Montana 1948

Montana 1948 Literary Elements


A Revisionist Western novel, a novella, and a bildungsroman.

Setting and Context

The bulk of Montana 1948 is set in Bentrock, Montana, a small fictional town in Mercer County, which is a real county in Montana. It is a few years after the end of World War II, and life has mostly returned to normal in the small town. The story's frame is in the future, 40 years after the events that transpired in chapters 1, 2, and 3.

Narrator and Point of View

The novel is told in a first person point of view. An adult David is the narrator reflecting on events 40 years ago from his childhood.

Tone and Mood

The tone of the novel is at times nostalgic, at times somber, but overall reflective. David is recounting a painful, confusing time from his otherwise halcyon childhood, and viewing it through the lens of old age and wisdom. The novel's mood feeds off of the novel's small town setting. At first the mood is ho-hum and meandering, as life in boring Bentrock passes placidly by. When Marie reveals Frank's crimes, the mood shifts to urgent and anxiety-filled, as the characters struggle to discover the truth.

Protagonist and Antagonist

The protagonists are Gail, David, and Wesley, and the antagonists are Frank and Grandpa Hayden.

Major Conflict

There are several major conflicts in Montana 1948. The first is ostensibly between Wes and Frank, as Wes decides to arrest and charge his brother for the crimes he has committed. The second conflict is between Wes and Grandpa Hayden, who refuses to sit by and allow Wes to punish Frank for his crimes. The third conflict is between Wes and Gail, because Wes at first refuses to perform a complete investigation into Marie Little Soldier’s accusations against Frank. This conflict is eventually resolved when the evidence against Frank grows so great that not even Wes can continue to ignore it. Finally, the last major conflict of the novel is the internal struggle Wes endures as he’s tugged between the forces of family loyalty and the commitment to justice he made as a civil servant.


The climax of the story is when Wes discovers his brother dead in the basement. At this point, the novel's major conflicts all reach a conclusion, albeit a horrible and somewhat unsatisfying one.


“And Marie Little Soldier? Her fate contains too much of the story for me to give away" (Watson 12).

This quote is taken from the novel's prologue, where David explains what happens to his mother and father, particularly how they die. He says he cannot tell us what happens to Marie Little Soldier however because her fate is too wrapped up in the central parts of his story. This statement foreshadows Marie's importance in David's tale and the upcoming sad events.


“Daisy’s usually loud, brassy voice was lowered, but I heard her say, 'The word is he doesn’t do everything on the up-and-up'” (Watson 52).

In this quote Daisy is telling Gail of the rumors circulating around Bentrock about Frank and his abuse of his Native American patients. Saying that Frank doesn’t do everything on the “up-and-up” is a prime example of understatement, considering that he’s actually raping and assaulting his patients.


In Montana 1948 there are many allusions to World War II, particularly how life was during and after the war. For example, in the beginning of the novel David remarks that 1948 "still felt like a new, blessedly peaceful era" because "the exuberance of the war’s end had faded but the relief had not" (Watson 14). Here he alludes to how life post-World War II still took some getting used to, as life slowly returned to normal. In another allusion, Aunt Gloria confesses at family dinner that she still "feels funny about throwing out a tin can" (Watson 78). Here, she is referring to the strict rationing and recycling laws the U.S. government enacted during World War II.


See the separate “Imagery” section of this ClassicNote.




In grammar, parallelism is the repetition within one or more sentences of similar phrases or clauses that have the same grammatical structure. Below is an example of this from the text:

“Because she talked to me, cared for me. . . . Because she was older but not too old.... Because she was not as quiet and conventional as every other adult I knew.... Because she was sexy, though my love for her was, as a twelve-year-old’s love often is, chaste" (Watson 24).

Metonymy and Synecdoche

In synecdoche, a part of something is used to refer to the whole entity, or a whole entity is used to refer to part of something. When one of the characters talks about ‘’red meat’’ or ‘’red skin’’, they are using a derogatory, offensive synecdoche to refer to Native Americans.


One meaning of personification is when someone or something embodies a particular quality of trait. In the following quote, David describes how in his view, his father is a personification of the law: “And in my case, my parents were not only figurative agents of the law, my father was the law" (Watson 20).