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Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 325

Plainsong, the 1999 novel by American author Kent Haruf, focuses on the interwoven story lines of several characters in a fictional Colorado town.

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Among those characters are Tom and Ella Guthrie. Tom is innocuously introduced in the book's first chapter with a short expository passage that hides the troubles in his household that will be later revealed.

Here was this man Tom Guthrie in Holt standing at the back window of his house smoking cigarettes and looking out over the back lot where the sun was just coming up.

Tom and Ella's relationship is strained due to Ella's self-imposed isolation, which is also presented early in the book.

When he stepped into the room it was almost dark, with a feeling of being hushed and forbidding as in the sanctuary of an empty church after the funeral of a woman who had died too soon, a sudden impression of static air and unnatural quiet. The shades on the two windows were drawn down completely to the sill. He stood looking at her. Ella. Who lay in bed with her eyes closed. He could just make out her face in the halflight, her face as pale as schoolhouse chalk and her fair hair massed and untended, fallen over her cheeks and thin neck, hiding that much of her.

Haruf uses descriptive imagery to help the reader imagine each character's thoughts and perspectives. When Maggie goes to visit the McPheron brothers to request they house her pregnant student, Vicky, the relationship between the three is foreshadowed by the manner of the brothers' reaction to her arrival.

They got down and approached her slowly, calmly, as deliberately as church deacons, as if they were not at all surprised to see her.

Earlier, when Vicky learns of her pregnancy, she has to quickly absorb the significant decisions with which this knowledge encumbers her.

Quickly she raised her eyes to him. She was frightened now, her eyes dark and intent, waiting.

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