Last Go Round Themes
Last Go Round is a classic initiation story focusing upon Johnathan E. Lee Spain — "scarcely seventeen, bright-eyed as a babe, and nearly as naive" — who becomes the first member of his Tennessee family ever to cross the Mason-Dixon line. Through his railroad journey to find "whatever real frontier was still left in our swiftly settling nation" and his subsequent instruction in Pendleton, Oregon under the vigilant eyes of George Fletcher and Jackson Sundown, Johnny learns to relish taking risks — beginning with his leap from the roof of a boxcar into an open wheat gondola to daring to compete for the Best All Round title — a title he eventually wins. In the momentous three days of the Pendleton Round Up, the young protagonist experiences Indian tribal life, becomes cognizant of racial and class distinctions, tests his rodeo skills in a variety of competitive events, and falls in love with the feisty Sarah Meyerhoff. Suddenly Johnny has a goal in attempting to gain the admiration of Sundown, George, and Sarah. He confesses:
All my life I've been among gentlemen of state and ladies of distinction. Bluebloods and highborns that I never cared a fig about impressing. Now look at me: I'm busting my darn back to measure up in the eyes of an Indian brave, a Negro man, and a Hebrew girl trying to pass herself off as a squaw!
However, before Johnny can fully mature, he has to lose some of his youthful idealism. That he does, as he endures a dark night of the soul in which he recognizes his "frontier Camelot was turning out to be infested with rats and riddled with weakness and greed." He discovers to his dismay that his fair damsel Sarah prefers racehorses to his company. His Galahads George and Sundown prove to be, at least temporarily, drunkards and targets for the manipulations of Cody and his gang. Johnny also learns that fate is fickle, not rewarding those he cares about most. Thus he witnesses Sarah's horse-racing accident, which causes brain injury. Then later he finds that Sundown has misspent his winnings on a motorcar he is unable to drive, George has become a school janitor, and his "guardian angel" Sue Linn has chosen a career as a lady of the evening. Johnathan Spain's final insight is one gleaned through decades of hard living, including the loss of a hand in a roping mishap: It is that the four pointed rodeo star he won during his "short high noon of fame" represents the pinnacle of his career; he is forever branded by it.