To begin in this examination of the moral code of the American West, we turn to the relationships and struggles brought about in Larry Watson’s novel Montana 1948. In this novel, there exists conflicts between several of the characters, however; the main conflict lies within the characters themselves. The reader sees the Hayden family struggle with the realization that the town doctor, their relative, has been molesting young Indian girls. This situation forces Wes Hayden, the town’s sheriff and the doctor’s only brother, to choose his actions towards this ethical dilemma carefully. He deliberates on his situation throughout most of the novel, relying on his wife’s set-in-stone morals to guide his decision in some ways. Through this interaction, the reader sees that some people who were not brought up with a strong moral code must develop one for themselves, while others who were taught their morals at an early age may alter them to fit their own perspectives as they grow.
Also, noted very plainly, the moral code of the American West did not exist as equal to today’s code. The characters in this novel existed in what they believed to be a moral society, but by today’s standards it was amoral, devoid of moral standards. Watson brings this idea to life when he writes through the narrator’s voice,...
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... that their homosexuality was immoral.
Thus we see two novels whose characters deal with an internal struggle. Both the characters in Montana 1948 and those in Brokeback Mountain struggle with their set of morals in situations that can change their lives forever. In Montana 1948 Wes Hayden faces a situation that may estrange his family or estrange himself from his moral base. He eventually chooses to be true to himself, in arresting his only brother for molestation and murder. However, in Brokeback Mountain the cowboys, Jack and Ennis, must hide their relationship because of its immoral content. Thus, they live a life hiding from their true feelings. At some times they even trying to deny their nature. Because of the threat of being ostracized and possible killed, these men led a life separate from their love for one another. Though, in the end their prejudice, along with every one else’s killed Jack. Ennis knows this and the only place that they have left is Brokeback Mountain, a place untouched by the world, unable to be soiled with prejudices.
Proulx, Annie. “Brokeback Mountain.” Close Range: Wyoming Stories. New York: Scribner, 1999. 251-82. Print.
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