Plainsong Summary

Kent Haruf


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Plainsong Summary

SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides that feature detailed chapter summaries and analysis of major themes, characters, quotes, and essay topics.  This one-page guide includes a plot summary and brief analysis of Plainsong by Kent Haruf.

Plainsong is a riveting novel that focuses on several storylines, with all of them addressing the concept of change. The characters in the novel face daunting trials and tribulations, and many of their paths even cross with one another. They all call the high plains of eastern Colorado home. The landscape in its vastness is also a telling character in the novel. As such, Kent =Haruf’s narrative addresses such powerful themes as community, acceptance and loneliness, as well as the effects of isolation on the individual.

One of the storylines focuses on Tom Guthrie. Guthrie is the father of two boys, Bobby and Ike, and lives a complicated life with his troubled wife. His wife confines herself to a dark bedroom, spending most of her time there away from her kids and husband. The family is not sure what is wrong with her or what to do about the growing depression. Tom even seems troubled as to whether or not he wants to do something about his wife’s depression at this point.

Ike and Bobby suffer just as much as their father, if not more. They both miss their mother, and are rightly confused at her behavior both in general and toward them specifically. As their mother, the boys want her to be protective and provide a much-wanted security, but she provides neither of these things on account of her depression. In time, she moves from the guest room of their house into a rented house in town, and then finally moves far away to Denver, thus furthering their hurt, isolation and confusion at her actions.

Another character is Victoria Roubideaux, a 17-year-old girl who lives a rather lonely life. The reader finds that Victoria’s mother is verbally abusive toward her. To make matters worse, Victoria is pregnant. She has only had one boyfriend in her life, and he disappeared a few weeks prior. When her mother finds out about the pregnancy, she locks Victoria out of her own house, thus casting Victoria further into loneliness and isolation. Now that she truly has no one to lean on and nowhere to go, Victoria seeks help from a teacher, Maggie Jones.

Maggie Jones is another character with a complicated life. She is caring for her father, who is both elderly and senile. Aside from the major task of being caregiver to her father, Maggie is attracted to one of her fellow teachers, Tom Guthrie. Though Tom has his own set of problems, Maggie wonders if he may be available, at least romantically. Maggie, however, does not know if she is ready to introduce yet another possible complication into her life. Not to mention the fact that she does not even know whether Tom is interested in her or not. When Maggie finally finds herself unable to juggle all her responsibilities while also helping Victoria, she enacts a plan to house Victoria with two elderly brothers who live outside of town.

The McPheron brothers live on a ranch outside of town, some seventeen miles from civilization. Their parents both died when the brothers were teenagers. The brothers have never married, and have lived on the ranch their entire lives. Though they are liked by most of the locals, they have kept an isolationist stance to other people. Their lives of quiet solitude, however, as well as their desire not to form close relationships with others, might be forever changed on account of Maggie’s plan to have Victoria live with them.

Plainsong is a story about coping and loneliness. At its heart, it is a narrative about the isolation of the land just as much as it is a study of the isolation found within the individual. The characters must try and face the obstacles plaguing their lives, sometimes on their own, and sometimes together. Bobby and Ike must try to determine how to deal with the absence of an authority figure whom they believe is meant to protect them and provide security. This confusion plagues their young lives. Likewise, Victoria must deal with the fact that she is isolated from her mother and the father of her child. Tom must also face the fact of his wife’s departure, as well as his sons’ sadness over their mother leaving.

Plainsong shows readers that despite all of the loneliness, heartbreak and isolation running rampant in the narrative, for many of these characters, the best recourse is to reach out to other people. In this way, a community of like-minded individuals can emerge and often replace the dynamics of nuclear families. Though the characters are all racked with their own obstacles, they can take comfort in one another, thus showing that acceptance and community are important for physical and emotional wellbeing. The narrative also shows that though people might feel like they are going through heartbreak alone, there are others in the world just like them, and those who might be able to help them if they reach out.