After WWII, many soldiers returned home to a new world. As more and more females joined the workforce, the American identity shifted from a primarily male dominated society to an integrated society between men and women. The burdens of everyday life of females quickly expanded to more than just child care and cooking. In Montana 1948, this notion of work and duty within Bentrock reflects the American society. The ideals of this community demonstrates the powerful change after WWII while also exemplifying the social norms still intact. These norms included race and gender, especially in Bentrock, where a substantial Native American population was present. The idea of work and the meaning of labor reflected the ideals of this society, clarifying its social norms and some of its limitations on social acceptance and advancement.
Work in Bentrock is a form of power and authority over the community. As community leaders of the town, the grandfather and his deputy continue to switch positions as sheriff of the town. “When Grandfather’s term expired, his deputy, Len McAuley, would serve a term; after Len’s term, Grandfather would run again, and this way they kept the office in the proper hands.” This cycle of authority shows the enclosed nature of authority within Mercer County. As an oligarchical type of leadership, the power is only held between two people. Furthermore, the author uses “proper hands” to demonstrate the male presence of power during that time period. Additionally, the grandfather and McAuely take up this labor not to help the community itself, but also to establish their families in positions of power; indeed, within this narrative, work is a sign of honor as well as a sign of purposeful labor.
As a Native American, Ollie Young Bear is a respected member of the Indian community, and his work in many cases illuminates his social position. However, despite his accomplishments, his skin color still dictates his place in society. “Ollie Young Bear was also a war hero… the star pitcher on the Elk’s fast-pitch softball team… (though he probably could not have been admitted to the Elks as a member…” Even though Ollie fought in WWII and played softball, he is still not good enough to become an Elks member. His accomplishments can only get him so far because of the color of his skin. Ollie has a tense relationship with work because despite his best efforts he will never be able to be on the same level as the white men in the community. His work simply puts him at the top of the Native American community, but that community will always be at the bottom of the white community. Additionally, the author writes, “He married Doris Strickland, a white woman… and had two shy, polite children.” Ollie’s status within the community is boosted because he married a white woman. More importantly, the author uses “had” instead of other words such as “raised”. This diction reflects the notion of work because it shows that having children is a job. While hard work does get Ollie to some status, his background still dictates his role in society.
Taking on yet another social message, work in Bentrock exemplifies the changing role of women in society. The mother of the protagonist reflects this type of change. “The sight of my mother loading the shotgun was frightening – yes – but also oddly touching… it reminded me of what she looked like when she once put on a baseball glove and tried to play catch with me. I wanted to rush over to her, to help her, to relieve her of the awful duty she had taken up.” As women continued to stay in the workforce after WWII, a new form of family life was established. This new form of life was, like the mother, frightening and oddly touching. The idea of women in the workforce was frightening because it created a significant type of from male dominance. On the other hand, the emergence of working women gave a new hope for many women who did not want to just stay home and watch the children. Just as the mother’s work in the quotation reflects her internal struggle with this change, it also shows the changing climate of work on a national level. Additionally, the author associates the shotgun with the baseball glove. Baseball and shooting were both typically male dominated sports, but the mother does both. Such work exemplifies the change of heart of the mother and the American people after WWII. The idea of work changed as American society shifted from a white male dominated society.
Work in Bentrock reflects the struggles of the people as well as their ability to combat these struggles. Despite Ollie’s best efforts, his work could not put him into the exclusive Elks club because his work did not determine his status in society. As work continues to change, more social taboos will become norms, such as women and non-whites in the workforce. This notion of work not only reflects the change within Bentrock, but also America as a whole.