Summary: Part II, Chapter I: On the Great Alkali Plain

Part II opens on an arid desert in the western plains of the United States in 1847. A gaunt man, starving and thirsty, appears on a mountain slope, clearly hoping to spot a source of water. Realizing none exists, he sits down and puts down his bundle, which turns out to be a young girl. The man tells her that all their companions, including her mother, are dead, and that they now will die too. The girl prays and looks forward to reuniting with her mother. The man and girl fall asleep, and shortly afterward, an enormous caravan of wagons and people appear on the plains below. A child spies the pink from the girl’s dress on the slope. A group of young men ascend to investigate and find the man and the girl. The man awakens and says he is John Ferrier, and he and the girl, his adopted daughter Lucy, are the only survivors of a group of twenty-one immigrants. The men lead Ferrier and Lucy to their wagons. Ferrier realizes they are Mormons, fleeing with their prophet, Brigham Young, to a new home. Young offers refuge to Ferrier and Lucy with the only requirement that they learn and adopt the Mormon religion.

Analysis: Part II, Chapter I

The setting for Part II of the novel, the Utah desert in North America, creates a strong contrast with what readers have seen up to this point and symbolizes the character and physical state of the new protagonist, John Ferrier. Instead of the bustling sounds and gray masses of London, here there is silence, emptiness, and bones of dead animals and humans. Damp air and muddy streets give way to the dry dust of the Alkalai Plain, mirroring the appearance of John Ferrier. Ferrier has “parchment-like skin” and hair that is “dashed with white,” just as the land and mountains are dashed with patches of white salt and snow. Symbols of death are everywhere: coyotes and buzzards, rocks and skeletons, and no water anywhere, symbolizing the fact that John Ferrier is literally dying of thirst.

John Ferrier’s ruggedness and independence suits the environment, but he and his charge Lucy cannot survive there without the help of the organized and well-supplied Mormons, a dynamic which establishes the central conflict of Part II. Both Ferrier and the Mormons are tough and disciplined, but the Mormons are humorless and severe, adding a threatening aspect to their nature. The threat becomes more explicit when the Mormons choose to save John and Lucy but only under the condition that the two become Mormons “now and forever.” Ferrier understands he has no choice but to accept the terms, but his fierce independence creates an inner conflict and foreshadows trouble in the future.