Morals of The Milagro Beanfield War
The Milagro Beanfield War, written by John Nichols, demonstrates several themes on life. They range from the interactions of the rich and the poor to the hot arid farming climate in New Mexico. All of which have significant importances in this famous novel. Perhaps the most important theme that is represented in this novel is the idea that people should do what is wright no matter the consequences. People are constantly faced with the choice of right and wrong. What they choose not only effects themselves, but everyone else involved. That is why being true to yourself is being true to everyone. "If I am not for myself, who will be for me? Yet if I am for myself only, what am I?"(p. 1). This theme carries the plot throughout the book.
Milagro is a small agricultural town located in the hot arid state of New Mexico
. Joe Mondragon, a man of his mid 30's, provided for his wife and two kids. He was a farmer, but a farmer with no fields. During the 1935 Interstate Water Compact, much of the water was transferred to big-time farmer's fields, like Ladd Devine. This would not have been a problem except for the fact that Joe's field was located on the west side of Milagro and all of the water flowed to the southeast side. All of the people of Milagro were unhappy about this change, but no one would say or do anything that would oppose the Devines. One day
, Joe had had enough and tapped into the water supply. He knew that watering his father's field would cause problems, but he didn't care. Day after day Joe worked in his fields, preparing them for harvest. People from all the town gathered each day to watch Joe work. While Joe worked on his fields, the Devines worked on a plan to get rid of him. They did not like the idea that Joe Mondragon, a simple farmer, had not conformed to their ways. The Devines involved several various people in order to get rid of Joe, but all of these people could not stop Joe from obeying his morals
. Bernabe Montoya, the Milagro town sheriff, and Sheriff Kyril Montana, a government officer, were assigned the duty of arresting Joe. They worked hard and diligently to arrest him, but time after time, they failed. Joe was not the only man that protected his field. Amarante Cordova, who was on his last of nine lives, gave protection while Joe was absent from the field. With his sheriff badge on one side and his six-shooter on the other, Amarante was like a guard dog over the field. As time passed, the seriousness of the Devines grew. Sheriff Montana was ordered, by Ladd Devine, to take care of the matter once and for all. It was clear that Joe was not to be a concern anymore. Needless to say, Sheriff Montana failed to carry out his duty and Joe harvested his bean field. Everyone in the small town of Milagro celebrated the harvesting of Joe's beans by participating in the picking of his crop. Sheriff Montana was called back to headquarters and Ladd Devine had lost the battle against the morality of the people.
Throughout the novel, Joe demonstrates the decision of choosing right from wrong. In the beginning of the story Joe is faced with a tough and difficult decision. His father's field, which has been in the family for decades, is dried up and no water access is available, legally. The Devines have overrun the water rights and transferred the supply to the southeast side of Milagro. Joe had had enough and was now going on his actions rather than on his thoughts. "But then one day Joe suddenly decided to irrigate the little field in front of his dead parents' decaying west side home and grow himself some beans"(p. 28). "And yet irrigating that field was an act as irrevocable as Hitler's invasion of Poland, Castro's voyage on the Granma, or the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand, because it was certain to catalyze tensions which had been building for years, certain to precipitate a war"(p. 28). No matter the consequence, Joe Mondragon was going to irrigate his field because that was the right thing to do.
However, Joe was not the only man to let his thought on the matter show. For years Joe had been good friends with the oldest man in Milagro, Amarante Cordova. Amarante Cordova was considered to be a walking corpse by the people of Milagro because of his six incredible recoveries from medical surgeries that he had undergone. Amarante knew of the problems that Joe's bean sprouts would stir up in the town of Milagro. From the very first day, he knew where he would take part in this quarrel. He was going to fight for righteousness. "From a tin box on whose cover fading blue asters had been painted Amarante then removed a well-oiled revolver, an old, very heavy Colt Peacemaker"(p. 71). Amarante Cordova was going to protect the watering field of Joe Mondragon at any cost.
Mostly everyone in Milagro knew who was right and who was wrong, but the chance of being shot convinced them not to interfere. From the very beginning Bernabe Montoya, the town sheriff, knew who was right, but he was not about to step in the way of the Devines and be trampled upon. Bernabe was quite frequently the one to whom the Devines would turn to in this time of conflict. They would call him up and ask him to take care of the situation. This put Bernabe in a very difficult situation. He was caught between a rock and a hard place. Knowing what he should do and obeying the Devines were opposite view points to Bernabe. "Bernabe frowned, sensing more trouble, and tried to glower in both a no-nonsense and also semifriendly way: 'No, what?'"(p. 600). He pacified the Devines while silently making a stand. If Bernabe Montoya was asked to decide between his ethics and the Devines, he would choose ethics.
Joe did not create or end the "Milagro Beanfield War" by himself. He was the one who took it to the level where actions were taken and principles were followed. A moral stand was taken by Joe that set an example for the people of Milagro to act upon. The manner in which the Milagro Beanfield War was handled was by that of a community. Everyone had a part. Whether it was turning water into a field or trying to arrest someone, they all played an intricate role in the lives of the people of Milagro. "United we flounder, divided we flounder"(p. 131). It was the morality of Milagro that won "The Milagro Beanfield War".
Nichols, John. The Milagro Beanfield War. New York: Random House, 1974.