Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1084
Hattie Brooks is a feisty, fiercely independent young woman who is resolute in her decisions and fearless in the face of overwhelming odds. Although she loves to read and is a gifted writer, she tends to be impetuous in her actions, and she herself admits, "A smarter girl than me might have wobbled a bit at the thought of heading West to prove up a claim". Driven by a longing to have "a place to belong", she journeys to unsettled Montana alone, with little preparation and no experience in homesteading. In her year on the Montana prairie, Hattie learns to deal with unrelenting winter cold and heatstroke-inducing summer temperatures while clearing and fencing her land and planting forty acres as required. Her initiative and quick reactions hold her in good stead as she accomplishes such amazing things as delivering a neighbor's baby, nursing a family through an influenza epidemic, and diverting a potentially deadly stampede of horses by removing her petticoats and waving them wildly to scare the herd away. By nature hard-working and capable, Hattie is tested to the limits of her endurance, and although she does not achieve her immediate goal, she does not find herself wanting.
Writing an essay?
Get a custom outline
Our Essay Lab can help you tackle any essay assignment within seconds, whether you’re studying Macbeth or the American Revolution. Try it today!
Hattie is an interesting character because she is constantly growing. Even though a mediator determines that her sixteen years are equivalent to twenty-one for a person raised under normal circumstances, her naivete as it relates to her understanding of herself and others is appropriate to a young person beginning the transition to adulthood. The development of her character is especially evident as it concerns her understanding of anti-German sentiment in her immediate community and in the world. When Karl is forced to register as an "Alien Enemy" under a decree with clear origins in wartime hysteria, Hattie's initial reaction stems from a childlike, unquestioning acceptance of authority, and she suggests that "there must be a good reason for this." She remembers accounts of atrocities perpetrated by the Germans in Belgium, but cannot understand how her German neighbors in Montana can be equated to the enemy overseas. Similarly, she is initially attracted to Traft Martin's debonair good nature and rugged handsomeness, even though she disagrees with his position against the Muellers and others he considers less than supportive of the war effort. Hattie struggles to reconcile all the conflicting elements of her experiences, and finally comes to understand that it matters more how people live than where they come from, that loneliness can cloud an individual's judgment, and that the love a good friends and peace within one's self might be more important than achieving exterior goals.
Charlie Hawley is an important character, but one who never actually appears in the book; the reader gets to know him through his correspondences. Charlie, who was like a big brother to Hattie, helped her through the difficult adjustment to life with Uncle Holt and Aunt Ivy, taught her how to pitch, and gave her Mr. Whiskers, the cat who accompanies her to Montana. Charlie is in France during the duration of the story. At first he is full of bravado, itching to do his part in defeating the Kaiser, but as time goes on, he learns that there is little glory in war and that killing is nothing to be proud of. Charlie survives the war and subsequently heads West to work as a mechanic for the Boeing Airplane Company. He declares his love for Hattie in a letter at the end of the book, and there is hope that the two may someday be joined together in Seattle.
Traft Martin, the handsome villain in the story, is a complicated character. As the head of the Council of Defense, he stands behind countless acts of torment against those deemed less than supportive towards the war effort. It is Traft's "cowboys" who repeatedly terrorize the Muellers because of Karl's German ancestry, and who browbeat the settlers to pledge an exorbitant, predetermined amount of money to the war effort with a pressure that almost amounts to extortion. Yet time and again, Traft shows deference to Hattie, extinguishing a burning bale of hay near her barn which was maliciously placed there by others, and stepping in to stop an attack against Mr. Egbard after Hattie speaks out in his defense. Traft is a conflicted character who seems almost ambivalent at times about his Council's notorious actions, even as he outwardly supports them. Amiable and exceedingly good-looking, Traft is a charmer and can be warm and genuine, but he is "stubborn about things that (matter) to him, like his ranch and his country," and beneath his debonaire demeanor there is an air of sadness. Traft's mother, a vicious, controlling woman, exercises great power over her son's life. She has underhandedly thwarted his efforts to join up and do his part for his country by getting him appointed head of the Council of Defense instead, making him look like a hypocrite and a coward who sits back in safety while others do the dirty work of fighting. Traft is an angry man, "angry at his mother, yes...but no doubt angrier at himself for letting someone else run his life." Like Hattie, he has had little say in determining his own destiny, but while Hattie rises above her situation and takes control of her life, it remains to be seen if Traft will find the courage and gumption to do the same.
Hattie finds a home on her Montana claim with the invaluable support of kind neighbors, people who are colorful, varied, hardy, and willing to share. Leafie Purvis, a "bony," capable woman, breaks horses for a living and handles a shotgun with audacious dexterity, scaring off horsemen who maliciously try to drive a cow through Hattie's house. Rooster Jim, slovenly and aromatic, has a heart of gold, providing Hattie with chickens and caring for her garden and animals during times of crisis. And then there is the Mueller family, Karl, who is hardworking and stalwart in the face of misfortune and persecution; Perilee, who sings "with the voice of an angel" and knows everything there is to know about running an efficient and loving household on the prairie; eight-year-old Chase, who is brave and self-reliant, a pioneer in the making; and six-year-old Mattie, who is imaginative and garrulous, and leaves a gaping hole in the family's heart when she dies. These individuals make Hattie's survival on the homestead during that first year possible, and, most significant of all, they become her family.