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THEMES - THEME ANALYSIS
The major theme of the novel is the difficulty of growing up and finding oneís self. Throughout the book, Tom struggles to learn who he really is and what will make him happy in life. Although he is a Ute Indian, he is brought into the white manís world and forced to accept their values. First he must attend school, where he is teased for his past. Miserable with his existence, he accepts Redís offers to become a wild bronco rider in the rodeo. Although he meets with great success in the rodeo ring, he is never happy, for Red controls his victories and his life. When Red dies, Tom is still miserable, for he feels he has no home and no place to go outside the rodeo. After he injures his leg and accepts a job as a shepherd in the mountain, he finally comes to grips with his true identity. He realizes that embracing the old Ute ways and living out in nature on Granite Peak can bring him true peace and happiness.
Another major theme in the novel is manís cruelty to his fellow man. Throughout his life in the white manís world, Tom is teased and made to feel insignificant because of his Indian heritage. Even his fellow Ute, Blue Elk, betrays him and takes advantage of him. More importantly, Red Dillon uses and abuses him for years. Feeling unimportant and incapable, Tom takes out all of his frustrations on the broncos that he rides. He then always feels ashamed for the excessive cruelty he has inflicted.
THE MEANING OF THE TITLE
The entire book is about "when the legends die." When Tom allowed his past to be forgotten, he felt dead himself. Through most of the novel, Tom denied who he was, trying to live in the white manís world by white standards. As a result, he found he really cared about nothing and felt used and abused. When he returned to the land of his upbringing and embraced the Ute legends of his past, he finally felt alive once again. Tom found himself and happiness by embracing his heritage. When he allowed the legends to flow through him once again, he felt whole for the first time since his childhood.