Some characters in Lonesome Dove are tragic. Some are evil. And then there's July Johnson, who is just plain pathetic. One of our first impressions of the guys is this:
"July Johnson had been raised not to complain, so he didn't complain." (26.1)
He doesn't do much of anything:
"July had been known to be slow." (29.66)
So when his brother is killed, he slowly decides to slowly go after the killer: Jake Spoon. He slowly takes his stepson, Joe, with him and slowly heads toward Texas.
When July's deputy, Roscoe, catches up to him, it's to tell him that his wife has left him. Instead of accepting that his wife, Elmira, doesn't love him, July slowly goes after her. He very, very slowly has to come to terms with the fact that she left because she doesn't care about him. Afterward, July briefly teams up with Gus.
"They were both chasing women across the plains." (56.100)
Now, just because July is pathetic, that doesn't make him any less sad: he faces some of the most painful hardships in the book. His whole party—Joe, Roscoe, and a girl name Janey—are killed, leaving July with tough feelings of guilt. Then Elmira leaves him for good, and she too is killed. Everyone around July Johnson ends up dead. He almost kills himself, thinking that "it would be a joke on everyone if the only person he ever killed was himself" (65.7).
But July slowly decides not to off himself, and he ends up settling with Clara in Ogallala as he slowly makes up his mind of what to do with his life. Why return home to Arkansas, a place where he probably isn't even respected as a sheriff?
Plus, Elmira has given birth to July's baby in Clara's house. Clara is raising young Martin, and July slowly becomes a father figure to the boy. He also slowly falls in love with Clara and gives her the limpest most anti-climatic proposal on record:
"Would you ever marry me?" (98.1)
He considers it a proposal, instead of the pathetic question it is.
Clara, who believes July is cut from "a strong but unimaginative mold" (86.45), rejects his proposal. She's angry that July doesn't take responsibility for his own son—and that he isn't that good with the chores. All of this is rooted in July's slowness. She tells him:
"You're not much of anything, but you could be." (99.26)
We wonder if that's enough of a kick in the pants to get him moving a little faster. After all, it's easy to forget that July is only 24 years old. He still has a lot of growing to do.