Half Broke Horses Summary and Study Guide

Jeannette Walls

Half Broke Horses

  • 28-page comprehensive study guide
  • Features 9 chapter summaries and 6 sections of expert analysis
  • Written by a high school English teacher with 20 years of experience
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Half Broke Horses Summary and Study Guide

SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides for challenging works of literature.  This 28-page guide for “Half Broke Horses” by Jeannette Walls includes detailed chapter summaries and analysis covering 9 chapters, as well as several more in-depth sections of expert-written literary analysis. Featured content includes commentary on major characters, 25 important quotes, essay topics, and key themes like “Life’s too short, honey, to worry what other people think of you”, and Learning How to Fall.

Plot Summary

Jeannette Walls describes her book Half Broke Horses as a “True-Life Novel,” as it describes the life of her real-life grandmother Lily Casey Smith. The book is told in the first person from the perspective of Lily as she grows up in the harsh desert southwest. While the book is classified as a novel (since Walls was unable to back-up all of the facts about Smith’s life), it reads more like a memoir.

Walls begins the book with an anecdote that introduces her grandmother’s ability to get by in any situation.  Lily saves her younger brother and sister from drowning in a flash flood. Upon their return home, her parents have mixed reactions. Her mother thanks God for saving them while her father runs to his children. Her brother and sister join their mother in prayer, while Lily just watches with her father.

As the book continues, Lily shares her experiences as a young girl and teen living in Salt Lick, Texas and later on the KC Ranch in Hondo Valley, New Mexico. She spends the majority of her time with her father, a man who is always planning money-making schemes and teaching Lily about the ways of the world. She grows up learning the ways of the ranch, like breaking horses and shooting guns. Her father teaches her to read and do math, while her mother remains a frail, God-fearing woman who stays in the house most of the day. Her father seems to understand Lily more than her mother does.

When Lily is 15 years old, she has the opportunity to work as a teacher in Arizona. While soldiers are fighting in World War I, Lily packs up her horse and rides 500 miles across New Mexico to work in a one-room school house. This was the start of her life-long love affair with teaching, and she worked in several schools throughout her long life.

When World War I is over and the regular teachers return to Arizona, Lily returns home to New Mexico, but finds that she is no longer needed at her family’s KC Ranch. She decides to move to Chicago and try life in the big city. She spends several years in the Windy City, working as a maid. After her best friend dies in a freak accident, she marries a man she believes was a good person, but who is actually already married with children. Once she learns about his lies, Lily ends the marriage. She does not let the event bring her down; instead, she learns from the “crumb-bum” and continues living as a strong woman. She decides that Chicago is not for her and returns to the desert, where she lives the rest of her life.

She returns to Arizona to teach and she begins to build her adult life in the small towns of Arizona. Along the way, she outwits many of the men who try to control her. She ends up caring for her pregnant and unwed sister, but her sister commits suicide. This turning point makes Lily realize that she should not be alone, so she marries Jim Smith and has two children, Rosemary and Little Jim.

The rest of the book tells the story of the Smiths and their experiences in various places in Arizona. It parallels several major events in United States history: Jim and Lily lose their home and business during the Great Depression and they face challenges with rationing during World War II. Jim and Lily become caretakers for a large ranch in Arizona, so their children grow up on 160,000 acres living with horses, droughts, dirt, and cowboys. Lily chronicles her challenges raising her spirited daughter along with the challenges of living in the harsh environment.

As the world changes around the Smiths, they are forced to leave the ranch that they called their home for many years. They move to Phoenix and try to adapt to big city life. They enjoy living in a home with air conditioning and indoor plumbing, but they miss their rural existence. Fate intervenes by sending a winter storm that ultimately brings the family back to a small town life. The children grow up and become independent, but Rosemary never seems to meet her mother’s expectations. As the story ends, Rosemary marries a fun-loving man, even though Lily does not approve of him. Eventually, Rosemary has children, one of whom is the author, Jeannette Walls, who is able to build a strong relationship with her grandmother before Lily dies seven years after Jeannette’s birth.

This is just a preview. The entire section has 753 words. Click below to download the full study guide for Half Broke Horses.

Chapters 1-3