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Free Study Guide for Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry

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LONESOME DOVE LITERARY ANALYSIS

SYMBOLISM / MOTIFS / IMAGERY / SYMBOLS

Other elements that are present in this novel are symbols. Symbols are the use of some unrelated idea to represent something else. There are many symbols used by the author such as:

1.) The pigs are symbolic of Gus. He loves them and admires their perseverance in walking the entire distance to Montana. Ironically, after he dies , they seem to have no purpose and become Christmas diinner for the hands.

2.) The Hell Bitch is the perfect horse for Call, because she is just like him. She’ll bite you the minute you lower your guard, but she’ll respect you if you keep her in line, love her, and care for her. She also is reflective of the whores in the story who like the horse are just looking for respect, love, and caring.

3.) The little bull with his multi-colored hide and his determination to assert himself among the rest of the herd and the men as well is symbolic of Deets. He too was a different color and so stood out from the other hands. But he asserts his competence and becomes a needed and respected member of the crew.

4.) The whores - Maggie, Lorena, and Elmira - are symbolic of all women of the time who were dependent on the whims of men for any kind of life. They all three desire to be independent and so face an uncertain future.

5.) Clara’s house is a symbol of security and freedom to change. All the men seem to find their way there and take away a sense of the need to change in order to survive.

6.) Bolivar’s need to clang the dinner bell even when the men are gone from Lonesome Dove is the opposite of Clara’s house in that symbolizes the security to be found in tradition.

7.) Blue Duck is the symbol of evil and so showcases the terrible danger the unknown territories represent.

8.) Women like Janey and Elmira symbolize a terrible determination to be free even if it results in one’s death.

9.) The Hell Bitch, the Winchester, and his father’s pocket watch as well as the ranch are gifts Call leaves with Newt. They symbolize those things that represent family. However, they also represent bitterness when Call fails to say that Newt is his son.

10.) Lonesome Dove is the title of the story, but the greatest part of the plot takes place away from it. Therefore, it comes to represent loss and regret for what is lost and also represents that life is a circle when Call comes back there in the end.



KEY FACTS

Title: Lonesome Dove


Author:
Larry McMurtry


Date Published:
1985


Meaning of the Title:
Lonesome Dove is the title of the story, but the greatest part of the plot takes place away from it. Therefore, it comes to represent loss and regret for what is lost and also represents that life is a circle when Call comes back there in the end.

Setting: Lonesome Dove, Texas; Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, and the Montana Territories approximately ten years after the end of the Civil War (1875)

Protagonists: Woodrow F. McCall and Augustus McCrae


Antagonist:
The conditions they face on the drive, Blue Duck and the other Indians, and their own inner turmoil


Mood:
At times, the mood is tragic, filled with despair, and very sad; at other times, it is amusing and sarcastic; finally, it leaves the reader feeling unsettled about Call’s future and the futures of the men he left behind.

Point of View: Omniscient point of viewpoints that focus on various characters at various times.


Tense:
This story is written in the past tense since it takes place from about 1875 to 1878 in America’s Old West.


Rising Action:
It occurs from the beginning of the novel when the reader is introduced to the Hat Creek Cattle Company until the climax of Augustus McCrae’s death.


Exposition: The story involves a long cattle drive made by the Hat Creek Cattle Company from Lonesome Dove, Texas, to the Montana Territory. Along the way, the characters face Indian attacks, terrible weather conditions, and the loss of friends and favorite animals. Eventually, they make it to Montana, but not without great consequences to them all. Gus and Jake die as do several of the other hands. Call never has the courage to tell Newt he is his son. In the end, there is only the ghost town that Lonesome Dove becomes and Call lost in an emotional wilderness from which he cannot escape.


Climax: Gus McCrae dies of blood poisoning caused by two Indians arrows. Before he dies, he makes Call promise to bury him back in Texas. This request sets in motion even more tragedy for the Hat Creek crew.

Outcome: Call finally returns Gus’ body to Texas, but discovers that Lonesome Dove is almost a ghost town and that Xavier Wanz had burned down the Dry Bean Saloon, himself inside, because of “that woman, that whore,” Lorena.


Major Themes:
death and its ever present part of life; maturity; for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction; regret; differences in the life roles that men and women play; and good versus evil

 

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