Summary and Analysis
With her mother dead one month, her father gone, and Pauline married, Ida now focuses her attentions on her and Christine's future. She speaks with Father Hurlburt about Willard Pretty Dog, who is again living on the reservation after having been wounded and disfigured in battle during World War II. Ida pictures herself, Willard, and Christine living together.
Because he's so badly disfigured, Willard doesn't associate with anyone; he stays to himself most of the time. But Father Hurlburt arranges for Ida to meet Willard, and when they finally do, Ida is matter-of-fact about Willard's physical scars ("His weakness made me bold") and gains Willard's respect by telling him about her rough life; Christine seems not even to notice Willard's disfigured features, and he soon feels comfortable in Ida's house.
Willard, scheduled for reconstructive surgery on his ear, checks himself into the hospital. During the time he's there, Ida learns that her father has died. She doesn't appear to be overly concerned about him.
Willard again goes to the hospital, this time for surgery to repair his entire face. While he's gone, Ida learns that she's pregnant with Willard's child, but she keeps the news to herself. She doesn't even tell Willard's mother, Mrs. Pretty Dog, when she, Mrs. Pretty Dog, and Father Hurlburt drive to see Willard after his surgery.
Willard's surgery is a success; he is as handsome as he was before the war. Mrs. Pretty Dog, uncaring of Ida's feelings, tells Willard that now he can return home, that he no longer needs Ida as his nurse. Courageously, but insensitively, Willard tells his mother that although Ida is not a beautiful woman or a smart woman, she stayed with him throughout his rough times; he's not about to abandon her now. Ida, resigned that Willard thinks of her more as a chore than as a wife or lover, agrees with Mrs. Pretty Dog: Willard should go home to his own house.
When Ida's pregnancy becomes public, she refuses to say who the father of the child is. She doesn't even tell her sister, Pauline. During the time that she's pregnant, Ida seems consoled that she has Christine to rely on, to help pass the time. Ida's pregnancy reminds her of her time in Denver, waiting for Clara to give birth to Christine. When Christine asks about her birth, Ida refuses to answer any of Christine's questions. Also, Ida still cannot believe that Clara would have given up Christine for adoption. Ida vows to be a better mother to her soon-to-be-born child than Clara ever would have been to Christine.
Ida gives birth to a baby boy, whom she names Lee.
Willard Pretty Dog is the first and only man to whom Ida ever tells her life story. Ida tells Willard the many unhappy stories of her past, an event that is similar to Christine's divulging her history to Elgin and then Elgin's deserting Christine. Note that Ida becomes her own listener, as though her life story is someone else's and she is merely a spectator to the telling: "As I listened to my own story, I lost the control of its interpretation. I heard it as a tale on the radio, so sad it deserved applause and a trip to Florida." The phrase "a trip to Florida" demonstrates that no matter how hard her life is, at least Ida retains her sense of humor.
When Willard unknowingly demeans Ida while she, his mother, and Willard discuss his future following his successful reconstructive surgery, this is but another episode in the novel in which men seemingly treat women badly. Without understanding how she will perceive his statements, Willard says that Ida is not beautiful or smart. Stunned by his insolence, Ida withdraws from the conversation. Note that Ida characterizes the situation and her feelings as yellow mums that "withered on stiff stalks," an image of aridity and death, much like her feelings now for Willard. We're left wondering how men like Willard or even Elgin, who can have good, meaningful relationships with women like Ida or Christine, can so arrogantly and selfishly sacrifice the relationships without knowing what they've done.
During her pregnancy with Willard's child, Ida is determined to act courageously and independently as a role model for Christine. Her reasoning for her steely behavior is similar to Christine's reasons for not groveling to Ida in front of Rayona when Christine and Rayona first returned to the reservation. Ida says of her own behavior concerning Christine, "I wanted her to see me smart, to know she could be that way herself in front of any man." Ida is Christine's only female role model, just as Christine is Rayona's only female role model. Unfortunately, both women fail to demonstrate that females can be vulnerable and yet not weak, have feelings without those feelings being trampled.
scything grass cutting grass by swinging a scythe, a long-handled implement with a single-edged, curved cutting blade.
Kate Smith a U.S. singer, popular as a radio personality during WWII for her moving rendition of "God Bless America."