Themes

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 675

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...

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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 British-owned ranch, but the ranch is taken away from him when its owners are forced to sell. But the poverty in this story is used not to demonstrate how pitiful the lives of the characters are but rather to show that in spite of the poverty, the characters do well. They adjust to their circumstances and succeed in ways other than those measured by how much money they have.

The role of women is a more subtle theme. There is an undercurrent that runs through the story that attempts to define what women should do, or what they should be like. Lily's mother believes that women should be treated like royalty. Women should not have to get their hands dirty. They should be taken care of by the men in their life. Lily's sister, Helen, is used to demonstrate what happens to women who want to be pampered. Helen relies on men and ends up pregnant and alone. In the end, she is so ashamed of her condition that she commits suicide.

Lily plays out the role of a woman who will allow no one to fetter her.She does not dislike men, but she will not be a woman who becomes dependent on a man. She will do what she wants, and if a man is willing to take her as she is, then she is willing to share her life with him. Lily becomes distraught when she teaches in a Mormon community that forces its young teenage girls to drop out of school and become married to men the elders chose for them. When she attempts to teach the girls that they have rights, Lily is banished from the school.

In the end, Lily realizes that she has raised a daughter who needs a man to keep her feet on the ground. Lily feels that she has failed when her daughter chooses a man who is as unstable as she is.

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