It’s as old as a mankind… the hope of getting something for nothing or getting more out of the pot than you put in it. Nobody’s ever made it work yet. Nobody ever will.
Elmer Kelton, The Time It Never Rained, 1973.
Elmer Kelton gave birth to an outstanding historical novel entitled The Time It Never Rained. The book first saw the world in 1973 and since then it has been reissued many times. Readers recognized this story as classic. Elmer Kelton got a number of awards for this book. He won a Spur Award for the best novel, which in the circle of authors of westerns is the same as Pulitzer Award. The book is a complete study of evolving and conflicting cultures on many levels. The book addresses the issues of race and class, environmentalism, and politics.
The story takes place in Texas in the 1950s. These years were the worst in the history of the region, because of the abnormal drought that lasted for several years.
The central character of the novel is Charlie Flagg – 50-years-old rancher, whose 15-section spread lies near the county seat of Rio Seco. He was a “broad-shouldered man who still toted his own feed sacks, dug his own postholes, flanked his own calves” (Kelton, 2008). His appearance was like Mexican because he had brown color of skin, but his eyes were “deep blue of a troubled sky” (Kelton, 1973). Charlie Flagg struggles to change the lifestyle, and fights against the drought. Moreover, he is very stubborn. He found the government’s relief programs helpless and tried to save his ranch with his own efforts and determination. This outstanding decision was admired by his friends, but they also found it a little strange. However, Charlie Flagg survived the drought of 1933, and he was sure in his power. The harsher the situation was, the more this decision strengthened. Charlie explained his stubbornness with the role model of his grandfather, who was his pattern.
Charlie Flagg had a wife Mary and a son Manuel. His son was unsure of the deeds of his father, and on this background they had problems in their mutual relationships.
Lupe Flores is a manager of Charlie, or at least he pretends to be the manager. Flagg’s ranch is not big enough for the two full-time employees. Lupe lives in the second house with his family. Notably, despite Flores is an American citizen, he is still Mexican. Charlie treats the Flores’s family as his own, but the subtle racism of Anglos dealing with Mexicans remains.
Another character of the book is Big Emmet Rodale, the local banker and the old friend of Charlie. When the drought occurred, Emmet advised Charlie to sell his cattle, but Flagg did not consider it as a way out. Eventually, he paid for his stubbornness.
Neighbors also play a vital role in the story. They are not just the background; they are the struggling population because of natural disaster and changes in the way of life.
The self-sufficiency is the recurring political theme of the book. The central thesis of the story is the end of the era of freedom and independence in the circle of the cowmen. With the seven years of the terrific drought, they had lost much more than their land and their crops, and became involved in the governmental routine. They had to sell themselves to the government in order to provide for further living. With the first drops of rain, the last remains of their freedom vanished.
The story tells the reader about the hard times for the cowmen and the definite life of the protagonist and his family. Through their efforts to save the ranch, the whole struggle of the Texas people was shown. Charlie Flagg is suffering through the whole story. His marriage had turned into an emotionless affair, and his son had a great desire to escape from the Texas life and search for fame in the rodeo circuit. At the same time, Charlie helps Mexicans according to his abilities – he gives them food and a place to stay. The Time It Never Rained ends with a terrible scene of flood and fire that destroyed everything owned by the Charlie Flagg. All he was left with was his family and the desire to start everything from the very beginning
The book has a great style that captures the laconic form of a dialogue the Texas ranchers had at that time. Notably, Kelton was highlighting the drought in mass media, so he knew what he was writing about (Alter & Lee, 2011). The tone of this western is deliberate, slow-paced and rather low-emotional. It emphasizes the struggle of people to survive the draught, together with their emotions and relations in the neighborhood.
In The time It Never Rained novel, Kelton explores several types of human relationship. The first one is the relationship of the protagonist with his family. The second one refers to the relations of the cowmen in their inner circle. The third type of relationship is the negotiations of the ranchers with the governmental structures, such as the bank, legal system and police. Also, the author refers to the important part of the Texas history – the communication between the Anglos and the Mexicans. Wetbacks, illegal Mexican immigrants, play a significant role in the plot of the book. Charlie Flagg helped them even without hiring them, gave them proper treatment and possibility to provide a worthy style of living.
The book fully focuses on the drought and its influence on people, economic situation, and relationships (Davis, 2012). Kelton strengthened the novel with powerful scenes of the hunt on coyotes that were killing the sheep in the ranch. Another scene describes the time Charlie had fallen from the horse and had to use help of the frightened Wetback to come back home. The death of the young horse of the Flores’ family appears to be another powerful aspect of the book.
The emotional level of the story is under control, and the author never reveals too many emotions in the scenes. However, the protuberant study of the characters has its place in the novel. The real value of the book lies in the vivid characters and their attitude to their problems. Kelton was a great master in defining people’s inner world and their possible attitude to life.
The Time It Never Rained is a work of art that should be admired by every reader. It is more than a historical fiction or a western; it is a complete investigation of a particular period of life. Elmer Kelton said about his work afterwards that those who remained and succeeded to survive the struggle became resilient and tough. With this story, author had left humanity a reminder that human endurance is very forceful, and nothing in this world can last forever.
Elmer Kelton died on August 22, 2009 (Alter & Lee, 2011). It had not rained the day he died, and that drought remained for more than a year after that. Probably, that was a nature’s farewell for the person, who had written one of the most outstanding books in the American literature. Even in thirty years after publishing, The Time It Never Rained remains a good seller, which means that this piece of work will be interesting for many readers in and outside Texas.