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Montana 1948 Practice Essay Essay

Topic: “At the heart of ‘Montana 1948’ is the conflict between loyalty to the family and duty to the community”. To what extent do you agree?

In Larry Watson’s ‘Montana 1948’, there is an overwhelming conflict between loyalty to family and duty to the community. The Hayden family are very loyal to one another but this loyalty goes too far and causes conflict. In the Hayden family, there is a lack of duty to the community and this creates some small-town tension. When people attempt to be loyal to their family, they are unable to be loyal to the community as well, creating inner conflict. In the heart of ‘Montana 1948’ is the conflict between loyalty to family and duty to the community.

Loyalty in the Hayden family nurtures the conflicts, as loyal decisions and actions go too far. The Haydens are very loyal to one another and Wesley and Julian (in particular), put their family first. After Frank committed his crimes of rape, David’s father “knew he was guilty”. Yet Wesley lets Frank get away with it, because they are brothers and in their eyes, family is the first priority. This loyalty creates conflict not just to the wider community, but to their own family as well. The relationship between Julian and Wesley is a frightening one at certain points in the novel. Julian “wanted, he needed, power”, and he gets this power from the authority he has over his child, Wesley (and the community itself).

Julian is dismissive of Frank’s crimes and asserts his dismissive behaviour upon Wesley, influencing the decisions Wesley makes. As a result of Julian’s authority, combined with his intimidating nature and his ‘family first’ views, Wesley fails to make decisions of his own that aren’t affected by the pressures of other people. Wesley informs Gail that Frank will “have to meet his punishment in the hereafter”, and that he “won’t do anything to arrange it in this life”. He says these things because he is afraid of Julian. Loyalty in Hayden family creates conflict within the family itself.

In the small community of Mercer County, Montana, there is a lack of duty to serve others, and this creates conflict. The lack of duty in the community
on Wesley’s behalf is ultimately what kills Marie Little Soldier. (However that’s not to say that Frank’s actions had little to do with her death.) If Wesley’s actions and decisions were different, then Marie’s life could have been saved. Marie’s death creates conflict between the Haydens and the rest of the community, as the lies and deceptions behind her death remain mostly secret. People in power abuse those in the community that have little to none, preventing the less privileged to come forward and this creates tension.

Duty to the Mercer County lacks the most in two ways. Firstly, there is prejudice towards the native Indians from a lot of people in town. And secondly, there is an unjust procedure of law that Wesley carries out when handling his brother, Frank. Wesley is a prime example of a character that does not fulfil his duties to the community. Wesley “believed Indians, with only a few exceptions, were ignorant, lazy, superstitious, and irresponsible”. Wesley also says that Frank “didn’t want to be locked up in the jail”, and that he “would respect that”. The less the community is served by Wesley, the more the conflict builds between them. Duty to the community in Mercer County is lacking, causing tension to build.

There is a conflict between the loyalty towards family and the loyalty towards the community, as the loyalty towards both of these groups, struggles to coexist. Wesley is in a tough situation where the choices he makes are vital. But, the decisions are often ones that will affect family in one way, and the community in another. In other words, when his choices make a positive impact on the community, they often have a negative effect on family (and vice versa).

Wesley “believes that in this world people must pay for their crimes”, yet he is torn between justice and family when it comes to forming a resolution. There is conflict within Wesley himself as he battles with the difficult choices between serving the community, and being loyal to his family. If Wesley jails Frank, then he helps the community, but betrays family; and if Wesley lets Frank roam free, he helps his brother, but betrays the community. There is inner conflict residing in Wesley’s thoughts, as loyalty towards family and the loyalty towards the community fail to go hand-in-hand.

Larry Watson’s ‘Montana 1948’ is a text that addresses the conflict between loyalty to family and duty to the community. Loyalty in the Hayden family goes further than it should and tension builds among their relationships. The Haydens are inadequate in their obligations to the community, stirring up tension between these two social groups. Loyalty to family can’t coexist with loyalty to the community, fostering the inner conflicts of certain individuals. In Mercer County, family and the community are two separate entities, and the dedications made to either of these groups prove cataclysmic, when loyalty goes too far.


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