The book ‘Montana 1948’ reflects themes of; the importance of family, loyalty, guilt, law, and order, and justice. The book is told from a third-person perspective of David Hayden, who recaps the events of his childhood Bentock, Montana in the summer of 1948. The issue of identity and decision-making are a central focus of this book as the narrator tells of how each character, is confronted with the tough decision of making choices on matters like family, racial difference, and environment. The interest of this research is to determine the lack of determination in Wesley, in making a choice between justice and family, and which caused him to fail in making the right decision in regards to the punishment of Frank his brother.
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The toughness of deciding either arresting or setting his brother Frank free arose from Wesley’s deep family convictions and strong identity. This scenario is presented in Montana’s environment that was highly racist, as the inhabitants of Bantock disliked Native Americans. These differences in appearance and customs made whites dislike natives to the extent that the dislike was passed down to generations. As a result of the racist environment, Wesley deliberately became slow in arresting his brother who had been suspected of rape. The confusion in Wesley is explained by his son David the narrator who said, ‘my father did not like Indians … he simply held them in low regard (Watson 34). The racist factor is prevalent in this book for the narrator confesses that they ‘learned of racism at the age of seven or eight’ (Watson 34). This factor strongly drove Wesley’s commitment to his family since he upheld his brother on a higher level than that he gave to the raped native girl.
Wesley’s inability to decide on whether to uphold justice or respect family ties is from his environmental experiences. The lack of determination to uphold justice comes from the deep family association he received from his father. Wesley like his son David had learned to turn the other way when crimes against Native Americans were committed by whites like it was done during the reign of his father. We find that the acceptance of truth and justice and the presentation of morality made it difficult for Wesley to make a choice.
The difficulty in making this choice is seen as Wesley fights with thoughts on decisions about his family and carrying out justice for the Native Americans. The fight is thought is seen when he shouts to David’s wife ‘Don’t blame Montana’ (Watson 175). The struggle Wesley was going through was because he did not think that his environment or Montana was the cause for his difficulty in getting justice and protecting the family. Wesley believed he was led by the strong family bonds often seen between blood brothers. Wesley’s difficulty in making a decision was because he was raised to have pride in his family and his family name, Hayden.
The pride in family and the strong family name present the other factor that prevented Wesley from making a fast decision. David narrates that as he grew up he was aware that the name, Hayden was well respected in Montana, Bentock (Watson 126). Therefore, as Wesley was taught by his father, their family name Hayden was much respected and had to be respected by family members. In addition, the family name also made the Hayden men very powerful, admired, and respected in the Bentock community. Therefore, this factor made Wesley find it hard to decide on carrying out justice as he learned of his brother’s actions of sexually abusing his female patients. Family ties often make it very difficult for a person to go against their own and for this reason; Wesley was slow in locking up Frank or placing charges against him. As the sheriff of this community, Wesley was obligated to protect its citizens including Native Americans. This duty also involved the enforcement of the law as was stipulated by the county of Montana. However, the carrying out of these duties was prevented by Wesley’s strong family relations and respect for the Hayden family. This is also presented by David who clearly describes the strong family commitment he was raised in by his father Wesley. David was taught and brought up in a strong Hayden family heritage by Wesley, who was also under the influence of family commitment.
The environment in which David found himself was where, if Wesley arrested Frank, it was seen as a betrayal to the Hayden family. We find that the strong ties between the brothers are in blood as Wesley comments; ‘Don’t’ you think I wish it was some other way? … He is my brother; we grew up together, sucked together with the same breasts’ (Watson 150). These are the thoughts that were slowing down Wesley’s ability to decide on whether to arrest Frank and follow justice or abide by family commitment.
Wesley eventually locks up his brother in their family basement and is still struggling with the thought of freeing him. The mix of his identity as the sheriff of this highly racial community and that of a strong respected family led him to slowly make his tough decision. The fact that Wesley was aware that his brother was guilty of his crime of sexually abusing women as his wife Gail told him, made Wesley lock him up in the basement. This shows the struggle in Wesley because he could not lock Frank in jail as criminals are supposed to, but rather since he was family, he was locked up in their family basement. The bond between the family and his brother and the respect for Hayden’s name made Wesley lock his brother in the basement. Though he had locked him up, Wesley was still fighting with this decision since he still could not hate his brother. The bond of growing up together made the relationship between Wesley and Frank strong and this made it difficult for Wesley to take his brother to jail.
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Despite his mother’s awareness that there was a struggle in Wesley, she asked him to set his brother free, which he does but still regrets. Wesley’s regret of setting his brother free from the basement is based on Frank’s own refusal to fully repent. Though Frank had confessed his crimes, he did not have a hint of regret in his voice. This factor made Wesley have more regrets for setting his brother free, as he said, ‘I Can not set him loose, I cannot live with myself’ (Watson 150). This presents the thesis for this research, as Wesley is bound by environment and nurture. He is struggling with the strong environmental factors of justice for the whites by ignoring those of the Native Americans and following strong family ties.
In conclusion, this has proven there was a difference in the two brothers, for though they were raised in the same environment and under the same rules, they turned out differently. Wesley respected the family name and his duty as sheriff and therefore carried himself respectfully. However, Frank misused their family name and took advantage of the respect his patients had for him. In the end, mixed feelings in Wesley caused by strong family bonds and his duty as sheriff created difficulties in deciding to arrest Frank. However, in the end, Wesley respected the community of Bentock and his position as sheriff and he arrested Frank, but his family bond caused him to lock him up in the basement. The choices he made therefore defined him.
Watson, Larry. Montana 1948: A Novel. Minneapolis: Milkweed Editions, 1993.