In addition to the main character, Hattie Brooks, the novel’s characters include numerous residents of the Montana frontier, where Hattie moves to homestead. Another character who appears through his letters is Charlie Hawley, who had been Hattie’s friend when they lived in Iowa. While most of the characters are involved...
In addition to the main character, Hattie Brooks, the novel’s characters include numerous residents of the Montana frontier, where Hattie moves to homestead. Another character who appears through his letters is Charlie Hawley, who had been Hattie’s friend when they lived in Iowa. While most of the characters are involved in ranching and farming in Montana, the harsh reality of World War I has a strong impact on their lives, as well as that of Charlie, who is serving in the US military in Europe.
Author Kirby Larson paints a vivid picture of the diverse requirements of homesteading. Hattie, although only sixteen years old, is determined to make a go of the farm that she has inherited from her uncle. The social dynamics of the wartime era have a greater impact on her life than she anticipated. The local people are divided by their attitudes toward participation in the war. The characters of Traft Martin and his mother, for example, become deeply involved in a supposedly patriotic organization, the Council for Defense. Traft’s mother seems to believe that his activities for this council can substitute for his military service. Traft, although not a bad person, gets carried away with patriotic zeal that erupts into discrimination and violent reprisals against people of German heritage.
Karl Mueller is a German man who had been friends with Hattie’s uncle. As such, he, his wife, and their children all become close to Hattie. Karl becomes the unwitting target of the council’s attacks, which go so far as to burn down his barn. His wife, Perilee, is fearful not only for their own safety but for Hattie’s as well, and she suggests that it would be less dangerous if Hattie dialed back her association with them. Hattie proves a loyal friend, however, and not only supports them but stands up to Traft, whom she has good reason to suspect was behind the arson.
Through his letters to Hattie, the reader sees Charlie reacting to the demands of soldiering. In contrast to coping with the necessity of killing other men, he also develops motional introspection into other aspects of life. This leads him to realize the depth of his affection for Hattie and that it is romantic as well as platonic. Although Hattie makes a good start in her first year on the claim, she faces financial difficulties which she tries to resolve by taking a job in a nearby city. The reader anticipates that Charlie, after making it through the war alive, will make his future life with Hattie.