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Last Updated on June 1, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 348

Jeannette Walls is the author of the best-selling memoir The Glass Castle, published in 2005. In Half Broke Horses, Walls tells the story of her parents and siblings, and of her grandmother, Lily Casey Smith.

Lily was raised on two different ranches. The first was in the Texas...

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Jeannette Walls is the author of the best-selling memoir The Glass Castle, published in 2005. In Half Broke Horses, Walls tells the story of her parents and siblings, and of her grandmother, Lily Casey Smith.

Lily was raised on two different ranches. The first was in the Texas desert and then later her family moved to another bigger ranch in New Mexico. Both places were hard places to make a living, and Lily's life reflected these challenges. Lily had a difficult childhood. Her father was disabled and her mother considered herself "too frail" to work. So from an early age, Lily learned to take on the responsibilities of adulthood. By the time she reached her teens, Lily had left the family and was teaching in one-room schoolhouses in isolated locations in the Southwest. She learned to be self-reliant. Although her circumstances were often challenging, she was a survivor, never giving up no matter how difficult her life became. She learned to break wild horses and to stand up for her rights. When she moved to Chicago and fell in love, only to discover that the man she had married was a bigamist, Lily confronted him and had her marriage annulled. She later landed jobs for which she had no training. However, she dreamed of becoming a pilot, even though she knew nothing of planes. She was a woman who was not afraid of working hard and reaching for the impossible. It is through the telling of Lily's story that readers gain a glimpse of what it was like for women living in the West in the early part of the twentieth century.

Although critics have found this story easy to read, many have criticized the author's writing style. Judith Evans, writing for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, found that the first-person voice that Walls uses in Half Broke Horses "somehow lacks the immediacy of the prose" in Walls's first memoir. However, Augusta Scattergood, writing for the Christian Science Monitor, stated that Half Broke Horses is a book that reads "like a lively oral history," that is "both dramatic and straightforward."

 

 

Summary

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1155

Jeannette Walls, author of Half Broke Horses, first chronicled her family's history in her best-selling memoir, The Glass Castle. In that memoir, Walls focused on the lives of herself and her siblings. In Half Broke Horses, which is a not-completely-true memoir, Walls tells the story of her grandmother, Lily Casey. Lily was briefly introduced in The Glass Castle, but very little was offered about who she was and where she came from. Half Broke Horsesfills in those gaps, providing details of what led up to the story of the Walls's family.

The main character of Half Broke Horses is Lily Casey, the oldest of three children. And the story begins as Lily is in the process of saving the lives of her brother, Buster, and her sister, Helen. The family is living in West Texas, and a flash flood is flowing their way in the form of a big wave. Lily can hear it rumbling. She grabs her brother and sister and heads for the only nearby tree, which they reach just in the nick of time.They cling to that tree all night while they wait for the water to recede.Lily tells the younger children stories to keep them awake so they will not lose their grip, fall off the tree, and be taken away by the flood. This is the first hint of the strength and courage of the story's heroine. And if anything, Lily just grows stronger as the story moves on.

Lily was born in 1901. For several years, she lived with her family in a mud hut that sat along the Pecos River. When they grew tired of that house falling apart, they built a house farther up on a hill and made it from used lumber they scavenged from a neighbor who'd left the hard desert life after his house was hit by a tornado. Lily's mother was less than five feet tall and was not one for work. So Lily, beginning at age five, took up the chores her mother ignored. She not only took care of her brother and sister, she drove a horse and wagon to town and sold eggs. She also helped her father break wild horses.

After much disappointment in the Texas desert, Lily's father moved the family to New Mexico, to land he had inherited from his father. The land was a little more productive there, and Lily learned to oversee the migrant workers who helped pick the crops the family grew. Her father, who had suffered a traumatizing injury as a child, relied on Lily's help, but by the time she turned thirteen, Lily's parents worried about her ability to fit in with society. Her parents had educated her through books at home, but Lily knew very little about getting along with other people.So they sent her to a private school, where they hoped she would learn about etiquette. Lily loved it. She loved not having to do chores from sunup to sundown. And she thrived on the praise she received from her teachers. But Lily's father lost the tuition money for Lily's second semester, and she was promptly returned home.

Shortly afterward, however, one of Lily's teachers recommended her for a teaching position at an outlying post. Lily was only fifteen when she traveled over five hundred miles by horse to Arizona. She taught for four years before the regular teacher reclaimed the post. Too used to having her freedom, Lily was not prepared to go back to her family's ranch and work as hard as one of the ranch animals. So she took off for Chicago, found odd jobs, and married a man she later discovered already had a wife and children. After taking some college courses, Lily went back to Arizona to teach. While living in Red Lake, she met Jim Smith, a man who perfectly matched Lily's independence. They married and eventually had two children. But this, in no way made Lily's life any easier. She loved her husband, who proved himself to be a good man, but times were still hard. The couple found themselves in the middle of the Great Depression and had to eke out a living as best they could. At one time, Lily even got involved in selling bootleg whiskey to help them pay for the mortgage on their home. Luck was not with them, though.They lost the home and most of everything else, and were not sure what to do next. Jim had a reputation around town of being good with animals. And when a British company bought one of the largest ranches in Arizona and needed someone to run it, they were led to Jim and signed him on as manager.

Lily and Jim raised their children on that ranch. Jim built a dam on the property and made the ranch prosperous. Lily took on teaching jobs and taught her children to be resourceful. One of the children's main enterprises was to rummage through trash for bottles they could turn in for deposit money. Lily and Jim were working as hard as they could to save up enough money to buy the ranch. But the British company sold the place before Lily and Jim had enough to buy it.

They moved again. This time they set up home in Phoenix; it was their first experience with city life. They bought a nice house and enjoyed the conveniences of being able to walk to restaurants and shops. But eventually they all grew weary of the tight spaces of city life and the continual stream of faces that passed by their doors; they all longed to be back in the open lands of the desert.

They decided to leave the city and so moved to Horse Mesa, "a flyspeck of a place." Lily had gotten a job as a teacher; Jim found a job driving a big truck, hauling rocks that were used to keep the roads in passable shape. Rosemary, Lily's daughter (and Walls's mother), was happy again to be surrounded by the wide-open landscape. It was while the family was living in Horse Mesa, that Rosemary met Rex Walls, who would become the author's father. Lily and Rex never really got along and never liked one another. Lily thought that Rosemary needed someone who would act as an anchor in her daughter's life, but Rex was nothing like that. He drank too much, for one thing, and was often irrational about his and other people's safety. But Rosemary fell in love with Rex because he was so unconventional. She never knew what he was going to do next. Lily just called Rex reckless.

The story ends with Rex and Rosemary getting married. Though Lily pays for the wedding, she feels she has failed in raising her daughter.Her husband tells Lily to let it all go, that she'll "be happier" if she does.She tells him she will try.

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