Montana 1948

Montana 1948 Essay Questions

  1. 1

    When Gail tells Wesley about Frank’s crimes, why does Wesley ask her who she’s telling the information to?

    Wesley’s struggle with his identity is apparent even to his young son David, who constantly questions his father’s legitimacy as a sheriff. When Gail tells Wesley about Frank molesting and raping his female Native American patients, Wesley asks whether she’s telling him as Frank’s brother, her husband, Marie’s employer, or Mercer County’s sheriff. These are all of the identities Wesley feels he must juggle, and sometimes the responsibilities of one identity contradict the requirements of another. For example, as Frank’s brother Wesley feels responsible for protecting his sibling, but his job as sheriff behooves him to arrest his brother. Later on in the novel, Wesley’s duties as sheriff, and his loyalty and love for Marie as her employer, prevents him from obeying his wife when she asks him to let Frank go free. Wesley asking Gail who she’s telling Marie’s allegations to is his way of determining which identity he should wear in that instance, and subsequently what he should do with the horrible information Gail is sharing.

  2. 2

    Is Frank taking his own life enough punishment for his crimes?

    On one hand, Frank committing suicide feels like a type of poetic justice that fits his crimes. After taking advantage of his family’s power in Bentrock, and the power he’s trusted with as a doctor, to molest and rape some of his patients, it seems appropriate that Frank should die by his own hand. He thought he could rely on his father’s influence and his brother’s power as sheriff to save him from suffering the consequences of his crimes, but in the end he was on his own. His end is poetic because after breaking his oath to do no harm, he commits the ultimate harm to himself. On the other hand, by committing suicide Frank was able to avoid facing the embarrassment and notoriety his actions earned. Furthermore, his reputation remained pristine after his death, and his victims never got to publicly address him in court. For someone like Frank, accustomed to being admired, loved, and idolized, perhaps the ultimate punishment would have been public ridicule, hatred, and derision, and so death wasn’t a punishment, but a reprieve.

  3. 3

    Compare and contrast Wesley and Grandpa Hayden.

    Despite Wesley’s attempts to please his father, the differences between the men are eventually what drive them apart. Grandpa Hayden is commanding, forceful, and intimidating, while Wesley is steady, dull, and not intimidating. Grandpa Hayden is power hungry and willing to do anything to retain his power and influence in Mercer County. Wesley however only took over as sheriff at his father’s command, and isn’t obsessed with having power or influence. Furthermore, though Grandpa Hayden enjoys displaying his wealth in ostentatious ways, Wesley loathes the opulence of his father’s ranch house. Finally, the most important difference between the father and son are their different beliefs and approaches to being sheriff. Grandpa Hayden believed being a good sheriff in Mercer County meant knowing when to look, and when to look away. As we can see in Frank’s case, Wesley does not agree with his father’s beliefs, and in the end this is the root of their estrangement.

  4. 4

    Think about David’s transformation over the course of the novel. How did he change, and how did he remain the same?

    At the beginning of Montana 1948 David is a naive young boy who wishes that his father’s job as sheriff was more exciting and adventure filled. By the end of the novel, he is a jaded young man who looks at his parents and pities them as hapless people who received the short end of the stick. After the events of 1948, David no longer believes that the rule of law holds, and looks at written history with a skeptical gaze. Another major change is his newfound ease amongst people. Growing up, David was uncomfortable and uneasy in school, in stores, in cafes, and in the company of other children and adults. However, by the end of the novel we can assume this has changed, because David became a high school history teacher, a job that entails not only being in school but also being surrounded by a gaggle of other people. One way David remained the same is his deference for his parents. Though he’s now an adult and fully capable of understanding the events of 1948, David respects the unspoken rule of never asking or talking about it. In this way he remains the young boy he was in 1948.

  5. 5

    Compare and contrast Gail and Grandma Enid Hayden.

    Though Gail and Grandma Hayden were both married to Mercer County sheriffs at different points of their lives, the women have very little else in common. While Gail is opinionated and outspoken with her husband, Grandma Hayden rarely speaks when in Grandpa Hayden’s presence. Gail faces the ugliness of Frank’s crimes head-on, and is the first person to tell her husband of his brother’s criminal acts, whereas Enid must be shielded from the truth. Finally, Gail acts as her husband’s moral compass and speaks up when she thinks he’s being wrong, but Enid can only offer excuses for her husband’s reprehensible behavior.