Tough times is a continuing theme throughout Walls's Half Broke Horses. The story begins with three children nearly losing their lives in a flash flood. They live in a house made of mud and have a partially paralyzed father who has trouble speaking and a frail mother who does not want to do chores. Things do not get much better from beginning to end of this story. It is through these tough times, whether they are caused by the Great Depression, bad weather, harsh environment, or mean men, that the main character of this story develops courage. This means that these themes are linked—challenging times and the bravery required to meet them. Lily, though sometimes appearing socially crude as well as somewhat closed minded, is portrayed as the epitome of courage. Nothing daunts her spirit. Nothing throws her off her path. She breaks horses as a child and travels on horseback for five hundred miles to a teaching job, although she has no experience as a classroom teacher. She faces her challenges, such as the loss of her home once she is married, as merely another test of her strength. Her attitude seems to be that there is always some way out of a predicament, even if she cannot, at first, see a solution. She has the confidence to persist in the toughest of times.

Poverty is always close at hand in this story, even though the characters always seem to find some way to make ends meet. Lily's father, although he owns land, makes little money. His land is in the desert and at times, his family is forced to live in a mud hut. When Lily grows up and moves away, she is always scrounging for money, whether she is living in Chicago and holding down two menial jobs or working in a one-room schoolhouse and sleeping in a corner of the classroom on the floor. When Lily meets Jim, he is a successful businessman. But then the Great Depression affects his finances, and Lily must resort to selling homemade liquor illegally. Jim is successful again in running the...

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