Thematically, Hattie Big Sky is a novel of the western frontier in the finest sense. It celebrates the tradition of the American Dream, which can be achieved in the great, unexplored wilderness by any individual with the courage to venture forth. Stifled and unwanted at her relatives' home in Iowa, Hattie is thrilled to learn that an uncle has left his homestead claim in Montana to her. She leaves everything behind, boards a train, and resolutely turns her face to the West. As it turns out, Hattie's efforts to prove up the homestead come up short, but her failure does not mean the end of her dream. Uncle Holt sends her the fare to travel on to Great Falls, and though the money is actually enough for Hattie to go back east to Iowa if she so desires, her uncle wisely observes that he suspects her future is in the other direction. The American frontier, limited only by the ocean, is the land of promise and possibility, and so Hattie faces West, where she will continue to seek her dreams.
Hattie Big Sky, with its youthful female protagonist, is a story about growing up and the loss of innocence that goes along with the process. In this regard, Charlie's experience mirrors Hattie's, as both begin the story with wide-eyed enthusiasm. Charlie enlists in the Army with brash confidence, secure in the belief that he will act heroically and come through completely unscathed in defeating the Kaiser, and Hattie heads pell-mell into unsettled Montana, never considering that she might be unequal to the task of single-handedly proving up her claim. As Charlie comes up against the reality of the simultaneous drudgery and horror of war, so Hattie is stunned by the enormous power of the elements and the outright cruelty with which humans are capable of treating one another. Both Charlie and Hattie emerge from their experiences with a clearer vision of what life is really all about, their naive enthusiasm tempered by the awareness that in many...
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