Study Guide

Clara Allen in Lonesome Dove

By Larry McMurtry

Clara Allen

Who Runs the World? Girls.

Clara Allen didn't end up single-handedly running her farm by choice, but that doesn't make her any less capable of doing it. Basically, all the men in her life are dead, or might as well be. She has had to deal with deaths that are inconvenient and tragic. First is her husband, Bob. Kicked in the head by a horse and totally comatose, he's nothing more than a chore for Clara now. She has to clean him, change his diapers, and turn him like a pancake. She wants him to die, not because she dislikes him, but because it would be easier for both of them.

The tragedy is that all three of Clara's sons died very young: Jim, Jeff, and Johnny.

"The three deaths Clara felt had turned her heart to stone." (75.22)

This loss leaves Clara as a single mother raising two daughters, Sally and Betsey, who thankfully avoided falling into the J-name trap. She also has to raise her husband, who is even more helpless than the girls are.

Clara is a formidable ranch hand with formidable hands, two of them, one on the end of each arm. Running the farm by herself has made her rough and sinewy, but that doesn't scare men away. She gets two marriage proposals—one from Gus and one from July—and she turns them both down, for different reasons. Gus is too headstrong: "Two racehorses like us would never get along. I'd want to be in the lead, and so would you," (86.67), she tells him. July isn't headstrong enough. Clara wants him to wait a year, and maybe she'll reconsider.

Is Clara like Goldilocks, or is she fine being patient for a man who is just right?

Boys Will Be Boys

Clara is extra sensitive about boys, which is why she takes Call to task for taking Gus's body back to Texas and not raising his own son, Newt. "A live son is more important than a dead friend" (101.67), she tells him. She also gives Newt her best horse, which is maybe why Call later gives Newt Hell B****. He doesn't want that woman being more of a father to Newt than he is.

Another live son on Clara's hands is Martin, July's son. We think Clara is secretly glad Elmira left Martin behind, because Martin can be the son Clara never had. She hopes he "could be a judge, or maybe go into politics" (77.81). Maybe that's another reason Clara keeps July around—so that she can keep Martin, too.

But that might be too shady for Clara; this is a woman who always tells it straight. For example, instead of gently explaining to July that his wife might not be interested in him, she puts it bluntly:

"She must not have been very glad to see you." (81.42)

To some men, like Call, this rubs the wrong way. As she says, "I'm honest. […] To most men, that's sassy" (86.152). Clara is definitely a strong woman, which is why she respects Lorena and gives her a room in her home. With these two strong women in the same place, we think the Wild West will be a better place.