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Hubris Until It Was Too Late

“Me miserable! Which way shall I fly, Infinite wrath, and infinite despair?”
Gustave Doré, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.
Milton, John, 1608-1674.
Milton's Paradise lost. Illustrated by Gustave Doré. Ed., with notes and a life of Milton, by Robert Vaughan, D.D.
Me miserable! Which way shall I fly, Infinite wrath, and infinite despair?”

I’m Pat Tyrer from Canyon, Texas for the High-Plains-Public-Radio-Readers Book Club. This will be my fourth time discussing Elmer Kelton’s The Time it Never Rained which was published in 1973 and republished in 1984.

As we’ve discovered in previous reviews, this story takes place in and around the fictional town of Rio Seco, Texas and its ranchers. Our main character, Charlie Flagg, a fifty-year old rancher who is suffering (along with his neighbors) through a seven-year period without rain.

Although Kelton treats Charlie with a great deal of sympathy as a man described by the government agent as a “rugged individual,” and someone we can all look up to as he refuses to give up on his ranch and is determined to survive the drought. It’s true that Charlie is as hard-working as any other; he’s equally just as honest and forthright as you could find, but he’s also suffering from a character fault. As in all of Shakespeare’s tragedies, the main character will fall from the height of his own hubris, nearly losing everything including his life.

Charlie believes in running Brushy Top, his ranch, his own way. He has refused to accept government subsidies and relies on his own understanding of the land and the weather. He’s a man who lives by his own code of ethics and beliefs. His fall, although brought on by the lack of rain, is bolstered by his hubris—his excessive self-confidence in his ability to overcome all challenges.

Throughout the devastation, Charlie sees what is happening to the ranches around him but does not recognize the need for early action for his own ranch. He fails to see the truth about his son, Tom, who has no interest in ranching or working hard for the land. He ignores the advice of his banker who urges him to make immediate changes to save his livestock.

Eventually, Charlie is forced to give up his cattle, then his sheep, and most of his remaining stock. He is even forced to let go of Lupe, his faithful ranch hand who is forced to leave the ranch and move his family into town.

What makes this a tragedy is Charlie’s inability to come to any reckoning about himself. The end of the novel is ambiguous. As the rain returns, Charlie turns “his back on all he had lost,” as he and Mary walk “together through the cold rain.”

This is a story of survival, determination covering themes that continue to plague West Texas: drought, water shortages, and other central issues related to the ever changing environment. Unlike Charlie, I hope that we residents of the high plains recognize the danger of ignoring our environmental issues until it’s too late.

I’m Pat Tyrer from Canyon, Texas, for the High-Plains-Public-Radio-Readers Book Club.

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