Analysis

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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 744

In the author’s note, Specht reveals his intention to write Hobbs’s story as accurately as possible, though some liberties are taken. For example, the Native American village is not located on the Forty Mile River but on the Yukon River. Dramatic liberties are also taken, giving the book the form and tone of a novel and creating its appeal. Much dialogue is used, for which actual conversations could not have been recorded. These efforts at fictionalization, however, contribute to the telling of the story of one woman’s struggle to stand up for what she believed in, no matter the cost or risk. Hobbs not only had to give back many of the items that were given to her upon her arrival in Chicken but also had to do without the friendship of someone for whom she cared deeply. She lived with neighbors who constantly spied on her, families that withdrew their children from school or her care, and school board members who threatened her pending job in Eagle, Alaska.

Specht seems sympathetic to this tenacious woman’s fight against prejudice. Young adults sense the need at times to stand up for what they believe in, and this story exemplifies the struggle of one individual to do exactly that. Hobbs, a person of ideas and ideals, represents belief in a cause and the action that is required to succeed in that cause.

The time of the Yukon gold rush is an interesting period for many young adult readers. The Alaskan wilderness differs from the more industrialized lower forty-eight American states. In 1927, the United States was exiting the Roaring Twenties and was about to enter the Great Depression. The Depression had already come to the gold rush regions because the mines had been exhausted and the riches promised to prospectors were no longer existent. Consequently, the Alaskan wilderness saw life going back to its simpler ways, with dog sleds, fur trading, and trapping. Tisha portrays life in the harsh reality of this land and the people who battle its elements for their survival. The possibility of death was a reality that Hobbs had to face, as did those hearty people of the Yukon.

Specht stands firm in his portrayal of the injustice of prejudice. As settlers began moving from the lower forty-eight states to the wilderness of Alaska, so did their biases. Characters such as Mr. Vaughn, who found it easy to think himself better than others, especially “half-breeds,” are Specht’s vehicles to express his feelings. Hobbs found herself and Fred Purdy fighting Vaughn and other townspeople who needed to perpetuate the feelings and actions that result from prejudice.

Hobbs’s firsthand experiences of this year and descriptions of her interactions with the participants in the story are used to emphasize the book’s biographical approach. Hobbs has conveyed to Specht her own feelings and thoughts about moving to new surroundings, adjusting to a new environment, and adapting to unfamiliar attitudes. Specht has supplemented her personal story with dialogue that transports readers to a harsh environment, and in some cases exposes them to harsh realities as well.

Nevertheless, a humorous tone is evident in the telling of the story. The book opens with a comic account of the struggle of the trip from Eagle to Chicken. Hobbs had decided to make a good impression on the people with whom she would be working and living. Her naïve clothing choices, however, soon left her garment tattered and torn, as she wrestled with briars, limbs, and an uncooperative horse. Her hat was lost, her clothes became dirty, and she was cold and uncomfortable. She finally gave in and accepted Mr. Strong’s mackinaw for warmth and protection.

Specht parallels the difficulties that this young teacher faced and the severeness of the environment in which she had to live. Linking these two elements together creates a story with suspense and action. Hobbs faced one of the most dangerous situations in her life when she realized that some of the townspeople and a known whiskey runner had actually stolen Chuck and Ethel from her home in order to take them to the Eskimo village to live, though it was known that she had an agreement with their father to raise these two Native American children. With an impending storm and rough terrain, Hobbs and Purdy took off in their dog sled in pursuit. The ensuing account is an exciting and suspenseful climax to this story.

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Critical Context