Themes

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Last Updated on September 11, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 404

Contrasts Between White and Native American Societies

The Big Sky is largely a story about white frontiersmen working and living in Native territory. We see Boone attacked by Indians on multiple occasions and willing to initiate attacks against them. However, we also see him willing to kill another white man who threatens an Indian friend of his. Ultimately, he seems more comfortable among the Blackfoot than among white society, but the book suggests that his lifestyle is unsustainable and that the world is changing in such a way that he and the Blackfoot will be pushed away from this land due to economic and political pressures to settle the land—and eliminate the kind of wildness that Boone embodies and that white settlers see in Native American tribes.

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The Drawbacks of an Unchecked Temper

One of Boone’s defining characteristics is his quick temper and propensity for violence. While he often is able to make violence work for him and escape without major consequences, this approach catches up to him in two major ways. First, when he kills his longtime friend Jim based on a hunch, the carelessness with which he employs violence destroys one of his only lasting relationships. Second, this cavalier use of violence is one of the characteristics that sets him at odds with those who would settle the land and prevents him from resisting in a more meaningful way: he does not have friends or allies, and after a long history of violence against those who might have been allies, he has few options.

Tensions Between Freedom and Societal Mores

Throughout the novel, Guthrie explores the contradictory ways in which Boone approaches women. Largely, Boone lives outside of society and has very few social interactions. He marries Teal Eye based on his childhood memory of her beauty, but their marriage immediately leads to him turning against both her and his friend Jim. Having spent most of his life traveling, it seems questionable that settling down into a marriage is a sustainable option for him. This in many ways emblematizes Boone’s position: he is the kind of person who cannot settle down, living in a world that demands that he find a way to do so. As the book closes, Guthrie doesn’t give a real answer as to where Boone will go. Teal Eye might take him back, but it doesn’t seem that he’s changed enough to succeed this time.

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Characters