Deceit, death, and discipline; all of the characteristics listed are lessons taught to Lily Casey. In the novel Half Broke Horses by Jeannette Walls, Lily Casey met many characters throughout her lifetime. Many people throughout the novel had an impact on Lily and taught her something about life. Lily took lessons from each of these characters and applied what she learned throughout her difficult and strenuous life. Through people such as Helen Casey, Ted Conover, and Adam Casey, Lily was able to learn many life lessons in order to become a successful person later in life.
Lily’s first marriage to Ted Conover began almost on a whim and ended in an annulment. When Lily moved to Chicago, she was approached by many men. However, Lily was instantly attracted to Ted and his smooth talking. The two spend much time together before Ted asks Lily to marry him. Their marriage is successful initially, with Ted going away for many days due to “business.” They share a bank account that the both of them can draw on. However, one day, after Lily is struck by a car, she finds out at the hospital that Ted is already married to another woman. Lily follows Ted and even meets the woman and finds out that they already have children. Lily confronts Ted about it and has the marriage annulled. Lily is on her own again in Chicago, and to make matters worse, she finds out that Ted has taken almost all of the money in her bank account. Through this experience, Lily learns never to trust anyone as easily as she did with Ted. She calls herself foolish and decides to become very independent. She decides to become more focused on getting a job as stated, “I focused on the future… I obviously couldn’t count on a man to take care of me, what I needed more than ever was a profession” (Walls, 85). Through the deceit of her first husband Ted, Lily learns to become more individualistic and hard-working in order to earn what she wanted.
Helen, Lily’s younger sister, also taught Lily an important lesson. After Helen finds out that she is pregnant, she moves in with Lily and becomes very depressed. Her depression eventually leads to her committing suicide, with Lily finding the dead body of her baby sister hanging from the rafters of her school. Lily in turn also becomes depressed after the death of Helen. She nearly quits her teaching job and leaves Red Lake; however, she
decides to finish out the school year. After a few months have passed since Helen’s death, Lily starts to want kids, since the pregnant Helen had not only taken her life, but the baby’s as well, as seen here, “I had never particularly wanted kids, but when Helen killed herself, she also killed the little baby inside her, and something about that made me want to bring another baby into the world” (Walls, 113.) Lily learns to appreciate things more, such as the sunrise, which she hadn’t been paying attention to in the months after Helen’s death. She gains a renewed appreciation for minute details in life, and must stop feeling sorry for herself. She instead wants to bring life into the world by having a child. Helen’s death actually leads to the marriage of Lily and Jim Smith since Lily began to want a husband in order to have children. In a sort of balancing act, the death of Helen leads to a new outlook on life for Lily and two new lives in Lily’s two children: Rosemary and Jim, Jr.
The earliest and arguably the most important of the lessons learned by Lily was the lesson of discipline. Lily gained most of her discipline through the teachings of her father and their time on the ranch. Lily was forced to become a hard-working woman so she could help her father since the family couldn’t afford to hire too many ranch hands. Adam taught Lily basic school skills such as math and history, but he also was her mentor growing up. He instilled his values of always earning money through hard work, and not being afraid to take a fall from a horse. Once Lily had fallen off of a horse, he informed her of one of the most important lessons that Lily would be applying in her life: “Most important thing in life is learning how to fall” (Walls, 21.) With these lessons imbued in her, Lily faces many challenges in her lifetime, but she is able to handle all of them thanks to the toughness and dedication taught to her by her father.
As one can see, Lily Casey is influenced by many factors throughout her life that in turn give her many life lessons. Three of the more important lessons are taught through individual people. Lessons on deceit, death, and discipline are taught to Lily, shaping her to be the woman she had become in adulthood. Although Ted Conover, Helen, and Adam all had very influential roles in Lily’s life, they are not the only ones who played a part in
shaping her life; various people, places, and events made Lily Casey Smith the inspiring woman she would grow up to be.
Walls, Jeannette. Half Broke Horses. New York: Scribner, 2009. Print