In Lat Evans, Guthrie has a protagonist who is far less noble than the mountain men of his earlier novels or Lat’s own grandfather, Lije, the protagonist of The Way West (1949). Lat does not seek freedom, adventure, or challenge. He wants status in the community, financial success, a wife who is a lady, and a family which will make him proud. Even his seeming rebellion—he leaves his poor, moralistic family, and swears, drinks, whores, and gambles—is belied by the fact that from the first he saves his money for the ranch he desires. Guthrie seems to realize that he risks losing the reader’s sympathy for Lat. Therefore he must stress the fact that Lat sends money to his parents, though he does not write to them or visit them, and that, as his old friend Mike Carmichael points out, he buys drinks and aids the poor. His marriage to the Indiana schoolteacher Joyce Sheridan, however, seems as much dictated by his mind as by his heart, and the fact that the marriage works is a result of Joyce’s fitting the pattern of respectability, as well as of her charm and goodness.
Lat’s cowboy friends are carefully differentiated. Mike Carmichael, the middle-aged little man whom Lat meets when he hires on to a cattle drive, understands the conflicts in Lat, perhaps because he came from a good family, as he confides late in the novel. Tom Ping, who ran away from home when he was ten, cannot understand Lat’s desertion of him when Ping marries a...
(The entire section is 548 words.)