Themes

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Last Updated on May 8, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 247

Horgan explores the nature of duty and the varying capacity of human beings to love each other. So committed is Lieutenant Hazard to his duty that when one of his men deserts on a particular mission, he feels as if he were the victim of a betrayal "like a betrayal...

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Horgan explores the nature of duty and the varying capacity of human beings to love each other. So committed is Lieutenant Hazard to his duty that when one of his men deserts on a particular mission, he feels as if he were the victim of a betrayal "like a betrayal in love." Matthew Hazard is exemplary in his devotion to duty, until the climactic moment when he must instead be faithful to his conscience.

The figure and myth of Abraham Lincoln, references to whom appear at both beginning and end of this novel, and the values of kindly strength, fatherliness and patriotism associated with him in American history, loom large here. As a child growing up in Indiana, Matthew Hazard races after a campaign train with Lincoln aboard, and for his efforts is given a nearby captain's blue kepi, along with the presidential suggestion that he attend West Point when he grows up. These serve as the motivations for the destiny Hazard pursues.

Another main theme evident in the novel's many intertwined stories is love, which in fact prompted one reviewer to remark that he would have preferred less domesticity and more Indians. There are instances of smothering parent-child love; self-love; stable and unstable conjugal love; adulterous love; General Quait's love for his niece; love of comrades in the heat of battle; and love born of gratitude such as the devotion that the scout White Horn develops for Matthew Hazard once the lieutenant saves the Indian's life.

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