Study Guide

Half Broke Horses

by Jeannette Walls

Half Broke Horses Summary

Synopsis

Jeannette Walls is the author of the best-selling memoir The Glass Castle, published in 2005. In Half Broke Horses, Walls tells the story of her parents and siblings, and of her grandmother, Lily Casey Smith.

Lily was raised on two different ranches. The first was in the Texas desert and then later her family moved to another bigger ranch in New Mexico. Both places were hard places to make a living, and Lily's life reflected these challenges. Lily had a difficult childhood. Her father was disabled and her mother considered herself "too frail" to work. So from an early age, Lily learned to take on the responsibilities of adulthood. By the time she reached her teens, Lily had left the family and was teaching in one-room schoolhouses in isolated locations in the Southwest. She learned to be self-reliant. Although her circumstances were often challenging, she was a survivor, never giving up no matter how difficult her life became. She learned to break wild horses and to stand up for her rights. When she moved to Chicago and fell in love, only to discover that the man she had married was a bigamist, Lily confronted him and had her marriage annulled. She later landed jobs for which she had no training. However, she dreamed of becoming a pilot, even though she knew nothing of planes. She was a woman who was not afraid of working hard and reaching for the impossible. It is through the telling of Lily's story that readers gain a glimpse of what it was like for women living in the West in the early part of the twentieth century.

Although critics have found this story easy to read, many have criticized the author's writing style. Judith Evans, writing for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, found that the first-person voice that Walls uses in Half Broke Horses "somehow lacks the immediacy of the prose" in Walls's first memoir. However, Augusta Scattergood, writing for the Christian Science Monitor, stated that Half Broke Horses is a book that reads "like a lively oral history," that is "both dramatic and straightforward."

 

 

Half Broke Horses Summary

Jeannette Walls, author of Half Broke Horses, first chronicled her family's history in her best-selling memoir, The Glass Castle. In that memoir, Walls focused on the lives of herself and her siblings. In Half Broke Horses, which is a not-completely-true memoir, Walls tells the story of her grandmother, Lily Casey. Lily was briefly introduced in The Glass Castle, but very little was offered about who she was and where she came from. Half Broke Horsesfills in those gaps, providing details of what led up to the story of the Walls's family.

The main character of Half Broke Horses is Lily Casey, the oldest of three children. And the story begins as Lily is in the process of saving the lives of her brother, Buster, and her sister, Helen. The family is living in West Texas, and a flash flood is flowing their way in the form of a big wave. Lily can hear it rumbling. She grabs her brother and sister and heads for the only nearby tree, which they reach just in the nick of time.They cling to that tree all night while they wait for the water to recede.Lily tells the younger children stories to keep them awake so they will not lose their grip, fall off the tree, and be taken away by the flood. This is the first hint of the strength and courage of the story's heroine. And if anything, Lily just grows stronger as the story moves on.

Lily was born in 1901. For several years, she lived with her family in a mud hut that sat along the Pecos River. When they grew tired of that house falling apart, they built a house farther up on a hill and made it from used lumber they scavenged from a neighbor who'd left the hard desert life after his house was hit by a tornado. Lily's mother was less than five feet tall and was not one for work. So Lily, beginning at age five, took up the chores her mother ignored. She not only took care of her brother and sister, she drove a horse and wagon to town and sold eggs. She also helped her father break wild horses.

After much disappointment in the Texas desert, Lily's father moved the family to New Mexico, to land he had inherited from his father. The land was a little more productive there, and Lily learned to oversee the migrant workers who helped pick the crops the family grew. Her father, who had suffered a traumatizing injury as a child, relied on Lily's help, but by the time she turned thirteen, Lily's parents worried about her ability to fit in with society. Her parents had educated her through books at home, but Lily knew very little about getting along with other people.So they sent her to a private school, where they hoped she would learn about etiquette. Lily loved it. She loved not having to do chores from sunup to sundown. And she thrived on the praise she received from her teachers. But Lily's father lost...

(The entire section is 1155 words.)

Ed. Scott Locklear