- Willa Cather's My Antonia by Harold Bloom
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The effect of the King James translation of the Bible upon English prose has been repeated down through the generations, leaving its mark on the minds of all children who had any but the most sluggish emotional nature. The Book of Genesis lies like a faded tapestry deep in the consciousness of almost every individual who is more than forty years of age.
For example, Cather praises Mann's decision to write from the inside instead of using structure to produce distance. In O Pioneers!
Willa Cather's My Antonia by Harold Bloom
Cather also praises Mann's "tempo, the deliberate, sustained pace" Not Under Forty 99 , which she finds particularly appropriate to his subject. When writing O Pioneers! James Woodress explains that she "worked out a form that was loosely episodic and let the tale pace itself" Life and Art ; this ultimately produced, in Cather's words, "a slow-moving story" Willa Cather on Writing Hence by adapting the content and cadences of the Old Testament to the story of Swedes in Nebraska, Cather creates a novel that reaches back to the foundation of Western literature the Old Testament while simultaneously setting its author on the path to the immortality of iconic status.
Critical examinations of Cather and the Bible thus far have generally fallen into two categories: explications of allusions and attempts to link biblical influence with spiritual or religious identification.
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Even more fundamentally, it probes the way the literary techniques by which the Bible conveys its message similarly operate in O Pioneers! While biblical style and influence is apparent throughout Cather's canon, many critics have used words like "archetypal" Butterworth and "iconic" Urgo 44 specifically in reference to O Pioneers! The text that Ferris Greenslet said would establish Cather as "a novelist of the first rank" qtd.
In both lay and academic circles, Cather is equated with Nebraska in an iconographic way that belies the facts—she was not born there, she spent very little of her adult life there, and she is not buried there. And yet Cather is not connected with New York City where she lived for more than forty years , Virginia her birthplace , New Hampshire where she is buried , or the Southwest a prominent setting in Song of the Lark , The Professor's House and Death Comes for the Archbishop in the way that she and Nebraska have become identified with each other.
While it is arguable that someone like Gertrude Stein became an icon as much for how she lived as for what she wrote particularly early in her literary career when she had trouble finding a publisher , it would seem that the private and reserved Cather became a cultural icon primarily through her literature. Cather describes writing O Pioneers!
She similarly places the idea of homecoming at the thematic center of the Old Testament, which she calls "that greatest record of the orphan soul trying to find its kin somewhere in the universe" Not Under Forty Indeed, O Pioneers! As Granville Hicks observes, " O Pioneers!
While critics have already laid essential groundwork by analyzing the role of Genesis in the text esp. Creation and the Fall ,  an expanded overview of some of the Old Testament echoes and parallels can further elucidate the iconography of this novel and thereby help to situate Cather herself within an iconographic tradition. A careful look at structure, characterization, theme, motif, and genre in O Pioneers! Like the Pentateuch, O Pioneers!
In addition, Cather utilizes the technique of envelope structure, prominent in the Psalms and much other biblical prose, defined by Robert Alter and Frank Kermode as "a formal organizing device frequently used by biblical writers in which the borders of a poetic or narrative unit are marked by repetition, at the end, of salient terms, phrases or clauses that appear at the beginning" While it is significant that O Pioneers!
This technique is also apparent in repeated references to the white mulberry tree, roses, ducks, and journeys especially the comings and goings of Emil and Carl. Using repetition as a structuring device is a hallmark of Cather's modernism, and it is equally characteristic of biblical prose. Finally, even the composite structure of O Pioneers! Rather than viewing composite structure as a flaw, biblical critics such as Alter liken it to other composite art, for example, the construction of great cathedrals, in which the presence of multiple artists does not take away from the greatness of the whole Thus in both composition and form, Cather's iconic first Nebraska novel reveals a kinship with the Old Testament; the characters of the Old Testament resonate within Cather's text as well.
Crazy Ivar has been read variously as a religious mystic Rosowski, Voyage 50 , an embodiment of discomfort with sexual difference Lindemann 37 , a latter-day representation of the biblical Noah Murphy, "Comprehensive" , an "early monastic desert Christian" Schubnell 41 , and one of a series of literary "wise fools. At the same time, the "spells" that periodically come upon Ivar, making him unlike himself and causing Alexandra's brothers to fear for her safety, further suggest the madness of Saul, the ill-fated warrior-king whose hybrid religio-political position is reflected bodily in his mysterious malady Rosenberg An "old-time" person O Pioneers!
To begin with, Jeremiah offers a precedent for the difficulties Ivar encounters in the New World, time and again facing a hostile audience and living under the ongoing threat of imprisonment. When Jeremiah prophesies doom to the Israelites, they respond on several occasions by having him beaten and imprisoned Jeremiah , In addition to sharing aspects of Jeremiah's fate, Ivar joins Jeremiah and Ezekiel in the practice of prophecy as performance, living, as well as speaking, his prophecies.
While both Jeremiah and Ezekiel symbolically act out aspects of the nation's fate, Ezekiel in particular undergoes symbolic sufferings, including having to lie on his side for days and eat coarse bread cooked on coals of animal dung in order to teach and heal his wayward people Ezekiel Ivar seems to have a similar approach to healing, as Oscar reports: "They say when horses have distemper he takes the medicine himself, then prays over the horses" Carl confirms that when Ivar helped his family with a sick horse, "he kept patting her and groaning as if he had the pain himself" While Ezekiel is particularly known for his visions e.
Although Ivar's visions alienate him from his neighbors, he reports that where he came from, he was not unusual: "At home, in the old country, there were many like me, who had been touched by God. But here, if a man is different in his feet or in his head, they put him in the asylum" Such was the case in biblical times as well, according to the Hebrew sages, who teach that there were many more prophets than the twenty or so recorded in the Old Testament, but that only those whose prophecies transcend their context and have relevance for later generations are recorded and passed on.
Also like Joel, Ivar accepts prophecy but not necessarily all of the aspects of law and ritual: "he had a peculiar religion of his own and could not get on with any of the denominations" Hence, some of Ivar's difficulties spring from the disjuncture between the individualist approach he takes toward religion and the conformity insisted upon by most of his neighbors. While Ivar shares Jeremiah's experiences, Ezekiel's media, and Joel's attitudes, another important similarity between Ivar and the post-Exilic prophets is the shift in the role that each takes on after tragedy strikes and the concomitant shift in the tone of his message: condemnation to comfort.
Once the great temple in Jerusalem has been destroyed, the prophets cease prophesying doom for the Israelites and instead speak of return to the Promised Land, reunification of the tribes of Israel, renewal of the covenant between God and his people, and rebuilding of the sanctuary.
Ivar shares this role, for after he discovers "sin and death for the young ones" , he serves as Alexandra's caretaker and comforter. He looks after both her physical well-being and her psychological needs, fetching her by wagon from the graveyard during a storm and using biblical tones as he urges Signa: "When the eyes of the flesh are shut, the eyes of the spirit are open.
She will have a message from those who are gone, and that will bring her peace. Until then we must bear with her" In fact, the need for rebuilding and moving on in the face of tragedy is just one important thematic echo of the Old Testament in O Pioneers! While the book of Genesis gives us the Creation story, the Garden of Eden, and paradise lost, it also introduces thematic elements such as the wanderings and generations of the forefathers, the tension between continuity and crisis, the necessity of sacrifice, the ties of brotherhood, and the destructive capacity of jealousy; O Pioneers!
For example, in Cather's novel, Lou's and Oscar's fear that Alexandra's accumulated wealth will go outside the family prompts them to run off her only suitor. Even her suspicions of their plans—later confirmed by Carl himself—cannot prevent Carl from being driven away. Furthermore, we learn that Frank is "jealous about everything, his farm and his horses and his pretty wife" The harm caused by jealously permeates the Pentateuch from Cain's murderous jealously of Abel to the envy that prompts Joseph's brothers to stage his death and sell him into bondage, and it wreaks havoc on Cather's Divide, as well.
Looking beyond Genesis, the book of Numbers presents the wilderness as a testing ground, a theme that finds analogue in "The Wild Land" of O Pioneers! Indeed, while the fourth book of the Pentateuch does begin with a census and contain many numbers, this is not an accurate translation from the Hebrew. Rather, Bamidbar translates as "In the Wilderness," a much more fitting name for the biblical book and a clear parallel to the testing ground of the prairie's "Wild Land. Such grumbling usually provokes rebuke from Moses and yet another sign of God's omnipotence.
The wanderings are full of tests—no food here, no water there—but the most important test involves spying out the Promised Land, a test that all but two of the spies Joshua and Caleb fail. The spies report: "The country that we traversed and scouted is one that devours its settlers. All the people that we saw in it are men of great size. Hearing this account, the community directs its backlash to Moses and Aaron: "If only we had died in the land of Egypt. Why is the Lord taking us to that land to fall by the sword? Our wives and children will be carried off! It would be better for us to go back to Egypt!
Let us head back for Egypt" Numbers Only Joshua and Caleb respond: "The land that we traversed and scouted is an exceedingly good land. If the Lord is pleased with us, he will bring us into that land, a land that flows with milk and honey, and give it to us; only you must not rebel against the Lord" Numbers As a result of the spies' lack of faith, the entire wilderness generation, save Joshua and Caleb, is fated to die outside the Promised Land.
The Divide in O Pioneers! It has "its little joke," as Alexandra calmly remarks in retrospect, but while it was "pretend[ing] to be poor" , it required sacrifice and faith from the farmers, and Alexandra's belief in the land is gauged in precisely these terms.
Like the Israelites who grumbled in the desert, the pioneers on Cather's Divide have second thoughts about coming "to the end of the earth" 23 , first leaving the Old Country and then abandoning steady jobs in the city for the unknowns of the frontier. For example, when the Linstrums give up on the land and return to St.
Louis, where Mr. Linstrum will return to his factory job, Lou tries to convince Alexandra that "everybody who can crawl out is going away" While Lou and Oscar contend that "it's too high to farm up here," Alexandra insists that "the land itself will be worth more than all we can ever raise on it" Having gone to spy out the river farms, Alexandra tells Emil, "we must have faith in the high land" 63 , the land of their father, and she transmits this attitude to Lou and Oscar. And when Lou demands a sign, asking "how do you know that land is going to go up enough to pay the mortgages," Alexandra can only offer him faith: "I can't explain that, Lou.
You'll have to take my word for it. I know , that's all" Lou objects that Alexandra's idea "must be crazy or everybody would be doing it," but Alexandra realizes that "the right thing is usually just what everybody doesn't do" The volume is dedicated to the memory of the late Calvin S.
Brown of the University of Georgia, author of the first systematically conceived survey - Music and Literature: A Comparison of the Arts - of the branch of interart studies now generally known as Melopoetics. Part Two bundles eleven of Professor Brown's previously uncollected articles, covering a period of nearly half a century of significant scholarly activity in the field. Editor: Debra L.
Mythologia Americana – Willa Cather’s Nebraska novels and the myth of the frontier
Scholars and the general public will welcome the ways these new critical insights offer a fresh look at this modern classic. Editors: Glennis Byron and Andrew J. The stimulating mix of academics and practising poets that have contributed to this volume provides an unusual and illuminating integration of critical and creative practice and a vibrantly diverse approach to questions of poetry and sexuality.
Each section of essays is complemented by poems which creatively illustrate or develop the theme with which the essays critically engage. Rather than being limited to a specific genre, tradition, time or place, this collection seeks to make a virtue of contrast, comparison and juxtaposition. The collection is arranged into sections that range broadly across the thematic ground of dichotomies, traditions and revisions, microscopic and macroscopic perspectives, women and embodiment, and the notion of play and performance.
As the editors suggest, the essays and poems presented collectively argue that writings about sexuality are always already about the way poets see and represent our bodies, the world and poetic language itself. In her continuous, acutely conscious and responsible act of bringing human value into focus, it was her accomplishment to bring our gaze from that wide horizon, across the stretches of both space and time, to the intimacy and immediacy of the lives of a handful of human beings.
When spring came, after that hard winter, one could not get enough of the nimble air.
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Every morning I wakened with a fresh consciousness that winter was over. There were none of the signs of spring for which I used to watch in Virginia, no budding woods or blooming gardens. There was only—spring itself; the throb of it, the light restlessness, the vital essence of it everywhere; in the sky, in the swift clouds, in the pale sunshine, and in the warm, high wind—rising suddenly, sinking suddenly, impulsive and playful like a big puppy that pawed you and then lay down to be petted.
If I had been tossed down blindfold on that red prairie, I should have known that it was spring. Everywhere now there was the smell of burning grass. Our neighbors burned off their pasture before the new grass made a start, so that the fresh growth would not be mixed with the dead stand of last year.