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.
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...
(The entire section is 1084 words.)