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Free Study Guide for Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry

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The action switches here to Elmira who is so weak that she can barely turn her head on her pillow. She has been taken to the doctor’s little house, and Big Zwey stands guard over her from the window outside her room. Elmira is most concerned about Dee Boot who they have already hung for killing the young boy. The news makes Elmira wish she were dead and from then on, she refuses her medication or spits it out as soon as the doctor gives it to her. She also refuses the soup the doctor offers her and she thinks about asking Zwey to shoot her.

When the doctor asks her about her baby, she just hopes he’s either with the woman where he was born or that he has died. She offers to pay the doctor when she’s well, but he refuses, because he says he came to Ogallala to get away from money.

One day, with no warning, July Johnson walks into her room. She can only look away, not knowing what to do. She refuses to speak with him, so July speaks to her instead, telling her that he wanted her to know he was there, and that Joe had been killed. She doesn’t care what has happened to Joe and is non-reactive when July tells her the baby is fine. He thinks it’s good that they have their own family now, but Elmira isn’t happy that July has found her. She stays quiet the entire visit, with her head turned away from him, until finally, he says he’ll check on her every few days.

As soon as he is gone, Elmira calls out to Zwey to get the wagon, because they’re heading for St. Louis. Before the sun sets, they’re on their way east, just Elmira and Zwey. Zwey thinks now they must definitely be married, because she asks him to take her, not the other man. His is buoyed by that thought, but troubled by another one: the man at the livery stable had warned him he was a fool to take a woman east, because of the Sioux Indians. When he told Elmira this news, she insists they go anyway. The sickness and the loss of Dee have driven away any fear she might have. Elmira’s only worry is that July might follow them. Other than that, she has no fear, and forces Zwey, who worships her, to continue on.


Elmira’s former goal had been to find Dee Boot, but now that he’s dead and July has found her, her goal switches to escaping July once again. She’s entirely too sick to leave, but forces Zwey to take her anyway. Even the thought of Indians won’t change her mind. This behavior is typical of Elmira who is so self-absorbed that she has no thought for her children, July, or even Zwey. She endangers people around her in the search for something that will make her belong to herself alone. Unfortunately, no good will ever come of this search, because she was born in the wrong place, at the wrong time, to be that kind of woman. The news about the Sioux is foreshadowing as July will later learn that both Elmira and Zwey will be murdered by the Sioux.



July returns from seeing Elmira in a deep depression, and Clara knows that he has sustained a serious blow. So, Clara takes him with her to help with nursing Bob to take his mind off his sadness. In the process, she gets him to talk about what has happened even though he doesn’t want to. She bluntly tells him in response that Elmira doesn’t want him or her baby and that she’s become attached to the baby boy and wants to raise him. So she offers July a job and sends him to bed.

The next morning, July is still in a funk, thinking he should just go home to Arkansas and the life he’d always known. Even though he knows Elmira doesn’t want to see him, he has to see her again even if she won’t look at him. So he returns to Ogallala and discovers from the doctor that Elmira has left. The doctor says she took it hard when she learned Dee Boot had been hung, and she left without a note. July is frantic, because he doesn’t have his rifle with him or his bedroll or any provisions to go after her. So he returns to Clara’s home and only has the strength to slide off his horse, sit down behind the saddle shed, and begin to weep. Clara finds him there later and, in a matter-of-fact manner, urges him to help her shuck the corn. Only time and ordinary activities will help him get past the fact that he could chase Elmira forever, and she still won’t want him.


July’s reaction to Elmira is just as obsessive as hers to Dee Boot. The irony is that neither one will ever get what they want. Dee is dead and any hope of a life with him dies when he does. Meanwhile, Elmira continues to run away from July who just can’t accept that his own wife doesn’t want him.


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Clapsaddle, Diane. "TheBestNotes on Lonesome Dove". . 09 May 2017