In Larry Watson’s Montana 1948, Indians are misunderstood and wrongly judged. The main theme in Montana is racism and how strongly it played its part in society back in 1948 The book is based on twelve year old David Hayden’s memories of the events of his life in Montana. David is the son of Wesley Hayden, town sheriff and Gail Hayden. When the Hayden’s Indian housekeeper Marie Little Solider falls severely ill, Gail and Wesley suggest calling Wesley’s brother Frank, their close family member and local doctor.
When Marie hears this she falls into hysterics and refuses to see a doctor. It is at this point in the book when the first act of misjudgement occurs. Nobody knows why Marie is so against seeing a doctor, but everybody just assumes it is because of her heritage – Indians were assumed to seek healing from Medicine men and potions instead of highly educated doctors. Regardless of Maries requests the Hayden’s call Frank and schedule and appointment.
When he comes to visit, Marie screams to Gail not to leave her alone with Frank. Gail accompanies her through the examination. A doctor comes and they think he’s some evil spirit or something. ” Frank stated on page 42 after examining Marie. This statement shows that Frank has a stereotypical image of an Indian in his head, and though his eyes, they are all delusional, spiritual followers. He despised his idea of Indians and thinks that they are socially out of place. Later in the book we discover that the town sheriff, Wesley Hayden is also racist. After all the commotion made during Marie’s appointment, Gail is informed that Frank Hayden is a serial rapist.
We find out not only does he use his profession to take advantage of his patients, but he targets only Indian girls. When Gail tells Wesley this information, he does not take it well. At first he barely believes it to be true. He cannot admit to himself that his own brother would do such a thing. So instead of taking responsibility and arresting his brother, he tried to turn the situation on Marie. Wesley acts surprised that Gail believes Marie’s accusation of Frank. “She’s Indian. – Why would she tell the truth? ” He asks her on page 46.
Wesley then goes on about the fact that maybe Marie thought she was being abused, but because she’s never been to a doctor before simply got confused. This was a pathetic excuse made by Wesley. He is talking about the Indian women like they are stupid animals. They are human; of course they will know when a doctor is being inappropriate. The worst thing of all is that deep down Wesley Hayden knew his brother was guilty, but he just couldn’t face the facts and take charge. The main message portrayed in Montana 1948 is how excluded Indians where back in those years.
In the book Frank Hayden was raping these girls just to prove to them how little society actually cared. He was confident that he could go on committing these crimes without anybody speaking up. The facts are that people in Montana knew, or at least suspected that Frank was abusing his patients. When the town deputy’s wife Daisy and Gail discussed Marie’s accusations, Daisy revealed she has heard rumours about it happening. This shows that word was going around but no one was willing to stand up for the Indians or investigate.
Nobody said a word. The events of this book prove just how racist white people were. Frank Hayden was getting pleasure of knowing and proving to the Indians that nobody was going to help them out, because they were simply another unwanted Indian. Through out the whole book Indians were judged wrongly. To the white people, they were of no value to anybody. They assumed that all Indians were uneducated, unintelligent, and useless. In the end, Wesley’s foolish choice to not arrest his brother in the beginning caused Marie to be murdered.
When Frank admits his crime to Wesley they agree that he can be kept prisoner in the Hayden’s basement. After a few days as a prisoner Frank commits suicide. Wesley is haunted by his decisions for the rest of his life. The moral of the book, is to treat everyone as an equal. Holding a grudge again one race is not going to get you anywhere, if anything it will work out for the worst. Montana 1948 is the perfect example of racism unleashing horrible truths and devastating consequences.
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