What does chapter 7 reveal about Harlen's marital history in Medicine River, and how does it shape his character?

Quick answer:

In chapter seven, Will learns that Harlen was married to Doris. Before he married Doris, Harlan was wild. After the marriage, Harlen settled down. After Doris died in a car accident, Harlen started drinking again. You might argue that Harlen’s marriage makes him a more complex character. It makes him less of a busybody and a sidekick and more of an intricate person.

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In chapter 7, Will learns that Harlen was married. Will finds out about Harlen’s previous marriage at the marriage between Jonnie Prettywoman and Cecil Broadman.

Will is there to take pictures. Bud Prettywoman starts talking to him. He tells Will that Harlen used to be “pretty wild.” Once he met...

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Doris, his wild ways subsided. Then, when Doris died in a car accident, his wild ways started up again. He returned to drinking, until a doctor warned him that if he continued to drink so much, he would die.

The background information might make Harlen a more dynamic character. Without this information, you might argue that Harlen’s character wouldn’t be so complex. Up until this point, as your question somewhat points out, you might not think that Harlen would qualify as the marrying type. He seems more like Will’s well-meaning but sometimes annoying sidekick.

Leading up to this chapter, you might say Harlen comes off as the kind of person who’s too interested in other people’s personal lives to cultivate a personal life of his own. Most of the time, Harlen's primary concerns appear to be Louise’s pregnancy, Bertha’s romantic troubles, or Will’s love life. Other times, it feels like Harlen is more interested in the basketball team than intimacy.

Yet chapter 7 shows a different side of Harlen. It reveals that he is capable of forging a meaningful connection on his own and for himself. His history makes him a more fully rounded character. It also hints at what is in store for Bertha.

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