Crow Lake is a novel that addresses numerous dimensions of individual choices, family loyalties and obligations, and the choices that all children make as they grow up.
Because the Morrison children are different ages when they are orphaned and because Kate is female, the siblings have distinctive experiences in trying to chart their future directions. The main conflict is Kate’s internal conflict over personal self-development. Specific choices she makes at various points in her life show numerous factors that affect how she moves forward. Pursuing higher education at all and choosing science in particular at times seems the natural progression of her interests and talents. At other times, however, Kate feels guilt that she has more opportunities than her older brothers. She also considers if and how she can balance her professional and romantic options.
The secondary conflict places the family against society. The children decide they want to stay together, despite their aunt’s belief that separating them would be better. The older children, who are both boys, have the burden of trying to succeed financially. Just staying out of poverty is a constant challenge, and Luke as the eldest must figure out the practical solutions. Facing opposition together often strengthens their commitment to family coherence.