The story of Montana 1948 tells of a certain struggle which the Hayden family experiences. Larry Watson uses different techniques and language to convey ideas about how powerful the Hayden family is, especially the grandfather Julian and how he alone can do pretty much as he pleases. The story is told from the perspective of a twelve year old boy David. However, it is written many years later which gives the reader a bigger insight into David’s view of what went on. Many themes are raised throughout the novel and many techniques are used to convey different ideas about certain events which are portrayed in the text, one of these being racism.
Racism is one of the main themes which is portrayed in the text and is the very reason behind all that happens to the Hayden family throughout the whole ordeal. There are also many different ways in which racism is portrayed throughout the text, some of the characters are for it while others are against it. Watson uses characterisation to convey different ideas throughout the text about racism. He shows how the characters feel about racism, an example is when Julian and Wes are talking about Frank’s treatment of the Indian women, it is when Wes finds out that Julian has known all along about what Frank does to his patients.
Julian says ‘You know Frank’s always been partial to red meat. ’ This is a realisation for both the reader and Wes because they find out that Julian shares exactly the same view of the Indian people as his son, thinking of them as animals. Racism is also portrayed in other ways throughout the text. Wes never directly says that he hates the Indian people, but he often hints at the fact that he doesn’t fully approve of them. ‘Nevertheless, he believed Indians, with only a few exceptions, were ignorant, lazy, superstitious and irresponsible.
Although these words are not as direct or harsh and Wes doesn’t treat them nearly as bad as Julian and Frank, it is still an indication that Wes is partially racist towards the Indians. Another idea which Watson uses throughout the text to convey the idea of Racism is how Marie Little Soldier acts when Frank goes to the Hayden’s house to treat her when she is sick. She becomes terrified and demands that someone be in the room with her when Frank is there. This behaviour represents how all of the Indian women would have felt either before or after Frank visited them.
It is Marie’s fear alone that informs the reader of how little respect Frank has for the Indians and gives a clear picture of how racist he is towards them. Furthermore, Watson uses other characters to give evidence of racism throughout the story. Julian and Frank both think very lowly of the Indians and these characteristics lead them to making actions and decisions which are racist. This is most evident with Frank because the actions he takes are the worst, he is the one commits the raping of the women when he supposed to be treating them as a professional.
This racism is not displayed just by Frank however, it is the people around him who provide further evidence that there is racism in the story. Julian and Wes are good examples as they do not use the power which they hold to help resolve the situation or seek Justice. Julian has known about the crimes which Frank commits on his patients and does nothing about it because he thinks of the Indians in the same way, he believes that it is okay to treat them in that way just as Frank does. ‘What the hell am I supposed to think? Screwing an Indian. Or feeling her up or whatever. You don’t lock up a man for that’.
Wes also shows support for the racism because of how he deals with Frank and his crimes. Even though he is the Sherriff and it is his job to put Frank behind bars, he refuses to and instead locks him in the basement of his own house, ‘He’ll have to meet his punishment in the hereafter’. Watson also uses characters in the text who are against racism and do not engage in it. David and Gail are the two characters who represent this. They are both strongly against racism and discrimination, this is evident throughout the story and is often the result of conflictions and arguments between the fellow family members.
David and Gail have this view because they are the most distant from Julian. Gail was married into the family and therefore had her own views about racism before she was subjected to Julian’s beliefs and David has grown up in a house where his Mum does not believe in racism and his Dad works for the law and therefore knows what is right and wrong. It is because of this that Wes is always stuck in the middle, because he is constantly listening to both sides of the argument and this is why he is forced to arrest Frank but never puts him in jail, because he never fully decides in what he believes in.
From reading this text the reader gains a detailed insight to the life of the Hayden family and the tough time which they go through. The reader is informed of what it was like living in Montana in 1948. From what the landscape looked like, to the social issues which took place such as racism and discrimination against certain groups of people. Watson uses the characters to convey the idea of racism between the white and Indian people. It is these characters techniques which gives the reader a perspective of what it was like through the eyes of a twelve year old boy.