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Free Study Guide for Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry

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Another element that is important to note is irony - when something happens, or is seen, or is heard that we may know, but the characters do not, or that appears opposite of what is expected. Some examples of irony include:

1.) It’s ironic that Lorena won’t play the game of “little marriage” with Gus as later she will seek that exact promise from him.

2.) It’s ironic that Gus thinks about driving a herd north, because later, when they ate well into this drive, he will regret leaving Texas.

3.) It is ironic when Gus comments that Jake might be Newt’s father, because later, we will see that he’s always known the boy belonged to Woodrow Call.

4.) Jake Spoon came through twelve Indian fights and many scrapes with bandits. Ironically, it was in a safe little town like the one in Arkansas where he found real trouble.

5.) Call is a man who holds his thoughts close to the vest and his plans for Newt, although not yet known to the boy, are good for Newt’s future. These feelings about Newt are ironic, because they are part of his denial of a boy who he knows is his son.

6.) Newt has a perplexing irony to sort out: Captain Call is very stern when it comes to dealing with horse thieves in Lonesome Dove and yet, feels no guilt about stealing horses across the border. It occurs to him that what Call finds perfectly acceptable in Mexico would be a handing offense in Texas. He soon puts the thought aside, however, because in his heart, he feels the Captain would not do anything that was illegal.

7.) Chapter fourteen highlights Jake’s sense of indecision about Montana. He would just like to stay a few months with Lorie and enjoy some leisure, but he fears the sheriff from Fort Smith. Also, staying with Lorie poses its only problems, given that he has promised to take her to San Francisco. All of this is ironic, because Jake’s decision to go north will assure his death.

8.) It is sad that Elmira loves her husband and son so little, because they love her so much.

9.) Three times, July Johnson is tempted to leave Joe with good folks who want him until he can come back for him, but he changes his mind each time. This is ironic, because Joe will be murdered by Blue Duck on the trail.

10.) When Gus and Call leave, they pass the old Alamo which is now neglected, the famous battle all but forgotten. Ironically, it would become one of the most remembered battle in American history.

11.) Lorena wonders if she should have married Xavier Wanz and allowed him to take her to San Francisco. Ironically, he commits suicide when she leaves him.

12.) Lorena makes the mistake of waiting for Jake, a man who has left her alone in rough country while he gambles and drinks. Then, she is kidnapped by Blue Duck.

13.) July is willing to leave Roscoe, Joe, and Janey behind in order to find Elmira. But each one finds a reason to make sure he takes them with him and all three will die because they did.

14.) It’s ironic that Jake acts too good to really speak to the men he had ridden with for so long. Here he sits gambling and being arrogant while Lorie and Gus are in a fight for their lives, a fight set in motion by Jake’s refusal to protect Lorie.

15.) Jake intends not to be around when the Suggs Brothers begin to kill, but he can never extricate himself and ends up being hung for it.

16.) That first night after his horse’s death, July Johnson thinks about killing himself and laughs at the irony - the only person he would ever be credited for killing would be himself.

17.) Gus observes that an accidental shot during a card game in Arkansas had started all these things happening. It had ended up killing more than the dentist - it also killed Sean O’Brien, Bill Spettle and the three people traveling with July Johnson. So many lives lost so far and Montana nowhere in sight. He thinks Jake should have taken his hanging there.

18.) July John has completely lost interest in capturing Jake Spoon, but Jake hooks up with the Suggs Brothers out of fear of him and dies as a result.

19.) Call makes the same observation about Jake that Jake had made about Lorie - it’s a bad situation, but he put himself in it.

20.) If Jake hadn’t talked Call into the trip to Montana, he wouldn’t have been hung by them that day.

21.) The ultimate irony occurs Chapter seventy-seven - Elmira comes all this way to find Dee Boot only to learn that he is going to be hanged.

22.) The fact that one of the hands blames Jake’s death on the whore he had fallen in with is ironic in light of what the Captain will discover at the end of the novel about Xavier Wanz. Wanz had burned down the Dry Bean Saloon with himself inside in deep sorrow over losing Lorena to Jake. Now she is being blamed for Jake’s death as well.

23.) Elmira is ethical enough to offer to pay the doctor when she’s well, but has no concern about caring for her own children or husband.

24.) The quiet pride Call feels in Newt for his ability to break horses is ironic, because he can’t bring himself to claim him as his son.


There are also examples of metaphors which are direct comparisons made between characters and ideas:

1.) The storm then is a metaphor for the life of a cowboy on the western trail after the Civil War - life throws these men many problems to deal with and how they deal with them often is a measure of their character.

2.) The deaths of Monkey John, Dog Face, and the Indians at the hands of Gus McCrae seem ordained as he represents good defeating evil.

3.) Playing cards with Gus along with the bath in the river make Lorie begin the healing process, so they are a metaphor for life after tragedy.

4.) July Johnson is continuing to work his way north in a country that seems devoid of any life, human or animal. The emptiness of the countryside begins to disturb him almost as much as the three bodies he left buried by the Canadian River. He thinks that his whole life is completely futile, so the emptiness of the countryside is a metaphor for his life.

5.) When Po Campo reads Gus’ future in the man’s spit and tells him he will have no more wives, because the sky is his wife, it is a metaphor for Gus’ free style of life that really allows no room for a long-term relationship.


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