with the responsibility of knowing he must arrest his brother when he can no longer deny the truth. It is the intricacies of family relations as much as the effects of wealth privilege combing with heartless racism that drives the narrative toward a conclusion in which justice seems to have been averted and perverted, but never quite realized despite the best intentions the servant of the law.

Montana 1948 (Watson)

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Montana 1948 
Larry Watson, 1993
Milkweed Editions
186 pp.
ISBN-13: 9781571310613

From the summer of my twelfth year I carry a series of images more vivid and lasting than any others of my boyhood and indelible beyond all attempts the years make to erase or fade them...

So begins David Hayden's story of what happened in Montana in 1948.

The events of that small-town summer forever alter David Hayden's view of his family: his self-effacing father, a sheriff who never wears his badge; his clear sighted mother; his uncle, a charming war hero and respected doctor; and the Hayden's lively, statuesque Sioux housekeeper, Marie Little Soldier, whose revelations are at the heart of the story. It is a tale of love and courage, of power abused, and of the terrible choice between family loyalty and justice. (From the publisher.)

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