Montana 1948, by Larry Watson is a novella that focuses on the life of young Montanan David Hayden in 1948 and the struggles of a family torn between loyalty and justice. The novella explores the way power can be abused within a small community. Through characterisation, Watson exposes how family loyalty can be challenged by moral truths and how unfair power structures can lead to the marginalisation of the oppressed.
The characters of Wes and Julian represent the theme of loyalty to family opposed to loyalty to justice. Julian is the patriarchal leader of the Hayden family and does not demonstrate a strong desire for justice in regards to Frank’s weakness for “red meat”. “Come on Wesley. Come on boy. You know Frank's always been partial to red meat, “ demonstrates his disrespect for Indians and that he most likely regards his family name with more importance than the ethical concern of justice for the victims of Frank. His use of the term red meat for the Indians is dehumanising and assumes that Indians are simply for the enjoyment of Frank. Larry Watson uses the character of Wesley to maintain the constant theme of loyalty vs. justice. Without Wesley, Julian would have concealed Frank’s secret of sexually assaulting Indian women and Frank would have continued to go unpunished. An obvious example of Wesley Hayden portraying the theme of loyalty vs. justice is when he says, “He will be dealt with in the hereafter” when discussing Frank’s punishment, while talking to Gail. It is clear that Wes is fighting an internal conflict about what is morally correct: to punish Frank, or remain loyal to him as his brother. When Wesley makes the decision that he will punish Frank for his actions, Frank commits suicide before Wes can follow through. This is frustrating, as the Indians never get the justice they deserve, however, on the other hand, the Hayden name doesn’t get tainted. Watson, through the use of characterisation, has demonstrated how family loyalty could...
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