Monday 12 January 2015

The Cabin Faced West

Author:  Jean Fritz

Illustrator:  Feodor Rojankovsky 

Era:  1784

Published: 1958 (G.P. Putnam's Sons)

Award:  None known

Age Range:  3 - 12 years old

Review:  ★★★★★

A wonderfully poignant story of Ann Hamilton, a young girl who has moved west with her family, which include her parents, two brothers and a baby.  Her father, in his wisdeom, emphasizes that the family must "look west" now, and that there should be no looking back.  Ann, however, finds this resolve difficult.  She misses her family, especially her cousin, Margaret, who was her best friend.  How will she be able to carve out a new identity for herself in this unfamiliar land?  Who is this new Ann, who is now a pioneer girl?

Genre:  Children's Historical Fiction

Title:  The Cabin Faced West.  Why would Fritz choose this title for her book?  The title wraps around a major theme in the story: looking forwards towards your goals and challenges, and not looking backwards.  Ann and her family have left the East to settle in the West and now everything must face West:  their thoughts, their dreams, their faces, even their cabin, must look toward their new life.

Setting:  Hamilton Hill (now Ginger Hill), "The Western Country" on the other side of the Allegheny Mountains, west of Gettysburg.  For a map, see here.

Point-of-View:  The story is told from the point-of-view of 10-year-old, Ann Hamilton, a pioneer girl whose family has recently settled in the "west".  By viewing the stories through Ann's eyes, the reader is able to better perceive the thoughts and struggles of children of that time as they try to adjust to foreign lands and circumstances.  In Ann's case, she has been taken away from her family, and especially her best friend who is her cousin, Margaret, as well as the trappings of civilization.  Her internal conflict is in trying to carve out a new identity for herself, in getting used to the land and the people she meets.  Her struggle is keenly felt by the reader.


Ann Hamilton:  10-year-old Ann is unhappy that she's had to leave Gettysburg, her extended family and friends.  Her families' situation at their homestead in the west is still uncomfortable for her, and she struggles to find a place in this new life that has been given her.

Daniel Hamilton:  Ann's older brother.  Eighteen years old, he is trying to act a man and will sometimes reprimand Ann.  He tells his siblings that none of them are allowed to criticize the west.

David Hamilton:  Ann's seventeen-year-old brother, David has a twinkle in his eye and is quicker to laugh than his older sibling.

Mother:  Ann's mother is an understanding mother.  Through her we learn some of the chores and responsibilities of pioneer women.

Father:  A minor character in the story but he is portrayed as responsible and caring.  He gently assists Andy's family in seeing the value of hard work and how it can add to their lives.

Andy McPhale:  A settler boy who is rather sullen and difficult.   He shows up at the Hamilton's farm often, and Ann offers to teach him to read.  By observing her family, Andy learns the value of work, and what can be done through perseverance 

The McPhales, Andy's parents:  Andy's mother is sickly and his father is portrayed as small-minded and uneducated, but through the Hamilton's influence and kindness, Andy's family's qualities begin to improve.

Arthur Scott:  A young man who has come to newly settle in the area.  

George Washington:  The U.S. president, of course.  In the story, he is coming to check on his land in the area.  He has dinner with the Hamiltons.

Dr. Craik:  One of President Washington's companions


What does the central character want?

  • Ann thinks that she wants a life like she used to have, when really she is trying to find her identity within this new life of a pioneering family.

What keeps her from getting what she wants?

  • Ann's resolve to "look back",  sometimes without realizing it, impedes her from moving forward.  Nevertheless, her experiences with Andy and others around her are causing her to become more attached to her new surroundings and already are creating bonds with her new environment that she is not yet aware of.

How does Ann finally get what she wants?

  • Through the visit of George Washington and his wise words, Ann realizes that she is part of the forming of their country and the bravery and resolved that is required of her and all pioneers who set out to build a new life.  Finally, instead of focusing on the microscopic circumstances in life, Ann gets a glimpse of the larger purpose, and is transformed.

Conflict:  Man vs. Man  There is internal conflict within Ann in attempting to loosen her hold of the past and accept the future.  She needs to "face west".

  • Dissatisfaction
  • Perseverance
  • Looking forward
  • Kindness
  • Bravery
  • Self-reliance
  • Family
  • Liberation

"The future is traveling west with people like you ....... Here is the rising world ---- to be kept or lost in the same way a battlefield is kept or lost."

This story is based on a true story, one that happened to Fritz's great-great-grandmother, Ann Hamilton.  George Washington did, in fact, stop at their homestead in 1784 for dinner.  In Washington's diary on September 18, 1784, it reads:  "Set out with Doctr. Craik for my Land on Miller's Run, crossed the Monongahela at Devore's Ferry ...... bated at one Hamilton's about 4 miles from it, in Washington County, and lodged at Colo. Cannon's." Fritz's great-great-grandmother told the story to her children and it was passed down through the generations to finally be shared with us all.

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  1. I really like the title of this book! It's really lovely, and seems to say a lot about the plot as well. And I love the fact that the family anecdote about George Washington coming to dinner trickled down through the generations until Fritz wrote it down. What a fantastic story. :D

    1. Every time I read a book by Fritz, I'm so impressed with her writing and story-crafting. I'd highly recommend Brady, if you haven't read it. It's really a beautiful story!