Analysis of Power Abuse in "Montana 1948" and Its Relevance Today

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In Larry Watson's novel "Montana 1948," a recurring theme emerges surrounding the misuse of power, a prevalent issue mirrored in contemporary society. This abuse of authority, evident in both governmental structures and familial dynamics, presents profound consequences that can be deeply damaging. The narrative primarily delves into the Hayden family, illuminating the contrasting ways power is wielded. Wes Hayden, the second-generation Sheriff, utilizes his authority for noble causes. Conversely, his brother, Frank Hayden, a decorated war hero, employs power for malevolent deeds, including rape, murder, and deceit.

Their father, Julian Hayden, seemingly seeks to safeguard his family but inadvertently perpetuates the misuse of power, leading to dire repercussions for all involved.

The Role of Grandpa Hayden in the Tragedies

The root cause of the tragedies in the novel can be attributed to Grandpa Hayden's corruption and abuse of power. This becomes evident as David, the narrator, explicates, "He wanted, he needed, power ... He was a dominating man who drew sustenance and strength from controlling others" (Watson 20).

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Moreover, when David converses with Len after Marie's death, Len reveals a disturbing aspect of being a sheriff in Montana, stating, "You know what your granddad said it means to be a peace officer in Montana? It means knowing when to look and when to look away" (Watson 93).

Len's revelation implies Julian's skewed perception of being a sheriff, where maintaining justice takes a back seat to power and the suppression of truth. Julian's tolerance of Frank's heinous acts against Native American girls, shielding him with his authority, allowed Frank to perpetrate further sexual assaults and ultimately led to murder and his own suicide.

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The fallout extended to Wes being compelled to leave town and Julian experiencing the devastating loss of both sons. The narrative underscores how corruption and unchecked power directly contribute to these tragic events.

Relevance of Power Abuse in Contemporary Society

The theme of power abuse depicted in "Montana 1948" transcends the novel, resonating strongly with contemporary societal realities. Today, instances of such abuse manifest on various scales, from governmental systems to individual lives. In the current political landscape, governments often engage in concealing information from their citizens, engaging in activities like warrantless wiretapping, illegal detentions, and other clandestine actions that infringe upon citizens' rights. These actions erode public trust and sow discord among the populace.

Beyond the realm of politics, notable figures like celebrities, sports stars, and affluent individuals illustrate how power abuse persists in modern society. Incidents such as the violent assault perpetrated by Ray Rice, a professional athlete, against his fiancée, highlight the imbalance of justice. Despite committing grave offenses, individuals with wealth and status often evade severe consequences, merely being subject to nominal penalties. This showcases the prevalence of corruption and power abuse not only within governmental frameworks but also within the lives of ordinary individuals.


The novel "Montana 1948" serves as a poignant reflection of a pervasive issue that transcends time and remains relevant in contemporary society—the abuse of power. The consequences of this abuse, as portrayed in the novel and echoed in real-life instances, are dire and sometimes fatal. The narrative underscores that unless authority is responsibly wielded by individuals capable of handling it with integrity, history will continue to repeat itself.

In conclusion, the thematic exploration of power abuse in the novel unveils the profound impacts of such actions, both within familial dynamics and broader societal structures. It urges reflection upon the responsibilities that accompany positions of power and the imperative need for ethical governance and conduct to avert tragic consequences.

Updated: Dec 29, 2023
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Analysis of Power Abuse in "Montana 1948" and Its Relevance Today. (2016, Sep 17). Retrieved from

Analysis of Power Abuse in "Montana 1948" and Its Relevance Today essay
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