Last Updated on July 16, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 335
The Last Crossing is a historical novel about the North American West. Exploring American, British, and Native American relations in the US Missouri Territory and in Canada, Guy Vanderhaeghe contrasts the frontier mentality with Old World ideas about freedom and civilization.
The Relationship Between Religion and Morality
One important theme is the relationship between religious beliefs and moral behavior. Simon Gaunt is a passionately religious man whose convictions compel him to travel west to convert Native Americans to Christianity. His idealism is contrasted with that of Reverend Obadiah Witherspoon, whose conversion efforts are founded in opportunism rather than faith.
Individualism and Contempt for Authority
Along with its emphasis on frontier exploration and lifeways, the novel presents a number of characters whose deep-seated individualism extends to resentment of authority. While some of them are outdoorsmen or settlers, such as Custis Straw, the urbane but dissolute Addington Gaunt, Simon's brother, is also at odds with social restrictions. When this propensity is taken too far, the author suggests, the result is flagrant disregard not just of laws but of ethics. This negative aspect is clearly presented by the Kelso brothers, who rape and kill Madge Stoveall and then go on the run.
Shifting Gender Roles
Through the Stoveall sisters, Lucy and Madge, the author suggests two sides of nineteenth-century female identity, conformity, and independence. Marriage was an ideal but not a solution for Lucy, whose husband left her; Madge is victimized when she is raped and killed. Lucy, however, joins forces with the men who pursue her sister's killer (or killers), thus becoming an assertive hero figure.
The Gaunt brothers include the twins Simon and Charles along with Addington. The close bond between the twins, despite their father's favoritism toward Simon, motivates Charles to follow their father's wishes and search for Simon when he disappears. Addington, in contrast, does not share the same loyalty, for which he pays a price. The sibling loyalty between Lucy and Madge is similarly manifested when Lucy sets off to bring Madge's killer to justice.
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