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Free Study Guide for Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry

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Woodrow Call

Call is the most frustrating character of the story for the reader. Because of his strong sense of honor, we can’t help but like him, but his overwhelming pride frustrates us and makes us want to shake sense into him. He has always been an extremely private man, who has in essence been a loner on the plains, in the towns, and in his relationships. He turns to work and duty to fill his life, because he is uncomfortable with emotions that force him to be close to those he loves. He can’t keep himself from loving Maggie and producing Newt, but he also cannot bring himself to commit to them either. His inability to claim Newt publicly has devastating effects on both of them, and his inability to stay with Maggie leads to her early death. He is, however, a man who remains concerned for the well-being of his men even as he leads them into dangers from which they may not return. This is one of his redeeming qualities, but the story is dominated with the consequences of the mistakes he makes in his life.

Augustus McCrae

Gus is the “sweetheart” of the two men. He seems to understand the needs of nearly everyone around him and is a source of comfort when they are most troubled. He is as brave and as skilled as Call and served as a Ranger along with him during the Civil War. However, unlike Call, who feels duty-bound most of the time, Gus prefers not to work so hard and comes to believe the cattle drive is a mistake. He is the one who rescues Lorie when she is kidnapped by Blue Duck, and he is the one who finds a way to help her heal from the torture she endured. He never mistreats a woman, but won’t endure an insult from any man. He looks for humor wherever he can find it and has deep feelings of both love and regret fro Clara Allen. He revels in racing a buffalo herd and endures the consequences of an Indian attack by facing his own death with strength and even humor. He is not a man without flaws, such as talking too much and emphasizing how much more intelligent he is than others, but he accepts his flaws and seeks to repair them. His death in the story is a defining moment because of the impact it has on so many people he had touched in his life.

Lorena Wood

In spite of the fact that she is a “sporting woman,” there is something deeply touching about Lorie. She services men’s sexual needs, because she knows no other way to care for herself, but she always keeps part of herself aloof from others. She wants more than anything to be a respectable woman and uses men when she can to work toward that goal. She is naturally very beautiful and attracts men on her beauty alone. However, most men have a natural contempt for whores and stop short of trying to know the inner Lorena, even if she would let them. So she is drawn first to Jake, because she thinks she can get him to take her to San Francisco. Then, she is drawn to Gus who saves her from Blue Duck and helps her heal from the trauma. But it is Clara Allen, who offers her an actual home and familial love, who draws her in at the end. Clara fulfills the dream Lorena has always desired - to be respectable and live in a real home.

Jake Spoon

Jake is a longtime comrade of Gus and Call and rode with them in their Ranger days. Unfortunately, he doesn’t have the strength of character the other two men project. He is drawn to gambling which ultimately gets him in trouble in Fort Smith where he accidentally kills a man. This event seems to cause an avalanche of bad decisions on his part that eventually lead to his hanging for horse theft and murder. His looks and his charm had always worked for throughout his life, but in the end, his weak character proves to be his downfall.

Clara Allen

Although she doesn’t appear in the novel until Part III, Clara is so much a part of the lives of the men in the story that she seems to be a character from the beginning. She is depicted as an attractive, charming woman who was courted by both Jake and Gus. However, Gus has always been her greatest love and he even asked her to marry him thirty times. She finally married Bob Allen, a dullard horse trader, because she knows that he will at least be home. Gus is too much influenced by Call, and Clara knows she can’t compete with their “adventures” even though Gus doesn’t believe it’s so. She has had tragedy many times in the sixteen years since she last saw Gus, such as the loss of three little boys and the comatose state her husband is in after being kicked by a horse. However, she accepts her fate with strength and resolve and even offers a home in one day to Lorena who Clara sees is in desperate need of the comforts a family offers. Gus’ death leaves a pain in her heart that will never dull, but she is able to go on living which is she knows is the only option in a life like hers.

Newt Dobbs

Much of the story is seen from his viewpoint as a seventeen year old boy becoming a man. He faces many deaths and terrible conditions on the drive north to Montana, but along the way, he also learns how to cope with all of these setbacks. Like Clara, he knows that in work there is solace. However, in the end, he appears a bitter young man. He has been trusted by Call to run the new ranch in Montana, and because he’s Call’s son, he receives the horse, gun, and pocket watch that Call holds dear when the man takes Gus’ body back to Texas. Unfortunately, Call cannot bring himself to publicly claim Newt, and the boy is left devastated that he has no kin and never will.

Josh Deets

Deets is a black man who has been with Call and Gus since the end of the Civil War. He is in many ways more competent and skilled than either of the two men, and they both respect him beyond what any black man at that time could ever have expected. He is also intuitive even about his own death, and he is a comfort to others, especially Newt to whom he often offers fatherly advice. His death is a very poignant moment in the story, because his loss impacts so greatly on everyone with whom he shared the drive.

July Johnson

The sheriff of Fort Smith, Arkansas, he comes into contact with Jake Spoon after Jake accidentally kills his brother. He really doesn’t want to pursue Jake, but the demand from his sister-in-law sends him on a journey which will forever change who he is. He is a shy man who seldom had any experience with women until he met Elmira, a whore in Dodge City. She marries him to escape the abuse of her trade, but has no feeling whatsoever for him. He, however, falls deeply in love with her and finds himself pursuing her rather than Jake Spoon. His obsession to find her and reclaim her as his wife and her equally determined obsession to escape him create on the greatest ironies of the novel.

Elmira Johnson

She is a single-minded character, obsessively seeking freedom from the men in her life. Once a whore in Dodge City, she married July Johnson to escape the brutality of her trade, but she has no feeling for him nor for either of her two sons. She readily sends her twelve year-old son with July in search of Jake Spoon so she can run away from him and her husband. Then, she nearly dies giving birth to another son, but feels nothing for him and leaves him with Clara Allen with no look back. She is depicted unsympathetically, but the reader has to wonder what happened in her life to create such a hard woman. The attraction that other men feel for her drives part of the story as we watch her desperately run from any man who wants to control her.


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